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The Legacy of Miles Davis

Legendary Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis' pensive look on his album and CD jackets were always interpreted by the media as dark, mysterious and any other adjectives like the aforementioned that you can think about.

But talking to his nephew Vincent Wilburn, Jr. recently, he paints a different picture. "Uncle Miles was very humorous and was not the "prince of darkness" that people perceived him to be. Matter of fact, he hated it when they called him that. He wasn't recluse or dark either. He had an exuberant zest for life," says Wilburn.

And that's exactly what Miles Davis Properties is all about: displaying a side of Miles Davis that people did not know existed and of course, keeping his legacy alive.

Miles Davis was a jazz musician extraordinaire. More than that, Miles Dewey Davis III was a composer, arranger, producer and bandleader, and it helped that he was a snazzy dresser too.

Last year, Miles became the first jazz artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Over his musical career, Miles' music has transcended the musical boundaries and broken age barriers as he embraced and experimented with several genres within the centuries that he was a part of. No wonder he has been aptly referred to as "Mr Cool."

As Miles' 81st birthday rolls around on May 26th, 2007, the Miles Davis Properties have earmarked a series of events to pay homage to the musical genius, from Miles' clothing line to his original artwork and lithographs, and his CD recordings. Vincent Wilburn Jr. took a break from recording in his home studio for this interview to talk about some of the big plans that will take place for Miles' birthday and to celebrate the 16th anniversary of Miles' passing.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Vincent, I'm glad that we could finally get the time to do this interview after playing phone tag for a minute. Please define the Miles Davis Properties?

VINCENT WILBURN JR: The Miles Davis Properties consists of myself, my dad Vincent Sr. and Miles' two kids, son Erin and daughter Cheryl Davis. Our goal is to oversee and keep Miles' spirit alive, like his music, and deliver it to the public. We make all decisions concerning Miles Davis.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: A Miles CD entitled "Cool and Collected" was released on September 5th. Let's talk a bit about that.

VINCENT WILBURN JR: "Cool and Collected" is a marketing strategy geared to reach a wider audience. It is a series of Miles' music and his career.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: The CD was an interesting mix of traditional and '90's Miles, musically speaking. I heard standards like "Summertime" and "'Round Midnight" on the CD and all of a sudden, Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" and Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" was playing. Why the slight musical deviation for Miles and who selected the songs?

VINCENT WILBURN JR: Sony Music actually picked the songs. Miles never wanted to settle. He was the kind of musician who played and then moved on. We had long talks about it and he never wanted to look back. But then again, that's what you get from creative musicians. They never want to stay locked into one thing.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: That's great. Any other CDs in the works?

VINCENT WILBURN JR: Yes, as a matter of fact, there are two coming out soon. The first one is a remix project entitled "Evolution of the Groove," featuring Olu Dara, Geri Allen, Pat Thrall, Charley Drayton, and Azize Faye and Ndongo Mbaye who perform with Youssou N'Dour, among others.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Is it an all-jazz list of artists that were selected?

VINCENT WILBURN JR: No, hip hop artist Nas and Carlos Santana are also included on the project.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Sounds like a nice affair. When will the CD be released?

VINCENT WILBURN JR: It will be released in June [2007] on Song/Legacy.

There is also another Miles tribute project in the works, but this one will feature hip hop musicians collaborating with Miles. I am in talks with Q-Tip regarding the artists who will be participating.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: I'll love to hear that combination. Any idea on the release date of this CD?

VINCENT WILBURN JR: No, not yet, but it's coming. I'm just waiting for a budget. I am also putting together some of Miles' unreleased material. I've actually gone into the vault and started crying. It seems like he never stopped the tape.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Any other noteworthy tributes to Miles in the next coming months?

VINCENT WILBURN JR: Yeah. There will be an alumni tour with the musicians who worked with Miles, and since he was a painter, there will also be a live tour of his paintings so that people can see his visual arts. Also, we are collaborating with Trunk Limited to come up with a line of Miles clothing, which will include T-shirts, jackets and hats in time for Spring.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: There's talk about a Miles Davis movie in the works.

VINCENT WILBURN JR: We've managed to get Golden Globe winning actor Don Cheadle to play Miles in the movie. I saw Don the night before last and he was very excited about the movie.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Don is the perfect person to play Miles. Did you consider others before settling on him?

VINCENT WILBURN JR: No. I specifically wanted Don for the role. I'm a big fan of Don's work. There is a great scene in the film "Rush Hour" that reminds me of Uncle Miles. I couldn't get him out of my head for the role.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: And is Don enthused to play Miles? Is he a fan of his as well?

VINCENT WILBURN JR: Yes, he is. Don always wanted to play the role of Miles. Right now he is studying the trumpet to master his role. He plans to direct and star in the film.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: And when will the biopic be released?

VINCENT WILBURN JR: The projected release date is 2008/2009.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: The world knew Miles as a great musican, incomparable even. You knew him as your uncle. What was a typical day like in the life of Miles Davis?

VINCENT WILBURN JR: Uncle Miles' mind was always working. A typical day for him would be to change clothing three to four times a day. He loved to cook and loved to look good as well. I remember he would paint and look at TV, but the sound was always kept down. If something interested him on TV, then he would turn it up, but it always remained down. He also loved boxing.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: A good cook huh? What was his favorite dish?

VINCENT WILBURN JR: He would only eat small portions, but loved to cook fish and pasta.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: You know, I too am guilty for thinking that a sense of humor did not exist at all for Miles Davis, but I guess you really can't judge a book by its cover--or rather a CD by its cover. Was he really as funny as you say?

VINCENT WILBURN JR: He was very humorous. I remember his clothing designers, Nancy and Laila, who happened to be twins living in Paris. Their mother was French and their father was from Africa, and every time Miles saw them, he called them "same thing." (laughs)

One time while performing on stage with his wireless trumpet, he walked across to (jazz bassist) Marcus Miller in an attempt to whisper something in his ear. Marcus leaned over to listen to what Miles was trying to say to him and presumed Miles was going to tell him about a chord or something, but Miles really went over to Marcus to ask him "How you like my shoes?" (laughs)

JAZZREVIEW.COM: (Laughter) I would have never thought Miles had it in him.

VINCENT WILBURN JR: Well, every night Miles did something like that. He only let certain people in on that side of him though.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: Finally, what is your greatest memory of Miles.

VINCENT WILBURN JR: He just loved creativity. He would let you do your thing and creatively guide you. He would suggest variations of the songs to be performed every night. It was always evolving. He gave his musicians a lot of freedom.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Miles Davis
  • Interview Date: 2/1/2007
  • Subtitle: Interview with the Davis Estate
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