Thursday, July 12, 2012

Miles Davis "Blindfold Tests"

Making the rounds at the moment is this version of a Downbeat Magazine "Blindfold Test" with Miles Davis from 1964. His remarks are typically caustic.

Another "Blindfold Test" from four years later finds Miles being similarly harsh, but some of Leonard Feather's accompanying comments are worth highlighting:

"Recently, visiting Miles in his Hollywood hotel suite, I found strewn around the room records or tape cartridges by James Brown, Dionne Warwick, Tony Bennett, the Byrds, Aretha Franklin, and the Fifth Dimension. Not a single jazz instrumental.

Why? There are several explanations, but the simplest and most logical, it seems to me, is that when you have reached the aesthetic mountaintop, there is no place to look but down...

Finding nothing that measures up to the standards he has set and met, Miles turns to other idioms. He relies on pop music for entertainment and classical music for serious listening.

There is nothing unprecedented about this. Walking into Charlie Parker's apartment, you were more likely to find him listening to Bartok than to some contemporary saxophonist. Similarly, there was nothing Art Tatum could learn from other pianists."

While perhaps reserved at the time only for a Titan like Miles, this reliance "on pop music for entertainment and classical music for serious listening" is undoubtedly shared more widely today.

Incidentally, here is Charles Mingus's response to Miles's far more generous "Blindfold Test" from 1955, and here is the test from 1958

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