So What: The Life of Miles Davis

"Jazz genius Davis once said, "Don't you try to make me into a nice guy." Yale professor Szwed neither sentimentalizes nor attacks his subject in this impressive biography, concentrating instead on the fascinating contradictions that led to Davis's artistic greatness. The son of a successful dentist in Illinois, Davis (1926-1991) showed talent for the trumpet early and followed his vision despite disapproval from his mother. He attended Juilliard, married a girl from the wrong side of the tracks and joined Charlie Parker's group, struggling to find his style and overcome feelings of inadequacy against Parker's exhilarating brilliance. While pointing out Davis's love for altering chord progressions and his skill at sketching arrangements in literally seconds, Szwed tracks a life that eventually spiraled out of control. Unsparing accounts of the musician's cocaine and alcohol addiction transcend Davis's life and become a larger portrait of the traps that destroyed so many jazzmen. Davis's love affairs with Juliette Greco and Cicely Tyson grippingly illuminate the narcissism, sexual hunger and violence that made lasting relationships impossible. Szwed offers crisply detailed backstories to such masterpieces as Sketches of Spain, Round About Midnight and Miles Ahead. His prose has a musical pulse, and he highlights the most significant element of Davis's soul: "he told every woman he became involved with that music always came first, before family, children, lovers, friends." Davis's music has been called a "divine disease," and this in-depth study clarifies the nature of that compulsive, satisfying malady in a way that will enlighten listeners and musicians." --Publishers Weekly
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