Magazine article The New Yorker

An Uppercut Above

Magazine article The New Yorker

An Uppercut Above

Article excerpt

Early in 1970, the filmmaker William Cayton approached the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis about preparing a score for a documentary on the life and work of the early-twentieth-century black American prizefighter Jack Johnson--a subject that, as it happened, had particular resonance for Davis. Both Johnson and Davis explored, in their work and in their lives, the complex nature of black masculinity. And they both had an almost perverse interest in thumbing their noses at social mores--dating white women, driving fast cars.

The original soundtrack to the film, produced by the brilliant Teo Macero, accounts for only a small fraction of the music Davis created between February and June of 1970. In the beautifully remastered and packaged "The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions" (Columbia/Legacy), you can hear him searching ardently for a new sound without sacrificing his skills as an improviser. Davis's electric blues was the sound of his times: anarchic, soft, lyrical, sad, and hopeful. …

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