Kind of Blue: The Changing Music and Personal Style of Miles Davis
By Alex Joseph
Miles Davis (1926-1991), one of the most influential jazz artists of all time, had a long, extremely productive career, featuring 67 studio albums. For the purposes of a fashion presentation, it may be worth noting that he was known for constantly changing his style of music. His New York Times obituary reads, “Each [change] brought denunciations from critics; each, except for the most recent one, has set off repercussions throughout modern jazz. ‘I have to change,’ he once said. ‘It’s like a curse.’” Over time, Davis’s personal style changed too. In photographs of his early performances, which date from the late ’40s, Davis appears very much of his time, in a starched white shirt, necktie, and jacket. By the ’60s, the look was more casual and fashionable. Later, his style became increasingly eccentric, with elaborate costumes. This presentation will review filmed images and photographs of Davis and examine them in light of current fashion, social and cultural changes, and Davis’s own biography and particular sensibility. These changes will be noted to some extent within the context of the music that Davis was playing at the time. Background on Davis will be provided by Ian Carr’s Miles Davis: the Definitive Biography, and Davis’s autobiography. Published photographs and written profiles from newspapers and magazines, unpublished photographs and art, album covers, and film excerpts will be treated as primary sources. The effect of social changes such as the civil rights movement will be discussed. Finally, Davis’s own attitude toward personal style will be considered. Was he exacting, oblivious, or something in between?
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