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Miles Davis: The Definitive Biography

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Ian Carr's book is the perfect counterpoint and corrective to Miles Davis's own brilliant but vitriolic autobiography, providing a balanced portrait of one of the undisputed cultural icons of the 20th century. Carr has talked with the people who knew the man and his music best; and for this edition, updated since Davis's death, he has conducted new interviews with a number Ian Carr's book is the perfect counterpoint and corrective to Miles Davis's own brilliant but vitriolic autobiography, providing a balanced portrait of one of the undisputed cultural icons of the 20th century. Carr has talked with the people who knew the man and his music best; and for this edition, updated since Davis's death, he has conducted new interviews with a number of jazz greats, including Ron Carter, Max Roach, and John Scofield.From the early New York apprenticeship with Charlie Parker, through Davis's drug addiction of the early 1950s, to the years (1954-1960) during which he signed with Columbia and recorded masterpieces with John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, and Cannonball Adderly, Carr sheds new light on Davis's life and career. His reclusive period (1975-1980) is explored with firsthand accounts of his descent back into addiction as is his dramatic return to life and music.


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Ian Carr's book is the perfect counterpoint and corrective to Miles Davis's own brilliant but vitriolic autobiography, providing a balanced portrait of one of the undisputed cultural icons of the 20th century. Carr has talked with the people who knew the man and his music best; and for this edition, updated since Davis's death, he has conducted new interviews with a number Ian Carr's book is the perfect counterpoint and corrective to Miles Davis's own brilliant but vitriolic autobiography, providing a balanced portrait of one of the undisputed cultural icons of the 20th century. Carr has talked with the people who knew the man and his music best; and for this edition, updated since Davis's death, he has conducted new interviews with a number of jazz greats, including Ron Carter, Max Roach, and John Scofield.From the early New York apprenticeship with Charlie Parker, through Davis's drug addiction of the early 1950s, to the years (1954-1960) during which he signed with Columbia and recorded masterpieces with John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, and Cannonball Adderly, Carr sheds new light on Davis's life and career. His reclusive period (1975-1980) is explored with firsthand accounts of his descent back into addiction as is his dramatic return to life and music.

30 review for Miles Davis: The Definitive Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    Ian Carr’s biography of Miles is of extreme interest to anyone that wishes to explore all the various revolutions that Miles instigated in modern jazz: from his first breakthrough with Bird on Now’s the Time, to the cool jazz debut in The Birth of the Cool, to the epic Kind of Blue, the transformational In a Silent Way, the exhilarating Bitches Brew all the way to his music in the 80s…it is all there. I knew only sketches of his story and found the style highly readable and the level of document Ian Carr’s biography of Miles is of extreme interest to anyone that wishes to explore all the various revolutions that Miles instigated in modern jazz: from his first breakthrough with Bird on Now’s the Time, to the cool jazz debut in The Birth of the Cool, to the epic Kind of Blue, the transformational In a Silent Way, the exhilarating Bitches Brew all the way to his music in the 80s…it is all there. I knew only sketches of his story and found the style highly readable and the level of documentation very impressive. I learned an incredible amount and due to this, the music in my collection of Miles has taken on a whole new dimension. For example, I had never paid any attention to the Live Evil album, but thanks to the biography, I discovered the addictive What I Say which I listen to nearly daily now. How Miles consistently discovered the most incredible talent and developed them until they left and created their own groups: Trane, Wayne Shorter, Jack DeJohnette, Keith Jarrett, Branford Marsalis…it is really mind-boggling the amount of talent that orbited the Miles universe. Despite being an ego-maniac and a lifetime drug addict (having exchanged cocaine for heroin after the 50s), he was an incredible mentor to so many and never shied away from his ideas regardless of how vanguard they were and how the critics would initially grill him. He was a true artist that, for me at least, is up there in a pantheon including Hendrix, Dylan, Monk, Trane, Zappa, Duke…no compromises. I can STRONGLY recommend this book for any jazz fan.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Karl

    Concentrating more on an album by album appreciation and in depth analysis more so than on the enigmatic Miles Davis personality, British journalist and musician Ian Carr works his painstaking way through four decades of jazz trumpeter Davis' remarkable ups and downs. An Excellent book for those interested in Miles Davis and his work. Concentrating more on an album by album appreciation and in depth analysis more so than on the enigmatic Miles Davis personality, British journalist and musician Ian Carr works his painstaking way through four decades of jazz trumpeter Davis' remarkable ups and downs. An Excellent book for those interested in Miles Davis and his work.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Artistically, creatively, influentially it doesn't get higher than Miles Davis. For me he's the greatest musical figure of the 20th century. There's no other artist that has had so much to say over a period of five decades. Merely surviving as a band or an artist that long is challenging enough but to consistently make new relevant creative statements is unheard of. His music is something I always return to and it's never far away - whatever my listening mood might be there's a period of Miles' Artistically, creatively, influentially it doesn't get higher than Miles Davis. For me he's the greatest musical figure of the 20th century. There's no other artist that has had so much to say over a period of five decades. Merely surviving as a band or an artist that long is challenging enough but to consistently make new relevant creative statements is unheard of. His music is something I always return to and it's never far away - whatever my listening mood might be there's a period of Miles' career that will cover it. This is a well researched authoritative book by a jazz musician and each period of Miles' career is given extensive coverage.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    Ian Carr's MILES DAVIS: The Definitive Biography is one of the more meticulous lives of the great jazz innovator. Published first in 1982, it was thoroughly revised in 1998 to cover Miles' final years as well as shed greater light on his entire career. A strong aspect of the book is Carr's access to various recordings which the average fan wouldn't have a chance to listen to, such as early projects in the 40s and concerts during the 1980s. Carr very thoroughly charts Miles' health problems and th Ian Carr's MILES DAVIS: The Definitive Biography is one of the more meticulous lives of the great jazz innovator. Published first in 1982, it was thoroughly revised in 1998 to cover Miles' final years as well as shed greater light on his entire career. A strong aspect of the book is Carr's access to various recordings which the average fan wouldn't have a chance to listen to, such as early projects in the 40s and concerts during the 1980s. Carr very thoroughly charts Miles' health problems and the horrendous squalor he was living in during the late 1970s, making the reader impressed that he held out as long as he did. The book is also well-researched, and Carr occasionally corrects mistakes made by other biographers, such as the claim that Miles recorded with Karlheinz Stockhausen (they never met). Carr knows the trumpet well and can speak on technical aspects of Miles' playing better than other commentators. One might also mention that the book is admirably typeset, and its ease on the eyes makes it a pleasure to read. There are a few downsides to the work. Carr rarely attempts to show matters from the viewpoint of Miles' antagonists. His marriage to Cicely Tyson, for instance, is presented as if she was the one responsible for its demise. His coverage of the 80s too often is a dry counting of tour dates, and it would be nice to have some amusing anecdotes thrown in to allow the content to breathe. Also, the book holds no serious musicological analysis of Davis' work, although there are some superficial comments and some examples from various scores at the back of the book. If you are looking for an overview of Miles' entire career that treats all of his phases fairly, from his early traditional jazz to fusion to the almost-pop of his 80s efforts, then Ian Carr's biography, in spite of its negative aspects, is probably the best available.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Brandi Bates

    Loooooong and exhaustive, but taught me everything I know about the late great who started it all!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jason Trent

    I thought I knew a little bit about Miles Davis, but now I feel 'close' to him ( as close as one could be). I didnst know he was born affluent, or that he dropped out of Julliard to play with Charlie Parker of that the dope days were short and over before he was a star. Carr's writing lapses into very specific descriptions about chords and notation, but not hard to understand. He drops in a lot of quotes from interviews and doesn't get too subjective. Interesting and informative, if not thrilling I thought I knew a little bit about Miles Davis, but now I feel 'close' to him ( as close as one could be). I didnst know he was born affluent, or that he dropped out of Julliard to play with Charlie Parker of that the dope days were short and over before he was a star. Carr's writing lapses into very specific descriptions about chords and notation, but not hard to understand. He drops in a lot of quotes from interviews and doesn't get too subjective. Interesting and informative, if not thrilling in its fairly journalistic and clinical chronology. Increased my appreciation for Mr. Davis's work and the work of his peers and colleagues.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    I only picked this up to check something and I've ended up practically re-reading it (albeit this is the shorter, earlier version). It's brilliant, basically. Carr can be a fussy, stuffy old bugger in places, and, for a biography the subject gets off very lightly, but he's so learned and saturated with the music you can't help but feel immersed. I can't think of another music biography that so often sends me off into obscure corners of an artist's discography, or, because of Carr's ear for detai I only picked this up to check something and I've ended up practically re-reading it (albeit this is the shorter, earlier version). It's brilliant, basically. Carr can be a fussy, stuffy old bugger in places, and, for a biography the subject gets off very lightly, but he's so learned and saturated with the music you can't help but feel immersed. I can't think of another music biography that so often sends me off into obscure corners of an artist's discography, or, because of Carr's ear for detail, another music biography that makes me avoid all other distractions and simply sit and listen.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    A terrific biography that focuses mainly on his music and relation to other musicians. . . . After about 350 pages, the writing style gets tiring, but the content is engaging. . . . One odd thing is that on page 481, Carr writes, "One thing Miles Davis never mentions in his reasonably honest and remorselessly outspoken autobiography is his own bisexuality," and then doesn't expand on it or mention it again. It seems like that should have a larger part in the book. A terrific biography that focuses mainly on his music and relation to other musicians. . . . After about 350 pages, the writing style gets tiring, but the content is engaging. . . . One odd thing is that on page 481, Carr writes, "One thing Miles Davis never mentions in his reasonably honest and remorselessly outspoken autobiography is his own bisexuality," and then doesn't expand on it or mention it again. It seems like that should have a larger part in the book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    JerryDeanHalleck

    Don't waste your time, just read the Autobiography by Miles himself. Not only is it a cut and past job, Carr is a sycophantic Scotsman who loves Miles more than Miles did himself! Carr's music criticism is just as bad, Miles himself could have written it. The sycophantic attitude reaches its height in the mid-70s, when we're told that Davis' electronic music ( including "On the Corner") was just "super-great" and that everyone - including 70s Black America- just didn't appreciate its "True Geniu Don't waste your time, just read the Autobiography by Miles himself. Not only is it a cut and past job, Carr is a sycophantic Scotsman who loves Miles more than Miles did himself! Carr's music criticism is just as bad, Miles himself could have written it. The sycophantic attitude reaches its height in the mid-70s, when we're told that Davis' electronic music ( including "On the Corner") was just "super-great" and that everyone - including 70s Black America- just didn't appreciate its "True Genius". Meanwhile, Old Lady Carr whitewashes Miles behavior during this time. He tells us that Miles crashed his car in '73 and broke his two legs (actually his ankles) because he decided to go out "for a late night drive". LOL. Miles himself made it clear he was high on drugs/booze when he crashed his car. The 1974 heart problem is described by Carr as too many cigarettes and Beer. The cocaine Miles was taking is passed over. And as you would expect, Scotsman Carr has little understanding of either the USA or Black America - but that doesn't stop him from making grand/arrogant statements about both.

  10. 5 out of 5

    David Rullo

    Ian Carr has written a monster of a book and while it covers the entirety of Davis' career, not all eras are examined equally. Much of Davis' output is given brief coverage. In fact, if you are seeking in-depth information about any of the trumpeter's seminal works you'd be better seeking other sources. Curiously, the portion of Davis' career to which Carr provides the most detailed information is his later, post-1980 work. As most fans, critics, and even casual listeners can attest, this is the Ian Carr has written a monster of a book and while it covers the entirety of Davis' career, not all eras are examined equally. Much of Davis' output is given brief coverage. In fact, if you are seeking in-depth information about any of the trumpeter's seminal works you'd be better seeking other sources. Curiously, the portion of Davis' career to which Carr provides the most detailed information is his later, post-1980 work. As most fans, critics, and even casual listeners can attest, this is the weakest part of his storied life, having helped to create cool jazz, modal jazz, and electric jazz. The author sees the collaboration between Davis and Gil Evans as ultimately the mot important working relationship in the musician's life. You can decide on your own whether you agree. The other problem with the book is that the author inserts himself into the biography several times. I found this to be clunky and without purpose. Carr has created a well-researched book offering an overview of one of the most important artistic figures of the 20th century from 5,000 feet above. You'll enjoy the fast paced read, just don't expect too many details.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kate Priest

    Sycophantic and lacking serious insight. You can tell much of the author's admiration for 80's Miles comes from his own proximity to the scene and nostalgia, as towards the end of the book Carr reproduces some of his interviews and fawns over the shows he went to. Sycophantic and lacking serious insight. You can tell much of the author's admiration for 80's Miles comes from his own proximity to the scene and nostalgia, as towards the end of the book Carr reproduces some of his interviews and fawns over the shows he went to.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Donald

    Miles davis was extremely talented complex man Ian Carr does a great job in not overly praising Davis like all of us Davis was a combination of saint and sinner.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    I'd been curious about Miles Davis since before I listened to his music, given the musician's impact on popular culture and really enjoyed this book. Something to keep in mind is it is written by a music journalist and this cuts both ways. It was well-written, factual and provided an in-depth chronological overview of Davis' life that, while not treating him with kids gloves, didn't linger on the salacious details. However, sections of the book, especially track-by-track descriptions of his albu I'd been curious about Miles Davis since before I listened to his music, given the musician's impact on popular culture and really enjoyed this book. Something to keep in mind is it is written by a music journalist and this cuts both ways. It was well-written, factual and provided an in-depth chronological overview of Davis' life that, while not treating him with kids gloves, didn't linger on the salacious details. However, sections of the book, especially track-by-track descriptions of his albums, came across as dry.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Owen Zoll

    I actually mostly like late Miles Davis, but you can tell that the writer sort of loses the plot as Davis enters his post-Bitches Brew twilight - according to this book, nothing is wrong in the world of Miles Davis. and i guess that was true, he seems happy and married and creative during this time. but this exhaustively researched biography is lacking a certain amount of cultural commentary, in my opinion. anyways, it was admittedly very cool to get a more holistic idea of what went into his mo I actually mostly like late Miles Davis, but you can tell that the writer sort of loses the plot as Davis enters his post-Bitches Brew twilight - according to this book, nothing is wrong in the world of Miles Davis. and i guess that was true, he seems happy and married and creative during this time. but this exhaustively researched biography is lacking a certain amount of cultural commentary, in my opinion. anyways, it was admittedly very cool to get a more holistic idea of what went into his most important records

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gregory Tkac

    I learned so much about someone that I was so thirsty for information about - from his youth (and particularly his relationship with his father), to his battles with drug addiction (especially his early heroin addiction and help from his family) to his ability to always see where the music was heading and still be two steps ahead. Highly recommended for even the casual fan to get some insight into true genius.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Aditya

    Carr knows his music. And this helps. because he is able to deconstruct Davis's music and the phases of his life and be able to analyse when Davis began to come into his own, and how his music changed slowly as he grew up into a man. Stage by stage Carr is able to talk with the authority of a pro and the love of a Davis buff about the inner journey of Miles Davis as much as could be possible by an outsider. Carr knows his music. And this helps. because he is able to deconstruct Davis's music and the phases of his life and be able to analyse when Davis began to come into his own, and how his music changed slowly as he grew up into a man. Stage by stage Carr is able to talk with the authority of a pro and the love of a Davis buff about the inner journey of Miles Davis as much as could be possible by an outsider.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Marcelo

    Great read. Miles Davis' life speaks for itself, and Carr exposes in detail every aspect of it, attaining himself more to the music than to the personal side (which is understandable). However, sometimes one can feel that more thorough incursions in those personal aspects would be fruitful. The descriptions of concerts, recording sessions and music in general are great, but sometimes can be a little overwhelming. Other than that, perfect. Great read. Miles Davis' life speaks for itself, and Carr exposes in detail every aspect of it, attaining himself more to the music than to the personal side (which is understandable). However, sometimes one can feel that more thorough incursions in those personal aspects would be fruitful. The descriptions of concerts, recording sessions and music in general are great, but sometimes can be a little overwhelming. Other than that, perfect.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kerry

    Marc Lerch, my good friend and fellow jazz enthusiast, recommended this one to me. Miles was a fascinating personality, and he was always light years ahead of everyone in the business. This book includes loads of interesting vignettes about the man and his music.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Carlos Repuestodelatabla

    This is a brilliant look at Miles by another trumpet player who understands very well what Miles was as musician. He also likes and understands the later, post-60s Miles work, which quite sets him apart. If you're gonna read a first book about Miles, this is a good one. This is a brilliant look at Miles by another trumpet player who understands very well what Miles was as musician. He also likes and understands the later, post-60s Miles work, which quite sets him apart. If you're gonna read a first book about Miles, this is a good one.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chris Penty

    Unnecessarily fawning considering most readers would already be fans. It might have been more useful to understand the context of his music and his influence. Nevertheless this is a useful analysis of Miles' technique, his relationship with his musicians and his composition techniques. Unnecessarily fawning considering most readers would already be fans. It might have been more useful to understand the context of his music and his influence. Nevertheless this is a useful analysis of Miles' technique, his relationship with his musicians and his composition techniques.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mich7637

    I read this with the YouTube open which made it an experience rather than just a read. Some of the musical stuff went over my head (- chromatic, diatonic scales etc) and the personnel of some of his jazz combos didn't really interest me too much but overall a very enjoyable read I read this with the YouTube open which made it an experience rather than just a read. Some of the musical stuff went over my head (- chromatic, diatonic scales etc) and the personnel of some of his jazz combos didn't really interest me too much but overall a very enjoyable read

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lynne

    All the trials and tribulations...So anyone who reads this tell me the most used word in the autobiography...

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Baune

    Simply well done; as far as biographies go this is great,though, as far as literature goes, it is hard to compare a biography to other works, so I gave it a three.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Superb.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Serge Pierro

    An nice biography of Miles Davis. It was nice to read this from the viewpoint of someone other than Miles himself.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ned Bajic

    Well this pretty much all you need to know about Miles, but I would also suggest reading his autobiography and seeing the film 'the story of miles davis' as companion pieces. Well this pretty much all you need to know about Miles, but I would also suggest reading his autobiography and seeing the film 'the story of miles davis' as companion pieces.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tim Gause

    One of the great jazz biographies. A virtual history of jazz from the forties onward. The author's understanding of Miles music is extensive and brilliant. One of the great jazz biographies. A virtual history of jazz from the forties onward. The author's understanding of Miles music is extensive and brilliant.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rob Smith

    Ian Carr should have just written a dissertation analyzing Miles' music. He's not really interested in Miles's life in between studio sessions or performances. Ian Carr should have just written a dissertation analyzing Miles' music. He's not really interested in Miles's life in between studio sessions or performances.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Frank

    Read one of his biographies, not sure if it was this one. Interesting man certainly.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Surely more accurate than Miles' bio, but not as entertaining. Surely more accurate than Miles' bio, but not as entertaining.

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