For several years, I woke up to the same exact sounds almost every single morning: the first few notes of “Concierto de Aranjuez” from Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, emanating from the tinny speakers (or is that speaker?) in my alarm clock/CD player. The only reason I don’t still wake up the same way, in fact, is that my son gets me up without the need for an alarm clock. I love his morning coo-coo sounds, don’t get me wrong—but there are some days when I wish I could go back. I’m just too sleep-deprived, however, to do it.
If you know the song, I hope you’ll agree it’s a beautiful way to begin the day: a gently percussive beginning followed, a few beats later, by a grand pronouncement of horns. It’s almost the equivalent of the soft shake of the shoulder, then the curtains being thrown open to the sun. If you don’t know it, click the song title above to hear the first thirty seconds, if you like… though your appetite may be whetted for the rest.
If all you knew of Miles Davis’ work was Sketches of Spain, however, you’d be seriously misled about him. The same artist who made that music also made, a year earlier, Kind of Blue, which couldn’t be any more different. In fact, you can almost choose any two albums from his expansive discography and readily find differences between them. The only thing that unites them is their inventiveness. Rather than limit himself to one style or genre of music, Miles Davis mastered the genres that helped him express his artistic vision. He was, in that respect as in many others, an absolute genius.
People resented him in the same way they resented Bob Dylan for picking up an electric guitar after years of playing acoustic. How dare he demand that we redefine him in our minds? Since I came to his music late in the game, however, I’ve always known him as a master of many modes, so I didn’t have to experience the herky-jerk of getting accustomed to one Miles Davis, then having to learn another. It ALL seems like Miles Davis to me. Miles Davis isn’t a style, he’s a mind. In that he reminds me of Picasso.
I find great inspiration in that approach. My own work as a playwright has been diverse in the same way. (I’m not claiming quality here, mind you, merely a tendency to wander from aesthetic approach to aesthetic approach.) The Pirandellian style I used in LET X, for example, is radically different than the realism of THE TREEHOUSE and the abstract symbolism of CRACKED. In the end, for me, the style of a work needs to emerge from the demands of its subject matter. If I wrote in the same style every time, furthermore, I’d feel like I was imitating myself, and limiting myself: a playwright needs to be free.
So thank you, Miles Davis, not only for waking me up, but for giving me a model to emulate. I really appreciate it.