On Feb. 18, 1969, at CBS’ 30th Street Studio in New York, Miles Davis definitively went in the direction that he’d already been leaning toward for a year or so: full electricity. The album that emerged from that fateful recording session, In a Silent Way, established a new jazz-rock path that would be further cemented by the double-disc Bitches Brew, cut later that same year and released in 1970. Miles’ days of working within a traditional acoustic format were over, and jazz would never be the same.
All of the above facts are indisputable. Yet even now, opinions diverge on what Miles was trying to achieve by going electric, and on what lasting significance his radical stylistic shift has had on jazz, and on music in general. And so it seemed appropriate, 50 years on, to bring up those subjects and more with some of the musicians who worked with Miles during his electric years. Seven of those players—drummer Lenny White, bassist Michael Henderson, saxophonists Dave Liebman and Gary Bartz, percussionist Mtume, drummer (and Miles’ nephew) Vince Wilburn Jr., and trumpeter Wallace Roney—gathered in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room during the second annual Jazz Congress this past January for a discussion moderated by journalist and broadcaster Mark Ruffin. An edited transcript of that conversation follows. —Mac Randall