Why was Miles Davis so reviled for his electric period?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Kavorka, Nov 6, 2018.

  1. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

    North America
    I'm returning to Miles Davis electric period (from 1969 to 1975) and finding the music he created at that time phenomenally creative and innovative. I remember how pissed off many of Miles's fans were when he moved into his 'electric' period, but for the life of me I cannot discern what was so offensive to them?

    Received wisdom claims that it was the addition of electric guitar that raised so many eyebrows back in 1969. Allegedly, electric guitar has no place in real jazz.

    But that absolutely doesn't make any sense, because electric guitar had been a legitimate part of traditional jazz for twenty or so years prior to Miles adding it to his ensemble. Charlie Christian had firmly established the legitimacy of electric guitar back in 1941, and following that the scene had seen many brilliant electric jazz guitarists. So why would the addition of electric guitar in 1969 suddenly be perceived by the critics, fans and aficionados as such a treason?

    To my ears, the music Miles made on the records from that period ("In A Silent Way", "Bitches Brew", "Jack Johnson" and so on) is a perfectly natural continuation of the music he was making during 1960s, during his most celebrated period. Miles was always experimenting, always making sudden left turns, so what's so surprising about the left turn he made in 1969?
  2. bRETT

    bRETT Forum Resident

    Boston MA
    He wasn't reviled, Bitches Brew was enormously popular and all this era was considered massively influential. The only Miles to get a really negative reaction was the post-comeback era (Columbia stuff mixed; Warners generally not liked).
  3. nosliw

    nosliw Azunyan! にゃーーー!

    Ottawa, ON, Canada
    It's a culmination of things. Some jazz fans did not like the fact that it added new sound to the music and thought it sounded a lot like rock music (at least with In a Silent Way) and also did not like the studio editing of individual recording, which was considered blasphemous at the time.
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  4. Rfreeman

    Rfreeman Forum Resident

    Lawrenceville, NJ
    I dont think it was the use of electric guitar and keys that alienated folks so much as the move around the same time away from using the harmonic structures and rhythms characteristic of jazz. He started playing 10-20 minute pieces without much in the way of chord changes.

    The new sound made him more popular at least initially, but alienated much of his older fan base - as often happens when artists move outside the conventions of their original genre.
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2018
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  5. elaterium

    elaterium Forum Resident

    Not reviled by me or anyone else I know. It’s my favorite period.
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  7. NettleBed

    NettleBed Forum Resident

    new york city
    He wasn't reviled. A certain faction of jazz writers/critics disliked this change of direction intensely and I think it's a perfectly legitimate opinion, based on where they are coming from.

    If you define "jazz" as being X and then one of the greatest practitioners of jazz starts doing Y, some X experts aren't going to be too cool with that.
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  8. JumpinJimF

    JumpinJimF Forum Resident

    E.Midlands UK
    Not reviled by me. What I've heard of this Miles period is great. Then again I'm the opposite of a jazz fan.
  9. Socalguy

    Socalguy Forum Resident

    People tend to associate artists they like with a particular “sound” and sometimes feel alienated when the artist steps into new territory.
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  10. DTK

    DTK Forum Resident

    Not true. On The Corner and much of what followed in the 70s was savaged by critics.
    Also, Miles' popularity and record sales declined in 70s. By 1975 he was opening for former pupils like Herbie Hancock, who had adopted a much more commercial form of fusion.
    His music of this era also wasn't influential until much later on, in the early 90s.
    Albums like Dark Magus and Pangaea weren't even released in the US until the early 90s.
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2018
  11. gregorya

    gregorya Forum Resident

    It was the weird album covers... ;)
  12. DTK

    DTK Forum Resident

    And as for jazz critics I think it was also that they didn't understand the music. This they couldn't acknowledge, so instead they took to attack as best defense.
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  13. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

    North America
    True. But my point is that Miles was always changing, and often radically, and throughout all those changes most critics continued supporting him and many adored him, until 1969. That's what mystifies me.
  14. bRETT

    bRETT Forum Resident

    Boston MA
    Here's the Rolling Stone review of On the Corner (by Ralph J Gleason, who did a lot of jazz)-- highly favorable. I actually bought the album because of this review, as I already liked Caravanserai which he bunches it with.

    It would make sense that the albums after On the COrner were greeted less warmly, since they were all live or outtake albums and there was no actual followup.

    On The Corner – Rolling Stone
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  15. Coltrane811

    Coltrane811 Forum Resident

    The addition of an electric guitar had absolutely nothing to do with it.

    Many people like the sound of an upright bass and band that swings, and Miles moved away from that. Even his 60s quintet had its detractors. The music became 20 minute long tunes of electric swamp funk that was unrecognizable to fans of Steamin/Walkin etc. It is really the same story of many bands, tastes and purposes change. And Im not sure anyone changed as much as Miles.

    But the other important context here is that rock and roll music was very young and considered music for children. Jazz fans as a whole did not take the Beatles or Zeppelin or even James Brown very seriously. They idea that Davis would embrace the 'simple' rhythms of rock and funk seemed impossible. Just imagine if Steely Dan decided to move towards making hip hop in 1979. (Or even now, as this board is a perfect place for understanding how old people fear new music and sounds.)
  16. Siegmund

    Siegmund Forum Resident

    Britain, Europe
    I think his electric period was received well at the time, or at least from 1969 to the release of On The Corner (which got a critical drubbing) in 1972.

    Stuff like Live Evil and Dark Magus 'pushed the envelope' a bit and were certainly not easy listening. Around this time, MD got used to fielding comments from 'old' listeners, along the lines of 'I like Kind Of Blue, but I can't get on board with the stuff you're doing now.' His response was invariably: 'What do you want me to do, mother****er? WAIT for you!?!?'
  17. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

    North America
    How about the sentiment that "On The Corner" is the most hated album in jazz? (The most hated album in jazz )
  18. Say It Right

    Say It Right Forum Resident

    Niagara Falls
    With benefit of hindsight, there was just resistance to change. That said, props to the critic who referred to Bitch's Brew as like "a raised lavatory in a monestary."
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  19. Mook

    Mook Forum Resident

    It's the same as everything else in music, some people like it & some people don't.

    I wasn't around at the time but I'm guessing Miles was as hard to keep up with as almost any musician in history, a lot of people don't like change (me included a lot of the time).
  20. Kavorka

    Kavorka Chief Bottle Washer Thread Starter

    North America
    My point is that Miles used to change all the time, and people followed him. For example, in 1959 he made an abrupt switch from plying the standard jazz combo and recorded "Sketches of Spain". Couldn't be more removed from the traditional jazz. And yet, no one was calling him a traitor etc. It was only when he added John McLaughlin to his ensemble that purists started attacking him.
  21. bRETT

    bRETT Forum Resident

    Boston MA
    Dodgy piece though-- It quotes "one critic" and "another critic" without naming them. As noted above, Rolling Stone raved and to my memory, Down Beat did the same. Not everybody was going to love it, but that takes care of the two major venues. How this writer found two alleged, negative contemporary reviews will remain a mystery.

    This was also an era where you had a wide range of critical takes. I also remember a Down Beat review of a Weather Report concert, which absolutely hated the bass player for what it saw as showboating and sloppy playing. This of course was Jaco Pastorious (who was at times certainly guilty of both).
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  22. Mook

    Mook Forum Resident

    Worth pointing out that he had used guitarists (Joe Beck & George Benson to name two) before John McLaughlin.
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  23. Stone Turntable

    Stone Turntable Forum Resident

    New Mexico USA
    From the perspective of many jazz traditionalists ([cough] Wynton Marsalis) Miles turned with a radical suddenness from a dignified, serious, suit-wearing, swinging virtuoso visionary to a jive rock-concert-money-chasing funk noodler and (eventually) druggie recluse, to a P-Funk wannabe without the humor and groove and a Sun Ra sparkly-caftan-wearing space cadet without Sun Ra's Afro-Futurism sincerity and integrity. From a leader to a wanker.
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  24. JoeRockhead

    JoeRockhead Forum Resident

    New Jersey
    maybe this thread title needs to be changed. 'Reviled' is quite inaccurate for the overall perception. controversial? perhaps.
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  25. elvotix

    elvotix Forum Resident

    Marlton, NJ
    Saw Miles at Avery Fisher Hall on July 1, 1975 - there were boos, & calls to "Go Straight, Miles!" from the audience. A handful of people walked out during the first set, and a fair amount of attendees left in-between sets, which allowed me to move up closer for the 2nd set. Me & my friends had driven up from Philly to see the show, and were blown away, we thought Miles & band were phenomenal.

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