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Remembering Miles Davis

Today, we’re remembering Miles Davis on what would have been his 90th birthday – but his life and work continues to influence artists across our programme in a series of jazz-infused shows.

This July, Robert Lepage takes inspiration from the lives of Miles Davis and Jean Cocteau to explore addiction, disorientation and the creative drive in Needles and Opium while Brazilian multi-instrumentalist and frequent collaborator with Miles Davis, Hermeto Pascoal performs this July.

But until then, we asked some of our favourite artists and our Contemporary Music team – to share their favourite Miles Davis songs.

What is your favourite Miles Davis track and why? Let us know in the comments below…

Robert Lepage, director and writer of Needles and Opium
Listen to Robert Lepage discuss the influence of Miles Davis on his work and some of the tracks that inspired and feature in Needles and Opium.

Wellesley Robertson III, actor – Miles Davis in Needles and Opium
‘Generique’ from Ascenseur pour l’échafaud.

‘I like the title track from Ascenseur pour L’echafaud, ‘Generique’. It’s the one we use in the show. I like that one because it was my very first introduction to his music.’

Luke Abbott, electronic music artist
‘In A Silent Way’ from In A Silent Way

‘I think this is Miles Davis at his most magical I think, it feels like it’s from another world’

Nils Frahm, pianist and composer
‘Nuit Sur Les Champs-Elysées (Take 1)’ from Ascenseur pour l’échafaud.

Listen out for Nils Frahm’s homage to Davis in Late Night Tales.

Ken Thomson, clarinetist from Bang on a Can All Stars
‘Moon Dreams’ from Ballads and Blues

‘Moon Dreams (Birth of the Cool) from the very beginning of what would become a legendary collaboration between Miles and Gil Evans, and something personally close to my heart as someone trying to straddle the divide between composition and improvisation.  Moon Dreams begins easily and sweetly enough, and then, after Gerry Mulligan’s solo, goes somewhere completely else for its last minute — it is quiet yet captivating, raw yet adventurous, and ultimately somewhat unsettling. Just like Miles was.’

Martin Green, Lau
‘Will O’ The Wisp’ from Sketches of Spain

Stephen Mallinder, Wrangler and Cabaret Voltaire
‘Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)’ from Sketches in Spain

‘I went to see a performance of sketches of Spain as a teenager (not by Miles sadly) and it was the first time I had heard the orchestration of Gill Evans and I found it remarkable and beautiful.’

Chris Sharp, Barbican Contemporary Music Programmer
‘He Loved Him Madly’ from Get Up With It

‘This is a wayward, astral companion to the hushed ambience of In A Silent Way. It looks backwards (it’s a tribute to Duke Ellington), sideways (dub basslines, global rhythms, psychedelic funk) and forwards (still sounds like nothing else) – all at the same time’.

Marcus Printup, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
‘You Won’t Forget Me’ – Shirley Horne

‘One of my many favourite tracks is one of his later recordings. It it with his friend and fantastic vocalist/pianist, Shirley Horne. The track is entitled ‘You Won’t Forget Me’ from her album of the same name in 1991. Actually, it was Miles’ last recording as a sideman. I hear so much in his solo. History and emotion spanning over 40 years, all put into a funnel and what comes out is nothing short of gold.’

Soweto Kinch, musician and spoken word artist
‘Milestones’ (with John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly)

‘There are two versions of Milestones with the same name, yet completely different content. This later version is particularly important to me, as it shows Miles experimenting with modal jazz for the first time, as well as showcasing his ability to bring he finest out of his sidemen. These must be the greatest saxophone playing ‘sidemen’ of all time. Cannonballs’ solo may be the most singable alto introduction ever, and the whole track is a masterclass in swing.’

Bryn Ormrod, Barbican Contemporary Music Programmer
‘Miles Runs the Voodoo Down’, Bitches Brew

‘The album and this track mark a watershed where Davis’s jazz collides with rock – the track title is a reference to Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile – it has a major impact on both scenes.. Arguably a turning point in music … fearless and ferocious experimentation combines with extraordinary virtuosity and…oh those hypnotic grooves, but it also has surprises and subtlety; there’s this mad New Orleans groove going on in Lenny Whites drumming which I particularly like.’

Listen to the full playlist on Spotify.

Ex Machina/Robert Lepage’s Needles and Opium takes place from 7–16 July in our Theatre.

Hermeto Pascal performs on Saturday 9 July in our Hall.

EFG London Jazz Festival takes place in various venues across London in November.



Sarah Graham

Fantastic to hear these great choices. Miles Davis’s status as musical genius is confirmed once again. Thanks!

Richard Williams

A reminder that Miles shared with Picasso and Stravinsky the ability to constantly re-invent himself and yet remain always recognisable.

Joan Walters

It feels like coming home. Miles was my entry into jazz.

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