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Archive for Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Recalling the Birth of the Cool

June 27, 2006

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— To say 2006 is a busy year for Miles Davis and the estate of the late jazz virtuoso would be like saying Davis was a decent trumpet player.

CDs, a DVD, a book, a movie, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and even a USC marching-band halftime performance are a few pieces that make up something of a comeback for the King of Cool in his 80th-birthday year.

"One of the things that has been most surprising to me is just how iconic the name Miles Davis is," said Darryl Porter, the General Manager of Miles Davis Properties. "Part of our goal is to get a whole new generation of Miles fans."

As music changed, Davis morphed his cool jazz into fusion and experimental sounds that later gave way to jazz funk and hip-hop grooves. This year, his estate is finding ways to reinvent Davis and let the music he composed continue to evolve.

Remixed Davis recordings called "Evolution of the Groove," featuring Santana and the rapper Nas, will be released in the fall.

Miles Davis Properties hired high-powered entertainment publicists Rogers & Cowan this year to promote Davis' legacy and the many events taking place this year.

Porter came on board to run the estate in the past year. He knew the jazz legend and the Davis family since childhood. A lawyer and manager for others in the music industry, Porter now coordinates business and marketing for the estate. Requests to use Davis' music and image come from around the world and are granted by Miles Davis Properties daily, he said.

In May, a collectors' box of the Miles Davis Quintet was released 50 years after the recording sessions. But the momentum that Davis created during a career that spanned decades hardly needs a push from a four-disc box set or the force his estate has put behind him this year.

Sales of Davis' music have not slowed since his death 15 years ago. "There's not an easier musician to market than Miles Davis. There are so many different version of Miles Davis. People can plug into the Miles they like," said jazz critic Gerald Early, who has edited a book on Davis. "As far as an artistic commodity, he's very valuable."

"Kind of Blue," still sells thousands of CDs a week, according to Sony BMG. It's Davis' most acclaimed recording with the smooth melodies of John Coltrane and other jazz greats. Davis records that also are jazz-collection essentials, including the trippy "Bitches Brew" and "Birth of the Cool" have maintained similar stamina.

Sony Legacy plans to release more Davis recordings this year and his estate is excited that Don Cheadle has agreed to play Davis in an upcoming biopic.

His son Gregory Davis has written a book that tells how he and Miles Davis Jr. were not named as beneficiaries in their dad's will when he passed on at the age of 65 in 1991. Gregory still owns a portion of his father's publishing rights, however.

Miles Davis' legacy and the eternal proceeds from his name and music are now entrusted to four relatives who make up the Davis estate - his youngest son, Erin, daughter Cheryl, and nephew Vince Wilburn Jr. and his father (Davis' brother in law).

Gregory's book, "Dark Magus," is expected to be released this year. It paints his father's personality as "Jekyll and Hyde," something other Davis children disagree with.

"He was always about improving the craft and moving forward," Erin Davis said. "We feel like we are honoring him by continuing that tradition."

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