Miles Davis

Blue Miles

by Ben Varkentine


Miles Davis. The very name speaks of the very darkest of blues. The strong, yet wispy, smoky sounds that came from his horn continue to hang over jazz, and he is indisputably one of the largest figures in music. Trumpet players, especially if they play with a mute, are often defined by how little or how much they sound like Miles.

Wynton Marsalis, a man of, in my view, unlimited chops but limited soul, is a strong proponent of “jazz preservation”; Miles’ response to that sort of thing was: “it’s already been preserved: that’s what the records were for.”

cover art

Miles Davis

Blue Miles


For better or for ill, and there are advocates on both sides, in his life Miles Davis rarely showed interest in going back across the trails he’d already blazed. So I can’t help wondering what his opinion would have been of this re-packaging of eight ballads from 1956-1967, or ‘Round About Midnight to Miles Smiles.

On these cuts, Miles may be blue, but you’d be blue too if someone cut up your address into sound bites and mixed them with your others (can you tell I’m writing this on election night?)

That’s my clever way of saying that many of Miles albums of these classic years seem to me much better listened to as a whole piece, rather than the excerpts here.

Selections from his full-blooded albums seem anemic when cut off from their brothers. Now, just about any Miles, particularly in this period, is good Miles. How wrong can you go with Miles, Cannonball, ‘Trane, Evans, (Bill and Gill), Shorter, Hancock, Carter and Williams? But the Miles on Kind of Blue, Sketches in Spain and (though not excerpted on this album, my fave) Porgy and Bess is even better. If this collection introduces even one person to Miles, and especially makes them seek out the albums, it’s worthwhile.

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