Paris Meets Miles Davis

Paris, the city that the famous Jazz player, Miles Davis, loved so much, honors him with a large exhibition, which includes musical instruments, photographs, costumes, album covers, scores and numerous items from Davis’ life. The exhibition opened on October 16th in the Cité de la Musique in Paris, with the title “We want Miles” and the subtitle “Le jazz face a sa legend”, which means “Jazz meets the Legend” and will last until January 17th, 2010. It follows Miles Davis’ personal journey, from his childhood years in East Saint Louis, to his last concert in La Villette, in Paris, just a few weeks before his death.

Miles Davis (1926-1992) was one of the most famous and respected Jazz musician of all times. Creatively speaking, his professional life was impressive: His aggressive and audacious musical approaches (from bebop in the ’40s until the ultimate combination of hip-hop and jazz in the ’90s), the fact that he was respected by all music fans and his amazing ability to direct his shows, made him the leading artistic personality that he was.

Usually, exhibitions challenge just the eye. This unique Parisian one is challenging two senses: hearing and vision. The known curator Vincent Bessier avoided the simple personal items’ presentation and followed the artist’s “evolutions-revolutions” of his musical career. Among the exhibits are a number of trumpets, including the 1950’s famous Martin Magna one, brightly painted blue and green, as well as a Fender electrical piano and a Fodera Monarch Deluxe bass, which was used for the recording of the album “Tutu” in 1986. All these musical instruments interconnected Davis’ music with the technological evolution. The exhibition also includes numerous photographs, signed by famous photographers, original stage costumes from shows, rare handwritten documents related to his music deals, album covers, from the “Birth of Cool” of 1949-1954 to Prestige and Columbia records, and psychedelic posters from the 1970s.

It’s really incredible to observe that all the items in the exhibition are presented discreetly, without emphasizing their cult nature. There are also videos excerpts from his concerts, giving the visitor the chance to actually live these musical events in different levels, while there are also private cabins where someone can hear any available recording. With an impeccable chronological structure, the exhibition follows Miles Davis: from meeting Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the mid ’40s until he worked his way up to the top, becoming the ultimate jazz musician and leader of major musical trends, such as cool jazz, hard bop, free jazz, fusion etc. Additionally presented are historical landmarks of his career and also people he worked with. It’s known that many famous jazz players started their careers by being members of groups, like John Coltrane, Herby Hancock, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, John Mc Lauphlin, Jerry Malligan, Keath Jaret and so many more.

We could easily compare this exhibition with the one that took place last year in the Museum du Quai Branly, in Paris, which focused on the connection between jazz and fine arts. However, the Miles Davis’ exhibition is not focusing on that, even though there are two great pieces exhibited there. One is the “Bird of Paradise” (1984) and the other is “Horn Players” (1983), both by Jean Michel Basquiat. These two masterpieces were exhibited to illustrate the attraction of famous artists, like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillepsie and art.

The amazing thing about this exhibition is that it manages to demonstrate the interconnection between the personality and the work of Miles Davis. Oddly enough, every time he was moving forward from one music trend to the next -from cool jazz to hard bop and from free jazz to fusion etc.- it was like he was disavowing all the previous ones. But that was not true. Every new trend was technically and theoretically announcing the next one. The only thing that was changing had to do with technology. From acoustic to electric. And this is illustrated in the exhibition, as it is structured in two levels: the first level covers the acoustic years and the second one the electrical years. In the acoustic level, black and white dominates, in the shape of a jazz iconography in the night. In the electric level, there is an explosion of colors, the universe and the stars!

“We Want Miles” is the first big exhibition, dedicated to the last Jazz star. Miles Davis’ personal records, which haven’t yet been fully appreciated and used, are in the hands of his friends, his daughter Cheryl, his son Erin (two out of his four kids, who now live in California) and his nephew Vince Willbourn. Everybody agreed to loan rare scores, which were considered lost, letters and photographs for this amazing exhibition in Paris, the city that made such a great impression and played such a great part in Davis’ life.

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