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So What: The Life of Miles Davis Paperback – 6 Jan 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 508 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (6 Jan. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684859831
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684859835
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 3.8 x 21.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,441,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

"Entertainment Weekly"

Fascinating....Szwed offers a thoughtful retelling of Davis' life.



Eric Nisenson

"Down Beat"

No writer has portrayed the complexity of Davis the man and the connection between that complexity and the music he played as well as Szwed does.



"Entertainment Weekly"Fascinating....Szwed offers a thoughtful retelling of Davis' life.

Eric Nisenson"Down Beat"No writer has portrayed the complexity of Davis the man and the connection between that complexity and the music he played as well as Szwed does.

"Entertainment Weekly" Fascinating....Szwed offers a thoughtful retelling of Davis' life.

Eric Nisenson "Down Beat" No writer has portrayed the complexity of Davis the man and the connection between that complexity and the music he played as well as Szwed does.

Eric Nisenson Down Beat No writer has portrayed the complexity of Davis the man and the connection between that complexity and the music he played as well as Szwed does.

Entertainment Weekly Fascinating....Szwed offers a thoughtful retelling of Davis' life.

About the Author

John Szwed is the John M. Musser Professor of Anthropology, African American Studies, Music, and American Studies at Yale University. He is the author of a number of books, including an introductory book about jazz, Jazz 101, and a biography, Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra.

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a marvellous biography. Szwed devotes enough musicological analysis to Davis's great recordings (with Charlie Parker, Birth of the Cool, Kind of Blue, the Wayne Shorter-Tony Williams quintet, In A Silent Way) while never losing the overall plot. Miles's destructive relationships with women, his destructive treatment of his own children, even his own propensity for self-destruction, all go hand in glove with his relentless search for new musical horizons. Davis's recordings will be listened to and marvelled at as long as we have recorded music. Davis's impatience with the cultural straitjacket of "jazz" and his desire to escape & ultimately to destroy this musical category become much more comprehensible through Szwed's telling of the tale. His account of Miles's music in the 1970s and 1980s (dismissed by many as laughable, self-indulgent, or just desperate) is judicious. His late work will never rival the Coltrane years or the 60s quintet, but there are still amazing moment of lyricism & audacity in the electronic funk stew.
His formative years in St Louis, his remote disciplinarian dentist father, his early plunge into fatherhood and addiction (two kids and a serious habit by the time he was 24!) are rendered with compassion. For me, the charge of racism is definitively repudiated by the fact that two of his most important musical collaborators, Bill Evans & Gil Evans, were white. Of course Davis did not treat them kindly, but then all his significant relationships with women ended in violence. Perhaps, as Szwed finally speculates (quoting Gil Evans) there was a destructive monkey on his back all his life.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
JFS writes with great clarity and insight on MD.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars 19 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Davis Biography so Far 22 Feb. 2016
By NRL - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John Szwed's biography of Miles Davis is probably the definitive study so far. Szwed is excellent On Davis's childhood in Alton and East St. Louis, Illinois, and helps us connect Davis's strong but restrained trumpet playing and his equally strong but intentionally elusive persona. The book avoids the hagiography and somewhat unclear generalizations about western and non-western music generalizations of Ian Carr's Davis biography. That said, I would have liked more critical analysis of the music, especially of Davis's excellent work with Gil Evans, his connections and later repudiation of Third Stream music. The book is well written, and the author's voice seems both informed and authentic.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Overall, the best 5 Dec. 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the best-written, measured and unbiased of all the Miles biographies. Although it demystifed Miles somewhat, I still got "that feeling" I get whenever I listen to or read anything about the man. Of course, there's bound to be some overlap with some of the other biographies (there's only so many times you can read the same quote again and again . . .), yet because of Mr. Szwed's excellent writing skills, it's a good read from start to finish. The account of the first half of Miles' life is particularly engaging, and I appreciate the fact that Szwed did not "dis" the music Miles made in the 70's (as some others have). This is the most honest, and therefore (to me, anyway) the most HUMAN of all the writings on Miles.
To paraphrase Joe Zawinul : "Miles - the greatest conversation piece in 20 years!". And the conversation is still continuing. Why? This book will help tell why.
And while you're at it, check out Szwed's bio of Sun Ra: oh, thanks, John!
5.0 out of 5 stars Miles deep 10 Feb. 2010
By Jon Norstog - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Miles was a deep guy, a musician's musician. This book is written by a musician with a lot of information that will mean more to musicians than lay readers. But it is also well written by a jazz musician (Szwed plays sax) who read **all** the primary source material and also interviewed any survivors who were willing to talk.

If there is one book to read on Miles Davis and his music this is it. Too bad it's out of print!
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 9 Jan. 2017
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
all good
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Musically, A Very Enlightening Biography 31 Dec. 2006
By Ajo Way - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I read Miles' autobiography in all of it's shocking and hysterical glory regarding his personal life. Szwed's book covers some of that same ground but from the perspective of others, particular some of those whom Miles treated so unfairly (Gil Evans had to plead on his children's behalf in order to get paid). From a personal standpoint the reader will find himself/herself muttering "what a p****" many times while reading this book.

Musically, this book is so much more informative than the autobiography and answers most of the questions regarding the evolution of Miles' music. It was great reading about how "In A Silent Way" was composed via edits and it sent me running for my copy of Jimi Hendrix's "Electric Ladyland" to search for the original studio dates to see who got there first. Miles and Jimi were in frequent contact so it's no surprise that the concept of the studio as an instrument were used to create these two masterworks that appeared at roughly the same time. An early review bemoans the fact that over 20 pages were dedicated to "In A Silent Way" while "Kind of Blue" only received 8 pages. But this is actually very necessary as what was going on with the process for "In A Silent Way" was so revolutionary in terms of the music and the whole paradigm of how "records" and musical art are/can be made.

The pages from 280 - 310 that cover "In A Silent Way" through "On the Corner" were a real page-turner for me. So much was revealed about what was going on. I found myself reaching for releases like "Get Up With It" to revisit "Rated-X" and "Honky Tonk" and I was glad I purchased "The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions" and "The Cellar Door Sessions".

The only criticisms I have are:

1. There are some passages regarding recording sessions where the chronology wanders a bit, i.e., we read about Filles De Kilamanjaro, move on and then a little later Szwed revisits that session out of order so one has to pay close attention or will become confused.

2. He gets some of the names of the rock contemporaries wrong, e.g., Johnny Winters instead of Johnny Winter.

3. He's a little off on his release facts when it comes to the 70's band with Liebman and Fortune. He asserts Agharta was not released in this country until 1990 and that is just wrong. I purchased it as a domestic Columbia release in 1976 or 1977.

4. The epilogue was completely unnecessary. This was an effort to rationalize and explain the shabby way that Miles treated others. There is really no excuse for treating people the way Miles treated people. It is a choice, not because he had a stern, standoffish mother or anything like that. I can love the music of Miles Davis and dislike the man's behavior and actions as a human being living in this world.

On the positive side, there is just so much to learn about Miles' musical process and the evolution of that process in this book. This is highly recommended reading, especially for musicians who are interested in creative music.
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