- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2006

ST. LOUIS — To say 2006 is a busy year for Miles Davis and the estate of the late jazz virtuoso would be like saying Mr. Davis was a decent trumpet player.

CDs, a DVD, a book, a movie, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and even a University of Southern California marching-band halftime performance are a few pieces that make up something of a comeback for the King of Cool in his 80th-birthday year.

“One of the things that has been most surprising to me is just how iconic the name Miles Davis is,” says Darryl Porter, general manager of Miles Davis Properties. “Part of our goal is to get a whole new generation of Miles fans.”

As music changed, Mr. Davis morphed his cool jazz into fusion and experimental sounds that later gave way to jazz funk and hip-hop grooves. This year, his estate is finding ways to reinvent Mr. Davis and let the music he composed continue to evolve.

Remixed Davis recordings called “Evolution of the Groove,” featuring guitarist Carlos Santana and the rapper Nas, will be released in the fall. Also this year, Miles Davis Properties hired high-powered entertainment publicists Rogers & Cowan to promote Mr. Davis’ legacy and the many events taking place throughout 2006.

Mr. Porter came onboard to run the estate in the past year. He knew the jazz legend and the Davis family since childhood. A lawyer and manager for others in the music industry, he now coordinates business and marketing for the estate. Requests to use Mr. Davis’ music and image come from around the world and are granted daily by Miles Davis Properties, Mr. Porter says.

In May, a collectors’ box of the Miles Davis Quintet was released 50 years after the recording sessions. But the momentum that Mr. Davis created during a career that spanned decades hardly needs a push from a four-disc box set or the force his estate has put behind him this year.

Sales of Mr. Davis’ music have not slowed since his death 15 years ago.

“There’s not an easier musician to market than Miles Davis. There are so many different version of Miles Davis. People can plug into the Miles they like,” says jazz critic Gerald Early, who has edited a book on Mr. Davis. “As far as an artistic commodity, he’s very valuable.”

“Kind of Blue,” still sells thousands of CDs a week, according to Sony BMG. It’s Mr. Davis’ most acclaimed recording with the smooth melodies of John Coltrane and other jazz greats. Other Davis records that also are jazz-collection essentials, including the trippy “Bitches Brew” and “Birth of the Cool” have maintained similar stamina.

Sony Legacy plans to release more Miles Davis recordings this year, and his estate is excited that Don Cheadle has agreed to play the jazz legend in an upcoming biopic.

“It’s a great year for Miles. There’s definitely been a renewed interest,” says Chuck Haddix, a jazz historian and director of the Marr Sound Archives in Kansas City, Mo.

In comparing Mr. Davis’ estate with another jazz legend, Charlie Parker, there’s a marked difference, Mr. Haddix says. Mr. Parker’s survivors had been in turmoil for years with litigation over his estate.

“Even before Parker was in the ground, his family was embroiled in controversy over money,” Mr. Haddix says. “I think Miles was a little bit better at taking care of business.”

Looking at the strength of Mr. Davis’ estate today, it was obvious he knew what he wanted for his survivors and understood the value of publishing, Mr. Porter says.

But Mr. Davis’ survivors have not been without any public feuding.

His son Gregory Davis has written a book that tells how he and Miles Davis Jr. were not named as beneficiaries in their dad’s will when he passed on at age 65 in 1991. Gregory Davis still owns a portion of his father’s publishing rights, however.

Miles Davis’ legacy and the eternal proceeds from his name and music are now entrusted to four relatives who make up the Davis estate — his youngest son, Erin, daughter Cheryl, nephew Vince Wilburn Jr. and his father (Mr. Davis’ brother-in-law).

“Dark Magus,” Gregory Davis’ book, is expected to be released this year. It paints his father’s personality as “Jekyll and Hyde,” something with which other Davis children disagree.

That’s not a side of Mr. Davis that’s being honored this year from St. Louis, where he spent his early years, to Hollywood.

A jazz concert was held last month in his honor in the place where he was honored the year before his death with a gold-plated star embedded in the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Besides the Rock Hall of Fame, Mr. Davis this year was also immortalized by Hollywood’s RockWalk (having already been etched a few years back into the Hollywood Walk of Fame). In addition, the Smithsonian Institution in the District had an exhibit on Mr. Davis and legendary jazz pianist Thelonious Monk in April — and a performance DVD of Mr. Davis will be released on the 15th anniversary of his passing in September.

“He was always about improving the craft and moving forward,” Erin Davis says. “We feel like we are honoring him by continuing that tradition.”

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