For me, music and life are all about style. (Miles Davis)
Just in time for the Montréal Jazz Fest, the Musée des Beaux-Arts presents a multimedia retrospective We Want Miles. The exhibition is a time capsule, a glimpse into the life of jazz legend Miles Davis (1926-1991). Each room reveals a new segment of his life, a new album, a new inspiration, along with amazing photographs, records, personal letters and artifacts, costumes, instruments, and music to provide the maximum sensory experience.
Originally designed and organized by the Cité de la musique, Paris, in collaboration with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, this exhibition is inspired by the same innovative approach to art display as the Warhol Live and Imagine exhibitions. Museum director Nathalie Bondil’s innovative approach is to explore the connections between the visual arts and music.
Divided into eight sections, each marking a point of redirection, for Davis never stopped reinventing himself throughout his life. Conceived by Projectiles, a Paris-based architecture firm, the exhibition design facilitates the appreciation of sound and ease of listening. It pays homage to the music by setting up several “mutes” throughout the galleries. These so-called mutes – coined in reference to the very particular sound Miles Davis obtained from such devices – are oval-shaped spaces that function as small listening rooms designed to allow the public to discover the artist’s emblematic works in optimal conditions.
In Search of Bird (1926-1948): In this section, which traces the trajectory from Davis’ middle-class childhood to the New York jazz clubs, visitors will discover the dream of bebop. Davis meets the leaders of bebop, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, whom he seeks out in New York.
Out of the Cool: Invention and Self-Loathing (1949-1954): Davis opens the way to cool jazz. In 1949, after a stay in Paris, where he encounters the intelligentsia of Saint-
Germain-des-Prés, he returns to the United States and falls prey to drugs. He gathers the
young black vanguard of the new hard bop (Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, etc.), participates in various recordings and develops a unique style.
In the Studio for Columbia (1955-1962): In 1954, he quits drugs. Columbia gives him a contract. He creates Kind of Blue in 1959, as well as a number of ambitious orchestral albums, and achieves star status in the world of jazz. In Europe, his music for the film Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (1957) is a triumph.
Controlled Freedom (1963-1967): Davis surrounds himself with young, incredibly talented musicians (Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter) and invents a free and intuitive style of jazz that would prove to be very influential.
Electric Miles: Rock Distortion (1968-1971): A new era and a new look. Davis plugs into rock and contributes to the emergence of what will be called “jazz-rock.” He receives a Gold Album for Bitches Brew (1970), which leaves its mark.
Funk Beat (1972-1975): The artist searches for the sounds of the street, the blackness of funk and the impact of boxing.
Silence, Solitude and Requiem (1976-1980): Battling with a number of problems, Davis stops appearing on stage in 1975 and lives as a recluse until 1980, when he makes a comeback.
Star People: Global Icon (1980-1991): Miles Davis reinvents a way to make music that reflects the times. In 1986, the record Tutu garners accolades. The artist rises from the ashes and helps to forge his own legend. He participates in the Montreux Jazz Festival in1991 and renews ties with former tour partners at La Villette in Paris. He dies on September 28.
Vincent Bessières is the Chief Curator of the exhibition. Bessières is the former assistant editor of the magazine Jazzman, a commentator on France Musique and the television channel France 5, the creator of jazz-related content for the Media Centre at the Cité de la musique, Paris, and the author of many jazz-record liner notes, notably for the BFlat Recordings label created by the Belmondo brothers. He authored a chapter of the
collective work On Jazz (Créaphis, 2007) that was published to celebrate the twenty-year
anniversary of the Orchestre National de Jazz and has been working for the past few years on a biography of trumpeter Lee Morgan. He is a member of the French Académie du jazz.
Éric de Visscher, musicologist, composer and director of the Musée de la musique, is the
Associate Curator of the exhibition.
Several of his major live concerts – including the concert at the Isle of Wight Pop Festival
(1970) and a concert in Germany with the “second quintet” (1967) – and images from Tutu
(1986) are projected on a large screen. The concert Miles Davis gave at the Montréal Jazz Fest in 1985 is also shown.
A painting is music you can see, and music is a painting you can hear. (Miles Davis)