We Want Miles Exhibit Opens in Montreal

Exhibit on legendary trumpeter runs through August 29, 2010

Miles Davis was always known as a jazz artist for whom image was important. He was also one of the music’s most photogenic figures. And he was a restless and creative artist who changed his music with the times. Finally, he was an artist who loved to paint large canvases of slightly abstract figures in bold bright colors. So it’s no surprise that a large-scale exhibit of photography, art and artifacts dedicated to the legendary trumpeter has been organized. The show, “We Want Miles” opened on April 30 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal, Quebec in Canada. The show had previously been mounted at the Musee de la Musique in Paris.

The exhibit was curated by Vincent Bessieres, who wrote about Miles: “More than the archetype of the cool musician-deliberate, distant, elegant, uncompromising-Davis is the incarnation of audacity and invention.” The exhibit certainly has gone to great lengths to capture his mercurial brilliance.

Included in this first North American multimedia exhibition on Davis are:

• Paintings by Davis and works contemporary artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat and Niki de Saint Phalle, among others;

• Original manuscripts and musical scores including the composition for Birth of the Cool;

• Musical instruments including horns that he played, and initial pressings of his records;

• Intimate portraits taken by such legendary photographers as Annie Leibovitz, Lee Friedlander, Anton Corbijn, and Irving Penn, among others;

• Video clips of and full length live concert footage, and stage clothes.

Naturally, it would impossible to appreciate the art without hearing the music, and so the museum has gone to great lengths to insure that visitors get to hear the Prince of Darkness in all his glory. Speakers shaped like trumpet mutes are scattered throughout the exhibit and there will be twenty listening stations, as well as a series of large scale projections of various performances and clips.

In addition, a companion book has also been published by the fine art publisher Rizzoli Press. The lavish coffee-table book with the provocative if somewhat contradictory title, We Want Miles: Miles Davis vs. Jazz, was written by Franck Bergerot, the editor-in-chief of Jazz Magazine in France. In addition to the text by Bergerot, the book includes remembrances of Davis by David Liebman, John Szwed, Ira Gitler, George Avakian and others. However, the images comprise the main attraction here. Included are nearly every iconic image of the trumpeter-from Don Hunstein’s photos of Miles in the studio recording Kind of Blue to Irving Penn’s stark and dramatic portrait for the Tutu album cover.

The exhibit and book are the subject of an upcoming Final Chorus column by Nat Hentoff in the July/August issue of JazzTimes.