MEMOS FROM A MUSIC FIEND
BY ALEJANDRO MAGAÑA
Miles Davis: On The Corner
Columbia Records, 1972
Another Black Power Renaissance record of the 1970s.
One of the more tragic ‘what-coulda-been’ stories in American Pop Music is the fact that when Jimi Hendrix died, Miles Davis and Gil Evans were actually in Europe and were supposed to meet with Jimi to discuss an album they were finally going to work on together after having jammed several times at Miles’ house just as friends would. This is according to Miles in “The Autobiography.”
As Miles put it, he was saddened by the fact that a lot of black folk hadn’t really listened to Jimi and he realized, “no matter how great a musician he was, no matter how much I personally loved his music- the way he played the guitar- very few young blacks had ever heard of him, because, for them, he was too far over into white rock.”
Miles, like many other black musicians of the time, such as Funkadelic and Sly Stone, was inspired by Jimi, and one of the ways this manifested in his music was his embrace of ‘the wah-wah’ pedal in his playing. This album, like “Bitches Brew” before it, is rife with this sonic experimentation. He goes on to say that, “It was with Sly Stone and James Brown in mind that I went into the studio in June 1972 to record ‘On The Corner.’” He was aware that these other guys were what Black youth was listening to, not traditional jazz, nor ‘white rock.’ “On The Corner” was his attempt to create music that Black kids would dig and be proud of. The resulting record, however, did not have the impact he wanted it to have as Columbia ended up just trying to advertise it for the traditional jazz fans who didn’t know quite what to think of it themselves.
Well, for those of us fans in the future which Miles could envision, but did not live to see, this album is a strange wonderful beast of a record. It is indeed funky, which he wanted, but it is what I like to call a ‘mutant funk,’ an Afro-futurist vision built on chirpy insectoid voicings, robotic percussion and polyrhythms that had the feel of American streets and African talking drums.
There was a new language for the African diaspora that was emerging not just in Miles’ work but these other artists I’ve mentioned as being a part of this Black Power Renaissance. Musicians and intellectuals alike could discuss some of what was going on from a technical standpoint, but brothers and sisters in the Black community could also hear a heraldic call for a future liberated from oppression and the creative straitjackets that status quo social divisions only helped to edify.
The impact of this album has been felt from jazz to hip hop, to the electronic music that is all around our AI-programmed present. The once young bright star educated at Juilliard had become the battle-hardened and wizened Black Magus.
When Black lives matter THEN all lives will matter.