OK … one thing I have to say – while the Wynton Marsalis Grammy appearance is amazing and something we couldn’t imagine happening today, having Marsalis up there in a tuxedo playing Baroque music and mainstream jazz is like the Academy Awards giving the trophy to Ghandi – while not the personal viewing choice of many, it will make the academy feel good about themselves without being too challenged.
But the year before the Grammy producers arranged to get one of the true living legends in American music – Miles Davis – to perform on the show while also presenting him the Lifetime Achievement Award. It seemed perfect – Miles was integral to the development of nearly every major musical movement in Jazz after Swing – bebop, cool, modal, hard-bop, post-bop, fusion, and so on. And he had re-emerged from self-imposed exile the year before and was in the midst of a world tour.
Miles always had a way of flabbergasting audiences with his ‘Directions in Music’, and flabbergasted is the perfect way to describe the audience reaction to Miles that evening. The album he was supporting at the time was Star People, which was a hybrid between the free-funk-fusion of the 70’s and the ‘social music’ he would more clearly elucidate starting with his next recording Decoy in 1984. His 1982 group included Mike Stern and John Scofield on guitars, Bill Evans on saxophone, Al Foster on drums, and Minu Celinu on percussion, with Miles also doing some keyboard work. The song was ‘Speak’, which on album featured a melodic solo by John Scofield that was transformed into ‘That’s What Happened’ for the Decoy recording.
Interestingly, if you watch, you will see Miles play his trumpet with his thumb a couple of times while doubling with block chords on his Oberheim OBX. During one of those times you get your first glimpse of the audience … and if you are like me you will chuckle. There is shock, discomfort and perhaps even disbelief on the faces. Here is this living legend they have given a lifetime achievement award, and instead of coming out and playing a nice little selection from ‘Kind of Blue’ backed by some other nice old musicians, he has what looks like a young rock band playing … something!
The end makes it even more clear – these people are here for Rosanna by Toto or perhaps Where We Belong by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes. They were certainly not ready for whatever it was that Miles was playing that night!