How I Discovered How to Listen to Jazz
By Rob Parkour
On a beautiful afternoon during the summer of 2015, I drove to my best friend Sam’s house in North Plainfield to trip on LSD. For me, the trip was a comeback of sorts. Tripping on various psychedelics was a weekend tradition with my group of friends in High School. We’d wear old sports jerseys, smoke, listen to trippy music, and laugh. Our tripping golden era was during 2004-2005, my junior year of high school. As our weed smoking increased, our psychedelic trips became so infrequent that we had only one trip during the second semester of senior year: that trip was the last time I tripped on any type of drugs until that day.
Okay, that’s a lie. Three months earlier, my backup weed connect told me he could get his hands on some acid. Sam and I took four tabs each, and watched the complete first season of the hood web series Money & Violence, which is like The Wire if you took out the politics, actors, and budget. It was Sam’s first time seeing the show, and my second: doing something as ridiculous as tripping LSD to a hood YouTube series was an on brand way for us to reintroduce ourselves to the tripping game.
We huddle around Sam’s laptop and are transported into the world of Flatbush Brooklyn, where everyone either wears a Yankees World Series Patch fitted or a Brooklyn Nets snapback. I know Sam’s under the influence when he starts comparing Money & Violence plots to Shakespeare multiple times during the same episode.
You know how people say everything under the sun has been said or done? I can safely say Sam and I are the only people to trip acid to the complete first season of Money & Violence. That just gave me a great idea. You know those Ayahuasca trips people take in the wilderness where they trip so hard that they confront demons and come back new people? Well think about that concept and apply it to Money & Violence. Fill up a van of 10 brave souls, go into the deepest parts of the woods, meditate, take a sheet of acid, and completely give yourself up to the genius that is the first season of Money & Violence. After the trip is complete, Sam will lead a group discussion centered around comparing Shane and Tai’s story arc to Hamlet.
As fun as that trip was, the acid wasn’t the strongest. I was definitely tripping and experienced feelings that I wouldn’t have otherwise felt, but I was still very much in control of myself and experienced minimal visual distortion of colors or shapes. The Money & Violence trip was equivalent to getting very buzzed off five beers, and knowing there’s still another level to reach if you want to get drunk.
When I get to Sam’s I unload my backpack which has my Xbox 360 and Bose Bluetooth stereo. At the round table we both set up shop in our personal GB stations and chop it up while listening to rap. The acid that I’m given is not from the same person as last time, this time the person purchased the acid at one of those Jam Band music festivals where the acid is so strong it makes wannabe Phish groups sound bearable.
“Should I take one or two?” I ask Sam who gives me a look that said ten years ago you never would’ve asked that question. I take two tabs, and less than an hour later I scratch my leg. When I bring my head back up a wave comes over my body intensely. All of a sudden things are brighter and I can’t stop smiling. My cheekbones are starting to feel sore because I can’t stop cheesing so hard. Sam looks at me and can tell the LSD dropped, he is sitting this trip out and being my trip advisor instead of my tripping partner. His early 80’s music fetish aside, Sam has the best taste of music out of anyone I know and there’s no one else I’d trust more to curate the music for my trip. Sam turns on YouTube on his SmartTV and plays Afrobeat Godfather, Fela Kuti. Coming up on acid and watching Fela’s sets was an out of body experience similar to discovering masturbation. During hour 2 of our Fela experience, YouTube was experiencing buffering issues that couldn’t be solved but luckily Sam had a laptop full of downloaded music that needed no internet to listen to.
“What are you in the mood to listen to?” Sam asked as he lorded over his MacBook that contained his music library.
“No rock but no rap either. Need something with real instruments that has rhythm to it.” Eventually we landed on Jazz.
“Have you ever listened to Thurst by Herbie Hancock?” Sam asked while he scanned his iTunes.
“Nope, only Headhunters.” I responded, referring to Herbie Hancock’s most popular album. Sam pressed play, Mike Clark’s drums came on, and my life was changed forever.
Before we dive into Thrust, let me explain my personal history with Jazz. In elementary school, I owned a very small collection of cassettes and CD’s, none of which were Jazz. They mostly consisted of The Beach Boys, Elvis, The Beatles and Jock Jams. I moved to Georgia in 1999 during Ludacris’ and OutKast’s heyday which I got swept under: The Beat 95.5 FM gave me my (mostly southern) base education in Hip-Hop. The same year my family bought a CD stereo for the living room, and I even got a little Sony Jukebox for my bedroom. I took two CD’s out of my parents hard Red CD case, one was a Doo-Wop mix that you may see on TV, and the other was Jazz music from the Big Band era. Don’t ask me why, but listening to Big Band Era Jazz was my hype music to listen to before a baseball game. The music was from another era and had a certain level of class to it which made me feel like a grown-up listening to it. A couple years later I made my stereotypical first Jazz purchase, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. I moved to New Jersey and got really into buying CD’s at Borders with my friends. I wasn’t consciously buying Wilco albums over Jazz albums but that’s what I was doing. Throughout all those trips to Borders I only remember buying three Jazz CD’s, Getz/Gilberto’s self-titled album, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, and A Love Supreme. There were so many other genres and unknown artists for me to discover that it didn’t occur to me to go further down the road with jazz. At this point of my life I used jazz as a nice change up to the rock and rap I loved, putting it on as background music as I messaged my friends on AIM talking about our crazy trips. During high school, I listened to more soul and standards which left jazz as a distant fifth place.
In my early 20’s I would put on jazz playlists on Songza and use it as background music as I wrote. Of course, now I know this isn’t the way to listen to jazz, but at the time I was uneducated and liked the vibe it gave me as I wrote. It’s curious that I didn’t go down a jazz rabbit hole at some point. With rock and rap especially, I took great pleasure in going into the deep recesses of the genres and finding diamonds in the ruff. I think there being no vocals subconsciously made me look at it different. During this time, I got further into John Coltrane and Miles Davis, familiarizing myself with their five best albums but I was slow to give other artists a shot. Charlie Parker was the only other Jazz musician whose discography I sought out but that was easy because his entire recordings are in like two places. I would listen to Headhunters by Herbie Hancock only because I was aware of how it’s been sampled so many times in hip-hop. I liked Jazz in the same way someone “likes” football but only tunes in during the playoffs.
“Holy shit this is incredible, what the fuck is this?!”
“Thrust. Jazz-funk, really good isn’t it?” Sam can tell my answer by my eyes bugging out at Mike Clark’s drums, Paul Jackson’s bass and Herbie Hancock’s Piano melts my face off.
“This is fuckin amazing too!” I yell at Sam as the next track “Actual Proof” somehow eclipses “Palm Grease”
“Word big guy, one after another on this album. All the songs are great,” Sam says as he chuckles. I keep repeating to Sam how good the album is as if the album will stop playing if I stop complimenting it. Sam’s vigorously researching online, but from my GB station at the round table I can’t tell if he’s looking up more jazz albums or deciding what food to have delivered at 3 in the afternoon.
It turns out both. 30 minutes later he changes the album, and ten minutes after that Sam’s sister comes down the basement stairs holding food, really making it feel like 2004. They ask if I want any food.
A few quick notes on Thrust before we move on. Thrust is a better album than Headhunters. It’s my fault for not investigating this on my own but based on everything written on his albums, Headhunters is his best from his funk period but this sentiment is dead wrong. Thrust is funkier and better than Headhunters, I don’t care how many times “Watermelon Man” and “Chameleon” have been sampled. The upgrade from Harvey Mason to Mike Clark is a big reason why Thrust is better than Headhunters. It is probable that this is the only time that replacing a black drummer with a white drummer made the music better and funkier. “Mike Clark may be the funkiest WASP of all time,” Sam said, and he’s not wrong.
Why isn’t Mike Clark more famous if he’s so good? Bad timing. Jazz-funk never took off and morphed into Weather-Report-style bullshit, and his prime coincided with the 80’s which is when jazz was in the process of being institutionalized and forgotten by society. After Thrust, which was his first project, Mike Clark was featured on only one more Herbie Hancock studio album, Man-Child, which is good but fails to live up to its predecessor. He performed on Betty Davis’ They Say I’m Different album which I’ve never listened to but supposedly has a cult following. Herbie Hancock enlisted him for his Headhunters group. When guys like Donald Byrd do this, it reminds me of a rapper standing out on a few features on an album then getting invited to join a group that will never live up to the master’s work. The Headhunters were jazz fusion’s version of The Outlawz, relegating poor Mike Clark to Yaki Kadafi status. The Headhunters album is okay, but all the jazz-fusion Herbie was involved in post-Thrust lacks the grab you by the collar intensity you feel when Mike Clark is jamming away in “Actual Proof.” Mike Clark did have one last shining moment before jazz faded away commercially. He was featured on Eddie Henderson’s Heritage album in 1976 that opens with “Inside of You,” which Clark Kent sampled on the classic Jay-Z & Memphis Bleek song “Coming of Age.” I’m sure Mike Clark would appreciate me using one random song that Jay-Z happened to sample him to highlight his entire post-Thrust career.
“Fuck food, give me more jazz!” I tell Sam with pupils the size of saucers. Food is the last thing on my mind, even though I took the acid on an empty stomach, I am not hungry and it seems like I’ll never be hungry again. Music seems 1000 times more important than food.
To keep up with the jazz-funk vibe, Sam puts on Miles Davis’ On the Corner album as he envelops himself into a sea of Ricotta and Mozzarella. When I join Sam outside for his post meal cigarette, I am struck by the formations the clouds are making. The baby blue sky never looks more vibrant and all the clouds start morphing together into weird shapes that eventually reveal themselves as the lady in the Starbucks logo. As much as I want to enjoy nature on my trip, my weed and jazz are in the basement, and those are the only things I need.
When we get down to the basement, we listen to more of On the Corner which is the best jazz-funk album, and one of the best jazz albums of all time. Sam tells me On the Corner and Birth of the Cool are his favorite Miles Davis albums, and I appreciate the juxtaposition of that take. It was obvious how I wanted to spend the rest of my trip, listening to jazz. I sat back and soaked up all the instruments in the clarity you only get on psychedelics. Sam pounded away at the computer researching what album we should listen to next.
“Mingus Ah Um is one of Ian’s favorite albums, he put me onto to that at MKA.” Sam tells me referring to a high school friend of his. Sam puts the album on and every song is as amazing. “Yo! How is this so fuckin’ good?!” I’d ask as Sam chuckled at my enthusiasm.
Next Sam plays Saxophone Colossus by Sonny Rollins which sounds impossibly good. “Where has this album been my whole life?” I ask myself as I soak in the sounds like a junkie enjoying a hit.
“Brilliant Corners by Thelonious Monk is a classic,” Sam says as he changes the album and takes a seat on the couch. I can tell Sam is creeping close to a food coma because every time I say something to him his responses become shorter and shorter. I get so wrapped up in Brilliant Corners that I miss the fact that Sam hasn’t been responding to anything I’ve been saying for ten minutes. Sam’s officially passed out and I’m tripping too hard to drive home. I call my girlfriend at the time and ask her to pick me up. Stupidly, I tell her the truth—I was so high I thought telling the truth to my girlfriend was a good moral play that would work in my favor. She asks me why the hell would I ever do something so dumb and not to come home until the next morning when I sobered up. One of the things about doing psychedelics is you have to be in a comfortable environment with positive energy people and have nothing like school, work, or driving on your plate. I assumed the LSD was going to be on the weaker side like the first trip but my biggest mistake was not lying and telling her that my car broke down and I needed a ride. I couldn’t undo telling her or talk my way out of it, so I was stuck alone in a negative energy headspace.
I tried to shake Sam to wake him up because I didn’t want sit alone to soak in this feeling of rejection during the peak of my trip. When Sam’s in a food or drug coma there is no waking him up. During a weekday trip in high school, after trying to wake Sam up for ten minutes, Sam’s mom literally stepped on his head while closing his bedroom window, and Sam didn’t flinch. I gave up trying to wake Sam out of his carb coma and walked over to his MacBook and tried to find something that would bring my energy back up after a disorienting and negative interaction on the phone my girlfriend. I put on Smokey Robinson and The Miracles’ Greatest Hits. Wrong choice. Don’t get it twisted, Smokey is an all-time legend and that compilation is one of the greatest soul compilations in history, but instead of getting me out of my feelings it threw me further into them. When “Tears of a Clown” came on I couldn’t hold it anymore and started crying like I haven’t cried since I was locked up. The irony wasn’t lost on me and I couldn’t control the tears, they were flowing out of my eyes so fast that my nose started running. As a man, I naturally try to hold back tears and can generally control them unless it’s an extreme situation but there is no controlling your tears when on acid when shit goes left, it just all comes out. I felt sad and alone and knew if I stayed in this current mind state I would start reeling and who the fuck knows what dark and scary places the trip would take me. I had one bad shrooms trip in high school which was one of the most terrifying experiences in my life, I was sure I was going to die. I can still remember crawling to the bathroom like an infant to escape my trip. My friend’s brother’s room was next to the bathroom, and he fell asleep with ESPN on the screen. Something about seeing Marc Bulger and Matt Hasselbeck on the screen comforted me and let me know that I was in the clear. When I returned to my friends’ room, I could not believe that my bad trip had lasted only 20 minutes. Before I escaped to the bathroom, I felt like I was stuck in the bad trip for months.
I was determined that a bad trip was not going to be my fate for the evening. I stopped crying and turned off Smokey Robinson. I needed entertainment comfort food so I searched Sam’s DVD shelf for something to watch. I brought over Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon a couple months back and popped that into my Xbox. The British accents in the movie really freaked me out for some reason, and I ejected the DVD within minutes. Sam’s DVD shelves left a lot to be desired. I had brought over a Spike Lee DVD box set a year ago trying to get Sam to watch Do the Right Thing. I bought my dad the DVD set for his birthday when I was in high school. Not to get sappy, but it really felt like my dad was looking over me making sure I would have an enjoyable movie experience that didn’t include English accents.
Which Spike Lee film should I watch? Do the Right Thing is one of my favorite American films of all time but I’ve seen it so many times. Clockers would be a fun watch on acid but I’ve also seen it a bunch of times. I’m not in the mood for Crooklyn, and Jungle Love would have had me back in my feelings. Mo’ Better Blues is my perfect option. I’ve only seen it once, and after my jazz epiphany earlier in the afternoon, no movie could be better to watch than Denzel Washington playing a fictional trumpet player. The movie largely takes place in smoke-filled jazz clubs, the same places I imagined I was in when Sam and I listened to Brilliant Corners mere hours ago.
Sam wakes up as Joi Lee’s character gives birth. I’m not sure how many people can say they’ve woken up and the first thing they saw when they opened their eyes was a woman giving birth, but Sam is now one of those people. Sam and I watch the last 15 minutes of the movie, then have a hearty laugh about the absurdness of him waking up to that scene.
Listening to Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk earlier were great, but after watching Denzel play a fictional trumpet player, I wanted to hear the best trumpet player in history. “Put on Miles in the Sky” I tell Sam who’s somewhat shocked I picked such a late album. We listen to the album on YouTube which is great because I can see the trippy album cover while I do gravity bongs at Sam’s round table. Since I’m going to be staying at Sam’s until the next morning, I take the last tab of acid I have which kicks my trip back up but not to the extreme point from earlier. Having weed to smoke is essential during a trip: somehow it calms you down and intensifies your trip at the same time. Weed, music and good people are the only essentials for a successful LSD trip.
Sam and I spend the next 7 hours smoking and listening to various albums in Miles Davis’ discography. After Miles in the Sky we listen to Round About Midnight, Birth of the Cool, Milestones, and Miles’ first studio LP Musings of Miles. After that, we listen to the four albums that were recorded during two sessions in 1956 at Rudy Van Gelder’s studios in Hackensack, New Jersey. Miles’ quintet at the time consisted of the stacked team of John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and my man Philly Joe Jones (is that jazz’s death lineup?). Those sessions resulted in Steamin, Workin, Cookin and Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet. The latter album was so good that Sam and I couldn’t believe it was such an unheralded project. During the span of listening to Miles Davis with Sam I said “God, this is so good!” approximately 200 times.
Sam must have felt like he was tripping when we found our way to Doo-Bop, Miles Davis’ last album he recorded with the one and only Easy Mo Bee. “How high do you think he was when he recorded it?” I ask. Without replying Sam rolls his chair to the side and just points to a shirtless, washed Miles on the cover.
Around 4 AM Sam says he is going to bed. His mom is on vacation, so he tells me I can use her bedroom whenever I feel tired and want to pass out. An hour later, I bring my Bose speaker into Sam’s mom’s bedroom and play Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, one of the few Jazz albums I already have saved to my phone. I keep falling asleep for five minutes and waking up thinking I had slept for hours. Around 7 AM, I manage to fall asleep for a full 20 minutes and wake up in a pool of sweat, I feel like I had just had a complete night of sleep. I don’t remember staying up for 48 hours being a side effect of acid.
I know my girlfriend will be on her way to work by now, so I pack up my bookbag and gravity bong at 8 AM, and step out into the light of day. I’m still a little loopy as I drove home, but I concentrate very hard and make it home safely. I realize I haven’t eaten in over a day, so I walk up the street to Dunkin Donuts and buy two egg and cheese croissants.
The next thing I do is download Miles Davis and John Coltrane’s complete discographies and upload them to my phone: just in case of an emergency I’ll have more than Sketches of Spain at my disposable. After that, I sign up for Google Play because there’s too many jazz albums for me to download, I need to have the world of jazz accessible to me at all times. When my girlfriend comes home from work 8 hours later, I’m still smoking gravity bongs and listening to Miles Davis.
I tripped two more times over the remainder of 2015 and did a mini one-hit trip early in 2016 before temporarily hanging up my psychedelic jersey in the rafters. The other trips were fun, especially the following trip when Sam and I tripped to Killa Season in an attempt to recreate our Money & Violence trip. My last full trip was Sam and I playing Fifa on Christmas Eve while we listened to jazz for 14 straight hours. My mini comeback to tripping after being out the game for so long reminded me of Magic Johnson’s 1996 NBA comeback. I wasn’t the tank I was in my tripping prime, but I could still run the point forward and give you 15, 7 and 6. Acid is an eye-opening experience that helps you realize things about life and yourself that you wouldn’t have otherwise known: there’s a reason Steve Jobs said it’s one of the most important things he’s ever done. The downside is there’s a certain haze it leaves you in after, and I’m not talking about the haze that hovers over you the day after. I feel there’s a certain number of trips people can take before they get burnt out and stupid. Some people can handle it more than others. Like most things acid can be a good or bad thing depending on your body chemistry and the mindset you enter it in. You do experience a feeling of “I know exactly how things work now, how I need to treat people and what I need to do,” while tripping, but that is fleeting and can’t be recaptured on demand. I feel I have a decent number of trips left in me, but I’ve decided to use them when I’m in a more stable chapter of my life.
My psychedelic phase ended, but I haven’t gone a day without listening to jazz since that fateful trip. Every night before bed I listen to jazz for an hour as I unwind, smoke and think about my master plan. One of the great things about jazz is there’s so many interesting things going on at any given moment, but if the situation calls for it, jazz can also fade into the background in a way rap, rock and even soul can’t. Even after three years of listening to jazz non-stop, I find new discoveries in albums that I’ve listened to time and time again. I can’t describe technically what draws me to jazz so much. It’s positive vibrational music that’s appropriate morning or night, happy or sad, driving or relaxing: it can guard all five positions.
Penguin’s Guide to Jazz core collection and other lists served as a great starting point to help lead me to artists I either didn’t know or wasn’t familiar with their work as front-men. Freddie Hubbard’s Open Sesame lead to Hubtones and before you know it, I had a phase with over 5 different Freddie Hubbard LP’s. There are certain legends that cannot be defined by one compilation or LP, heck, a lot of the greats were already out of their primes by the 50’s when the jazz LP resembled what we now know it as. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Art Tatum and others are legends with catalogs so grand in scope that you can’t just listen to their greatest hits or their best live album.
After the mind-blowing experience of listening to Thrust on LSD, I searched for a jazz-funk album that could live up to it. Nothing could live up to Thrust or On the Corner, but searching for a great jazz-funk album lead me to Grant Green’s Alive album who quickly became one of my favorite all time jazz musicians. Only Wes Montgomery can hold a candle to Grant Green on the guitar. Alive is probably the third best jazz-funk album ever but doesn’t even crack Grant Green’s top 3: his recordings with Sonny Clark are some of the best jazz records ever recorded. Donald Byrd’s Blackbyrd was the only other jazz-funk album that did it for me.
I took recommendations from the few people in my life who had an actual opinion on jazz. One of Sam’s favorites is Clifford Brown which lead me to a heavy phase of listening to his album with Max Roach. It’s cruel that Clifford Brown died in a tragic car accident after being one of few jazz players in that era to not be involved with drugs. While delivering pizzas I became cool with an older black man who worked at the front desk at the Hilton. I would be running late with a bunch of deliveries waiting for me back at the pizza shop but I always made sure I had enough time to chop it up with the man who grew up listening to the albums that I was just getting into. “Have you ever heard of Errol Graner’s Concert by the Sea…..what about the Dexter Gordon Our Man in Paris album?” He would laugh out loud and ask me how I heard of these albums that he loved but hadn’t listened to in so many years.
Another cool thing about jazz is how you can find your next favorite jazz artist by looking at the lineup. Like Cannonball Adderley’s work on Kind of Blue? Then you’ll be sure to love his album as a leader Somethin’ Else. The collaborative aspect of jazz reminds me a lot of hip-hop and sports. During a film session, Lakers coach and fellow LSD fan Phil Jackson was trying to get Kobe Bryant to stop playing selfishly and get Shaq and his teammates more involved. Phil Jackson paused the tape and relayed a story of John Coltrane going on an unbelievable solo and at the end of it Miles stares at him coldly and says, “Hey, man, sometimes you have to know when to put that shit down.” God, I love Phil Jackson.
My first year of listening to jazz every night was thrilling. Right as I was done listening to The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson I would already have Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder in the chamber as my next classic to digest. Andrew!!! By Andrew Hill, The Real McCoy by McCoy Tyner, The Amazing Bud Powell, Moanin by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Back at the Chicken Shack by Jimmy Smith, Sonny’s Dream by Sonny Criss and so many more.
Like Miles, John Coltrane is an artist that I have to digest every one of his studio albums. Coltrane’s discography is one of the most diverse catalogs in all of music. A Love Supreme, Giant Steps and Blue Trane are three of the best jazz albums ever. He has another five or so records that are A’s and even unauthorized releases like Coltrane’s Sound became one of my favorite random jazz albums. But John Coltrane’s catalog like all other jazz musician fails in comparison to Miles’ prolific career. Let’s break down his important albums into categories.
Albums that are in the Pantheon of greatest albums regardless of genre:
Birth of the Cool, 1957 (recorded in ’49-’50)
Round About Midnight, 1957
Milestones, 1958 (my favorite jazz LP of all time)
Kind of Blue, 1959
Sketches of Spain, 1960
In a Silent Way, 1969
Bitches Brew, 1970
On the Corner, 1972
Albums that range from A- to A+:
Musings of Miles, 1955
Walkin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, 1957
Steamin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, 1957
Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, 1957
Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, 1957
Miles Ahead, 1957
Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants, 1959 (recorded in 1954)
Porgy and Bess, 1959
Someday My Prince Will Come, 1961
E.S.P. – 1965
Live at the Plugged Nickel, 1965 (I could have included any number of Miles’ Live albums but this is the best)
Miles Smiles, 1967
Nefertiti, 1967 (Miles contributed three classic albums to the best year in music history)
Miles in the Sky, 1968
Filles de Kilimanjaro, 1969
Jack Johnson, 1971
1958 Miles, 1974 (recorded in….1958)
Water Babies, 1976 (recorded in ’67-’68, I seem to be the only person who likes this album)
If you’re keeping track at home, that makes a total of eight pantheon albums. Every Beatles album is an A- at worst but even the Fab Four don’t have that many best of the very best albums. Please Please Me, A Hard Days Night, Rubber Soul and The White Album are four albums are undisputedly in the pantheon. You could construct an argument around including Help!, Sgt. Peppers, With the Beatles and Magical Mystery Tour but it’d be a reach. Including two of those four albums in the pantheon would be a stretch and still leave The Beatles two albums behind Miles. Even if you wanted to get greedy and include all four of those albums to make it an even 8 vs. 8 you’d still have Miles’ TWENTY-TWO other albums that fall in the A grade scale. Twenty-two. That type of output is unmatched by anyone in Western recorded music history. Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and 2Pac all have at least three pantheon albums…wait a second, are we sure Michael Jackson has a third pantheon album? Let’s give Michael Jackson the benfit of the doubt because his best stuff is that good. Okay so that leaves them with 27 more A-level projects to go until they reach Miles’ level. Christ, there’s genres out there that don’t have a total of 30 A-level albums. Miles wasn’t pumping out these albums using the same formula ala Future. Cool jazz, bebop, hard bop, avant-garde, funk, fusion, orchestras, international sounds, electric sounds, rock etc. Miles was the on the forefront of nearly every post 40’s change in Jazz. It was also Miles who slowed down the furious pace in jazz and saved it from becoming a caricature of itself.
In 1987 Miles Davis was invited to the White House and shockingly a lot of the old white people had no idea who he was. Nancy Reagan turned to Miles and asked what he has done to merit an invitation. Miles replied with a straight face “Well, I’ve changed the course of music five or six times. What have you done except fuck the president?”
Being an incredible musician wasn’t the only thing that drew me to Miles. He was very cool and carried himself with the same swagger as a rapper or boxer. Finding out Miles was a boxing nut was one of the many cool things I found out about Miles when I read his biography that was written with help right before he passed. There’re so many interesting stories to read in there from Miles kicking his heroin habit in his childhood home in St. Louis, to Philly Joe Jones’s drug escapades. Maybe nothing was cooler than finding out that Sugar Ray Robinson and Miles Davis were close friends. Eventually I slowed down on listening to Miles every week, but more than any of my other favorite artists, I go back and listen to one of his great projects. There’s so many of them that it’s impossible to tire yourself out.
When I get a tattoo to represent a piece of art that impacted my life I try to keep it simple and not just paste the person’s face on my skin. I have my favorite Japanese novel Kokoro in Japanese letters. I have the Fassbinder film Fear Eats the Soul to pay homage to a film that changed how I look at cinema. I love those tattoos but I don’t think I’d love looking in the mirror every day and seeing Fassbinder’s chubby face tattooed on my arm. With Miles I broke this rule. I didn’t want to get a stereotypical Bitches Brew tattoo, or one of the famous pictures of him blowing the horn. I got a tattoo of Miles just how I envision him when I close my eyes: playing in the midst of a cloud of smoke at Birdland, the jazz corner of the world.