Miles Davis: The Unreconstructed Black Man in Modern Jazz

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Paul LOPES, Colgate University, USA
This paper looks at the infra-politics of Miles Davis – his everyday demeanor, actions, and words of resistance. It is based on the public story of Davis found in magazines, newspapers, books, television, radio, and film. This story reflects the personal and artistic journey of Davis and the collective rendition of this journey by Davis, critics, journalists, and others. It shows the intersection of the personal life, public biography, creative work, and critical reception of a public intellectual negotiating his racial and gender identity for over four decades. Davis was an unreconstructed race-man provocateur who elicited among white critics and journalists such epithets as Public Enigma No. 1 and Prince of Darkness because he challenged prevailing expectations of racial etiquette in Jim Crow America. The public story reveals how in his professional persona and interviews Davis challenged the deference-behavior expected from African Americans by White Americas. Davis became the “angry” and “racist” race-man by stridently reminding those around him of the racial social distance that pervaded the jazz art world and American society. He also challenged the deference-silence expected of African Americans by his angry, no-holds-bared criticism of racism in American music and society. I also look at how his self-hood and persona of race-man was intimately wrapped up in a hypermasculinity that prevailed in jazz and American music. I argue how this hypermasculinity with its misogynistic objectification of, and violence towards, women was normalized in jazz and American music so that this aspect was not part of Davis’s “angry” black man narrative. I end by looking at Davis’s complicity in this image of black masculinity and his eventual fall from grace with the publication of his 1989 autobiography. This autobiography forever changed his legacy as one of the most important African American intellectuals and artists of the twentieth century.