1981 and The Man With The Horn marked the return of Miles Davis
In 1981 I had begun my career in college radio at WUOG in Athens, Georgia. Word had been out that Miles Davis had been in the studio for the past year, and was returning with his first studio album since On The Corner in 1972. So when advance copies of The Man With The Horn came our way from Columbia Records before it's July release, we grabbed the vinyl and put it on the turntables and on the air as a public service with all the glee of kids on Christmas Morning tearing into their gifts. On listening to it all the way through recently for the first time in many years it sounds to my ears like it did then—surprising, electric, filled with very similar jams to the the Bitches Brew era he had set down 11 years earlier. Kind of Blue was not coming back, as Miles, like Picasso or Bob Dylan, was not swimming in the same river twice. His band featured electric guitars from Mike Stern and Barry Finnerty up front, 22-year-old Marcus Miller on electric bass, Bill Evans(not that one) on saxophone, Al Foster on drums and Sammy Figueroa on percussion. Miles was playing acoustic trumpet for the sessions, which was a change from his preceding 1970s work. On The Man With The Horn he seems content to let the band be the center of the thing, almost playing the sideman on his long-awaited return. For old-school bebop or blue era fans of Miles Davis, this record did not scratch the itch. But Miles didn't care. His return to the studio heralded his coming late period work, dominated by funk riffs and pop music covers over the seven more albums to come before his untimely passing in 1991. He would play live shows and stand, imperiously, more often facing his band than the audience, ignoring the plaintive wishes of his audience to hear So What or Footprints, playing Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper covers. Towards the end of his career Prince was probably his biggest inspiration. If you expected Miles to play what you wanted, The Man With The Horn may not have been your cup of tea. But there is no mistaking the excitement this record caused when it came out, 41 years ago this July. I'll play Fat Time in the 8p hour of Mainstream and Modern on Sunday night. I hope you join us.