Updated: Sunday, 31st August 2014 @ 5:57am

Jazz King: Miles Davis Manchester show lives on 20 years after his death

Jazz King: Miles Davis Manchester show lives on 20 years after his death

By Matt Jones

An astonishing, tortured and tumultuous man, Miles Davis passed away 20 years ago today but few knew of his relationship with Manchester.

Countless tales will be told about the mercurial brilliance of his music, his troubled relationships with the various women in his life, his pointed wit and air of undeniable cool.

“Miles Davis was the most widely recognized jazz musician of his era, an outspoken social critic and an arbiter of style – in attitude and fashion – as well as music," writes Rolling Stone's Jim Macnie.

On September 27 1960 at the Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, Davis, backed by a quintet of phenomenally talented musicians, played the fourth date of his UK tour.

Once he started playing the audience were quite simply blown away.

Playing, among others, tracks from his album Kind of Blue, which went on to become the best-selling album in the history of jazz, English listeners were astonished by the passion and ferocity with which he played.

John Coltrane had just left the group to form his own legendary quartet and Miles had to replace him with saxophonist Sonny Stitt.

That evening Davis compensated for Stitt’s reliance on tempo and harmony by throwing himself into one daring and complex solo after another, impressive even for one with such technical mastery of the trumpet. 

It was a virtuoso performance, one which would have lingered long in the minds of the audience who left the Free Trade Hall mouths agape.

When he died Santa Monica, California, aged 65, he left a remarkable legacy.

In 2009 the United States House of Representatives, with a unanimous vote of 409–0, recognised and commemorated Kind of Blue on its 50th anniversary.

This cemented Davis as an American national treasure who even after his death ‘encourages the United States government to preserve and advance the art form of jazz music’.

He was a man of few words, though his infrequent utterances were often raucously funny or poisonously barbed.

An often told anecdote begins with Davis being invited by Ronald Reagan to a White House dinner in 1987, where most of the guests struggled to recognise him.

When Nancy Reagan asked him what he'd done with his life to merit an invitation, Davis replied: "Well, I've changed the course of music five or six times. What have you done except f*** the president?"

On the anniversary of his death, we should not ignore Davis’s well-documented troubles and tribulations, but more importantly be grateful that a man of such immense talent indelibly enriched our city’s musical heritage.

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