Phil Freeman

Phil Freeman is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the Village Voice, Jazziz, The Wire and many other newspapers and magazines. He is the author of Running The Voodoo Down: The Electric Music Of Miles Davis (Backbeat, 2005) and the editor of Burning Ambulance magazine and BurningAmbulance.com.



"From the Corner to Carnegie Hall and Beyond: The Urbanization of Miles Davis, 1972-1991"

From the time he left St. Louis and came to New York to attend Juilliard (and study less formally but more intensely on the bandstand with Charlie Parker), Miles Davis was steeped in the frenetic activity of his adopted city. Indeed, one can view his muted, Zenlike trumpet style as a metaphor for the city dweller’s attempt to carve out a space of personal calm within the chaos of his surroundings. But beginning in the early 1970s, Davis began to embrace the high-volume clatter and blare of New York, and allow it to manifest itself in his music—not only in the jarring, polyglot grooves of albums like On the Corner and In Concert: Live at Philharmonic Hall, but also in the garish, Blaxploitation cover paintings by Corky McCoy which adorned the records. This musical and visual urbanization continued when Davis returned to the stage in 1981, after a five-year absence, and was a major factor in his work until his death, and the posthumous release of his hip-hop album, 1991’s Doo-Bop.

In this paper, I will analyze the various ways Miles Davis made urban blackness a crucial part of his image, beginning in the 1970s and continuing for the rest of his life. I will focus on the ways he reshaped contemporary styles, putting his own spin on them so the charge that he was “selling out” or “going pop” was always more than a little slippery, and frequently flat-out wrong.

My Speakers Sessions

Saturday, March 24

4:00pm EDT