Seventy-one-year-old Brooklyn-born keyboardist/producer Jason Miles has charted an impressive recording career that includes credits with Miles Davis, Luther Vandross, and David Sanborn. And it’s all documented in his new autobiography, The Extraordinary Journey of Jason Miles.
His interactions with these artists and others—an early chapter recounts crossing paths with Michael Brecker at a New York sushi restaurant and helping him buy a synthesizer in 1984—are highlights throughout. Yet there are also clues, like that chapter’s quote of “I always thought that I was ahead of everybody else,” that bring the point of Miles’ self-published memoir into focus: that he’s deserving of wider recognition.
Is he right? Perhaps. His Jamaica Boys band included bassist/producer Marcus Miller, who brought Miles on board for Davis’ 1986 album Tutu. The keyboardist’s participation was, of course, subject to the trumpeter’s approval, which was no small feat given the latter’s often acerbic personality. Yet the author recounts winning him over with his synthesizer programming and sampling—also featured on Davis’ 1989 follow-up Amandla—in vivid detail.
Had Davis (who died in 1991) lived longer and used Miles’ work on more albums, the keyboardist’s life story might have been different. Instead, later chapters recount Miller drawing him into other projects based in pop and R&B (Vandross) and contemporary jazz (Sanborn).
Davis’ lengthy career included synthesizer players who would become stars as jazz-fusion bandleaders: Joe Zawinul (Weather Report), Herbie Hancock (Headhunters), and Chick Corea (Return to Forever). Yet each also played acoustic piano and other electric keyboards. Miles never achieved comparable bandleader status and became typecast, fairly or not, as a studio synthesizer sideman despite his piano studies in New York City and at Indiana State University.
The keyboardist’s writing style is free-flowing to the point of stream-of-consciousness, including grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors. He recalls recording jingles (“It was a lucrative scene to be in, but it had nothing to do with making records”), documents his solo recording career from the 1990s onward, and describes himself as the “low man on the totem pole of the upper echelon” for his studio work—a notch below producer status—within his star associations.
Miles’ subsequent career as a producer is documented late, as is his rare stage work via the Global Noize tour of 2008, a collaboration between Miles and DJ Logic. The group’s self-titled album and 25-show club tour of the United States eventually becomes a saga, yet collectively includes Bernie Worrell, Meshell Ndegeocello, Jeff Coffin, and Mike Clark. His 2015 Kind of New project with trumpeter Ingrid Jensen also results in turmoil to end the book, but like much of The Extraordinary Journey of Jason Miles, the most extraordinary moments are steeped in the company he keeps.
Learn more about The Extraordinary Journey of Jason Miles on Amazon.