So … I'm Writing a Book: Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew"

Bitches brew

I’m excited to be able to announce that Bloomsbury and 33 1/3 Books have accepted my proposal for a book in their series on Miles Davis’ essential and enduring album Bitches Brew.

This is a topic I’ve had grinding and stewing in my mind for many years, long before I started writing consistently about music in 2008, and those ideas guided the proposal:

It was 1969, and Miles Davis, prince of cool, was on the edge of being left behind by a dynamic generation of young musicians, an important handful of whom had been in his band. Rock music was flying off in every direction, just as America itself seemed about to split at its seams. Following the circumscribed grooves and ambiance of In A Silent Way; coming off a tour with a burning new quintet—called ‘The Lost Band’—with Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette; he went into the studio with musicians like frighteningly talented guitarist John McLaughlin, and soulful Austrian keyboardist Joe Zawinul. Working with his essential producer, Teo Macero, Miles set a cauldron of ideas loose while the tapes rolled. At the end, there was the newly minted Prince of Darkness, a completely new way forward for jazz and rock, and the endless brilliance and depth of Bitches Brew.

Bitches Brew is still one of the most astonishing albums ever made in either jazz or rock. Seeming to fuse the two, it actually does something entirely more revolutionary and open-ended: blending the most avant-garde aspects of Western music with deep grooves, the album rejects both jazz and rock for an entirely different idea of how music can be made. Hugely controversial, enduringly influential, utterly unforgettable: Bitches Brew.

However, I’m just beginning the real research, there’s a lot to read about and listen to (no complaints there, but maybe my wife and little girl will differ), and I’m looking forward to both new discoveries and new insights.

As the process goes along—publication is currently set for Spring 2016—I’ll update progress here and, depending on what the publisher allows, may post work-in-progress excerpts here at the blog.

In the meantime, prepare thyself for Miles’ birthday, May 26, with this set of deals from Popmarket, and bookmark this site and/or feed for more to come.

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So … I'm Writing a Book: Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew"

Bitches brew

I’m excited to be able to announce that Bloomsbury and 33 1/3 Books have accepted my proposal for a book in their series on Miles Davis’ essential and enduring album Bitches Brew.

This is a topic I’ve had grinding and stewing in my mind for many years, long before I started writing consistently about music in 2008, and those ideas guided the proposal:

It was 1969, and Miles Davis, prince of cool, was on the edge of being left behind by a dynamic generation of young musicians, an important handful of whom had been in his band. Rock music was flying off in every direction, just as America itself seemed about to split at its seams. Following the circumscribed grooves and ambiance of In A Silent Way; coming off a tour with a burning new quintet—called ‘The Lost Band’—with Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette; he went into the studio with musicians like frighteningly talented guitarist John McLaughlin, and soulful Austrian keyboardist Joe Zawinul. Working with his essential producer, Teo Macero, Miles set a cauldron of ideas loose while the tapes rolled. At the end, there was the newly minted Prince of Darkness, a completely new way forward for jazz and rock, and the endless brilliance and depth of Bitches Brew.

Bitches Brew is still one of the most astonishing albums ever made in either jazz or rock. Seeming to fuse the two, it actually does something entirely more revolutionary and open-ended: blending the most avant-garde aspects of Western music with deep grooves, the album rejects both jazz and rock for an entirely different idea of how music can be made. Hugely controversial, enduringly influential, utterly unforgettable: Bitches Brew.

However, I’m just beginning the real research, there’s a lot to read about and listen to (no complaints there, but maybe my wife and little girl will differ), and I’m looking forward to both new discoveries and new insights.

As the process goes along—publication is currently set for Spring 2016—I’ll update progress here and, depending on what the publisher allows, may post work-in-progress excerpts here at the blog.

In the meantime, prepare thyself for Miles’ birthday, May 26, with this set of deals from Popmarket, and bookmark this site and/or feed for more to come.

Identifying a Need

Some of you may know I’m in the running to write a book on Bitches Brew for the 33-1/3 books series (I’m on the shortlist and waiting to hear their final decision, hopefully before the end of the month). Maybe that makes me hypersensitive to mentions of the album, but today’s “Week in Review” section of the New York Times has a lifestyle piece that begins:

IN 1975 it was my friend Daryl — one of the very few African-American students in my mostly white prep school — who was the champion of the new. “Boylan,” he said one day after school. “You have to check this out.” Then he put Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew” on the turntable.



The album had been out for a few years and was already big — though not in the strait-laced neighborhood I grew up in. I wrinkled my nose as the crazy jazz fusion filled the room. It wasn’t exactly “On Green Dolphin Street” or “Milestones.” It sounded strange, a little atonal. I said as much.

The whole thing loses focus from there, but beyond the technical point that Bitches Brew is NOT atonal, one of the main points I’d like everyone to be able to read in printed form is that the record is also NOT ‘jazz fusion,’ and certainly not crazy.

The writer goes on to praise Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question, which seems a paradoxical attitude. But then the problem is how people are conditioned to expect to hear something and find easy ways to dismiss the unexpected, layperson and aficionado alike. And Bitches Brew continues to challenge expectations. No word on if she’s hearing it, but please don’t fear the funk. Let it set you free.