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Listen to This

Listen to This: Miles Davis andBitches Brew

Victor Svorinich
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Listen to This
    Book Description:

    Listen to Thisstands out as the first book exclusively dedicated to Davis's watershed 1969 album,Bitches Brew. Victor Svorinich traces its incarnations and inspirations for ten-plus years before its release. The album arrived as the jazz scene waned beneath the rise of rock and roll and as Davis (1926-1991) faced large changes in social conditions affecting the African-American consciousness. This new climate served as a catalyst for an experiment that many considered a major departure. Davis's new music projected rock and roll sensibilities, the experimental essence of 1960s' counterculture, yet also harsh dissonances of African-American reality. Many listeners embraced it, while others misunderstood and rejected the concoction.

    Listen to Thisis not just the story ofBitches Brew. It reveals much of the legend of Miles Davis--his attitude and will, his grace under pressure, his bands, his relationship to the masses, his business and personal etiquette, and his response to extraordinary social conditions seemingly aligned to bring him down. Svorinich revisits the mystery and skepticism surrounding the album, and places it into both a historical and musical context using new interviews, original analysis, recently found recordings, unearthed session data sheets, memoranda, letters, musical transcriptions, scores, and a wealth of other material. Additionally,Listen to Thisencompasses a thorough examination of producer Teo Macero's archives andBitches Brew'soriginal session reels in order to provide the only complete day-to-day account of the sessions.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-089-1
    Subjects: Music, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Album Notes
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Beginnings
    (pp. 3-8)

    Between 1969 and 1975, Miles Davis went through the most productive period of his career. In no other seven-year span had he produced as many studio and live recordings. This was yet another period marked by the intense experimentation and innovation that was already a hallmark of his then thirty-year career. He was on a mission. The high-water mark of this expedition happened during three summer days in August of ’69: the double albumBitches Brew. The backdrop: New York City in the late 1960s, Woodstock wrapping up two hours north the morning before, a group of some of the...

  6. 1. Climate
    (pp. 9-20)

    Great art reflects the times in which it is created. In the twentieth century artists were faced with extremes in violence and progress. Wars, weapons mass destruction, dictatorships, the civil rights movement, and breakthroughs in technology shaped a social landscape that led to a massive response from Picasso, Eliot, Stravinsky, as well as modern-day romantics like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Sly Stone, and countless others. Formality and consonance gave way to innovation, self-expression, emotion, raw energy, and at times an abstract modernity where artists convey images that no longer represent the visual world. Often, what seems radical at...

  7. 2. Development
    (pp. 21-38)

    Nothing sounds likeBitches Brew. Not even anything that Miles Davis had released before. Davis’s cultural surroundings, new influences, and experimentations made a heavy imprint on his new sound; however,Bitches Brewwas not a revolution. Whether it is Davis, Beethoven, Schoenberg, Jimi Hendrix, or Picasso, something always comes from something.Bitches Brewcame from a ten-year-plus development period and an abundance of African American culture. Using electric instruments, new rhythmic textures, rock beats, novel approaches to composition and improvisation, and other off-the-cuff tinkerings, it appeared as a radical departure both from Davis’s previous efforts and more broadly from the...

  8. 3. Preparation
    (pp. 39-50)

    Bitches Brewwas recorded over three days, August 19–21, 1969, at the old CBS Studio Building (Studio B) in New York City. The midtown studio, at 49 East 52nd Street, was a comfy place. Built in 1908, the building was once a guest house for the Vanderbilt family until it was sold to the Juilliard Musical Foundation to house its first graduate school. CBS bought it in 1939 and transformed it into a studio and a home for an array of diverse artists including Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Paul Simon.² The studio was alive,...

  9. 4. Music
    (pp. 51-96)

    Call It Anythingwas one of the working titles used forBitches Brew. It was never really a serious contender, just something Miles mouthed off probably when preoccupied or aggravated. In some way, though, it speaks volumes. What was recorded during those three days in August is difficult to identify or categorize. It is a study in improvisation by a group of jazz artists but does not have the trademark swing. There are electric instruments and rock beats, but it lacks the comfort commonly heard in rock—it is not I Want to Hold Your Hand.” It is soulful but...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. 5. Post-Production
    (pp. 97-110)

    Capturing the music on tape was only one piece of the puzzle. With nearly nine hours of recordings to go through, both Miles Davis and Teo Macero had their hands full. Although archaic by today’s standards, all recording was done on reel-to-reel, analog eight-track recording equipment, which was state-of-the-art technology in 1969. Columbia was one of only a handful of record labels that had eight-track recording capabilities, and both Miles and Teo utilized it to the fullest.

    Once Davis wrapped things up in Studio B, it was up to Macero and his staff to sort out what was captured on...

  12. 6. Aftermath
    (pp. 111-134)

    Miles Davis was an international celebrity prior toBitches Brew. Since his early days on 52nd Street with Bird and Diz, he had had a certain mystique and aura of “cool” that bewildered listeners. He was a Juilliard dropout, a junky, a hustler, a criminal beaten and busted by police. His personality was blunt and crass. He said very little but was outspoken. His onstage demeanor—the S-shaped figure, thin, trumpet pointed down. He was the bad boy, the “Prince of Darkness.” There was also an aura surrounding his music. He was trend setting, an innovator in constant flux. He...

  13. 7. Beyond Brew
    (pp. 135-160)

    In 1969 Miles Davis owed Columbia Records a whole lot of money. His lifestyle, with its Ferraris, Manhattan brownstones, and fast women was not a pennywise one, and all-time-low record sales were not the best means of support. So the ever-profligate Miles had to resort to loans, advances against royalties, and some crafty moves in order to take care of himself. On October 23, 1969, Teo Macero sent a memo to Clive Davis in regard to Miles’s financial predicament: “I mentioned to Miles that he is presently in the hole for $90,000 in paid advances and an outstanding loan of...

  14. 8. Miles in 3-D: Images of Bitches Brew
    (pp. 161-172)

    “The camera never lies” is uttered by people whether they are watching the news, a documentary, reality television, flipping through a magazine, or absorbing any other kind of media. Of course, this phrase is a misleading one, for not every picture tells a story. Photographers and filmmakers are notorious for distorting the truth through image, creating the illusion of presence. It is even arguable whether a simple portrait can capture who a person really is.

    In 1986 Miles Davis did a photo shoot with the legendary Irving Penn for his albumTutu. It was not the easiest session for Penn,...

  15. With No End (An Epilogue)
    (pp. 173-176)

    Growing up, I never liked jazz. Even when I began taking music seriously, my heroes were still Kiss and the like. It was not until my high school years, when I stumbled across a worn copy ofBitches Brewat the local library, that I began to take notice of jazz. My curiosity came from both boredom with my music collection at home and the wild album cover that was in my grasp. It felt like holdingKiss Alive!in my 5-year-old hands long before. If you are reading this, it is easy to see the rest of the story....

  16. Notes
    (pp. 177-194)
  17. Music Credits
    (pp. 195-196)
  18. Index
    (pp. 197-202)