5258932 Miles Davis is among the new inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For most of his career, the great jazz trumpeter played music that had very little to do with rock 'n' roll. But his influence on popular music is still being felt today.
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Miles, Beyond Jazz: Rock Hall Honors Davis

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Miles, Beyond Jazz: Rock Hall Honors Davis

Miles, Beyond Jazz: Rock Hall Honors Davis

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The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame welcomes its new members tonight and that list will include Miles Davis.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: For most of his career the great jazz trumpeter played music that had very little to do with rock and roll. When we hear the story of how Miles Davis earned a place in the rock Hall of Fame, we learn something about the way that popular music evolved into the songs we hear today. We've contacted music journalist Ashley Kahn who's a regular contributor on this program and also one of those who votes on Hall of Fame inductees and Ashley, what is it that makes Miles Davis unique among the people in the Hall of Fame?

ASHLEY KAHN reporting:

Basically, he tore down walls. He tore down the barriers between two huge, huge schools of music in the late 60's that were long thought as being totally antithetical to each other--rock and jazz--and he taught them how to speak the same language.

INSKEEP: And he did that with one particular album, which can not always be named in family circumstances, but we'll do it this morning.

KAHN: Bitches Brew in 1969, really was sort of the line in the sand. I mean--it really broke apart the barriers as I was saying before.

INSKEEP: Let's listen.

(Soundbite of music from Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew")

INSKEEP: Ashley Kahn, what's happening here that wasn't happening before in music?

KAHN: Well, he's using electronic affects. He's using a wah-wah pedal on his trumpet--that's the title track from Bitches Brew, by the way--and he certainly was sending the jazz world into a tailspin because they were, you know, huge Miles fans there, and really, he was pushing his audience as much as he was reaching out for a new one.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: So, he's playing this music that became known as fusion. It's basically jazz, but he's importing a bunch of rock and roll electronic effects and ways of using instruments. How did he get interested in rock and roll?

KAHN: One window for him was definitely marrying the young lady named Betty Davis--Bette Mabry, became Betty Davis--who turned him onto an incredible plethora of sounds including Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone. So, the rhythms, the sounds, the electric guitar of that time--

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. He married a younger woman who said, you old fogey, you need to actually listen to some real music here.

KAHN: In a manner of speaking, yes, but his ears were always attuned to what younger listeners were into. His bands always reflected that. He always had young players in his band.

INSKEEP: What's a kind of song that would have influenced Miles Davis?

KAHN: Any Jimi Hendrix. I mean, I've interviewed the guitarist John McLaughlin who played with Miles--how heavily into Jimi Hendrix Miles was in those years--'67, '68 and '69.

(Soundbite of "Jam 292" by Jimi Hendrix)

INSKEEP: That's Jam 292 by Jimi Hendrix. Ashley Kahn, what is something that Miles Davis did with that kind of sound?

KAHN: Well, he definitely allowed the drums to take the lead roll, and he started importing electric guitar, by way of John McLaughlin. If you follow a couple of tracks by Miles Davis, you can hear how he's amping it up, how he's like, going for that rock sound.

(Soundbite of music "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down")

KAHN: This is Miles Runs the Voodoo Down off of Bitches Brew.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: So, you mentioned this guy John McLaughlin, this great guitarist, who seems very comfortable going back and forth between different kinds of music.

KAHN: In 1970 when he was playing with Miles, still, he, you know, picked up a rock guitar. He was playing solid body. And in an interview with him he told me that, you know, the more that he turned the volume up on his amp, the happier Miles was and that led to the music that, you know, we still look upon as being so influential to the jazz rock scene of the 70's--a track like Right Off, on Jack Johnson.

(Soundbite of "Right Off" by Miles Davis)

INSKEEP: So, this is what Miles Davis is playing in the late '60s--a very creative time for many different kinds of music and Ashley Kahn, let's take this a step further. After Miles Davis made headlines with this kind of music, were rock musicians then listening to what he did?

KAHN: Oh, absolutely! I mean, Miles was playing in the same venues as rock musicians: Isle of the White Festival over in England. He was playing Fillmore West and Fillmore East. You know, they were in direct contact with each other. Carlos Santana, Joni Mitchell, Jerry Garcia with the Grateful Dead--all these musicians were definitely responding to a lot of the jam-oriented music that Miles was coming up with.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: And it wasn't just that they were listening, they were actually borrowing Miles Davis' musicians.

KAHN: Absolutely! They were, you've got Carlos Santana working with John McLaughlin on an album like Love Devotion Surrender which is straight out of the jazz-rock field, but it was being bought and being listened to by the rock generation.

(Soundbite of music)

KAHN: Miles' incredible contribution is not traceable by single elements like a solo here or a jam there, but yet when you hear jam bands today extending solos; when you hear them integrating very exotic instrumentation, etc.; it all goes back to this incredible mercurial time of 1968-69 when Miles was in the lead.

INSKEEP: Ashley Kahn, we mentioned that you're one of the people who votes on inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Do I need to ask if Miles Davis got your vote?

KAHN: Of course I voted for him! But I'll tell you what I think that Miles' response to this would be, cause he was not one for awards, and in that throaty whisper of his it'd probably be something like: so what.

INSKEEP: (Laughs) Ashley Kahn, thanks very much for speaking with us.

KAHN: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: Ashley Kahn is a regular guest on this program and author of A Love Supreme: John Coltrane's Signature Album.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

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