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Alex Hayley’s interview of Miles Davis was written for Playboy, a men’s entertainment magazine that included some interviews of celebrities (Barford, 2015). This ‘candid conversation’ with Davis is suitably informal in tone (Davis, 1962). Hayley cannot make any assumptions about his readers’ education or musical expertise; therefore, he avoids using technical language or asking questions that require an in-depth understanding of music (Davis, 1962). His questions focus on Davis’ personal life and opinions, which are more likely to intrigue his audience. It appears that his purpose is not primarily to inform or challenge his audience, but rather to provide them with interesting reading material—and to determine whether Davis is really as ‘truculent’ as he seems in public (Davis, 1962).

I believe that Hayley achieves his aims. Not only is the interview easy to read, but it greatly expanded my understanding of who Davis was as a person. I was pleased that he appeared to be a loving husband and father. I gained some insight into the reasons for his ‘rudeness’ to the public (Davis, 1962). I saw some of the difficulties African-American jazz musicians faced during the 1960s. I was indignant to read of the disrespect shown by some audiences (Davis, 1962). I saw Davis’ struggles, such as his sleepless nights; this made him someone to whom I could relate. I admired his determination and his refusal to yield to pressure from society (Davis, 1962). However, the interview failed to give me an understanding of his career and his musical style.

Davis’ playing was lyrical and ‘relaxed’ (‘Davis, Miles,’ accessed 2017; Kernfeld, accessed 2017). Wynton Marsalis said of it, ‘It’s joyous and sad…he plays with a lot of fire, but quietly’ (Holley, 2004). However, while reading Hayley’s interview, I learnt little about these qualities. Likewise, the interview contains little specific information about Davis’ career (Davis, 1962). Although Davis had made numerous recordings before 1962, only one is mentioned (Kernfeld, accessed 2017; Davis, 1962). Given the interview’s format and intended audience, this is understandable; nonetheless, it is disappointing.

Hayley gives Davis suitable time to speak, allowing him to talk for several paragraphs at a time, while keeping his own questions brief (Davis, 1962). Instead of rigidly following a list of questions, he asks some questions that are direct responses to what Davis has just said. These include, ‘What types of people do you find especially irritating?’ and ‘You feel that the complaints about you are because of your race?’ (Davis, 1962.)  Questions such as these are appropriate to the interview’s informal tone: they help the interview to feel like a conversation.

However, Hayley also pursues his own agenda by asking loaded questions (such as ‘Don’t some Negro jazzmen discriminate against white musicians?’) and by asking Davis about his experience of racial prejudice when Davis has already spoken about it (Davis, 1962). One in three of Hayley’s questions deal directly with the subject of race—probably because it is a topic calculated to interest the reader. This makes the interview unbalanced (Davis, 1962).

Some of Hayley’s questions (his very first, for instance) are deliberately provocative. He asks why Davis dislikes music critics, why he is said to dislike jazz concerts, and whether there are places he dislikes playing (Davis, 1962). He also asks personal questions, inquiring if Davis is really ‘one of the financially best-off popular musicians’ (Davis, 1962). These are the kind of questions that inquisitive readers like. However, they are not the questions that are the most significant in giving us a picture of Davis as a musician.

References:

  • Barford, Vanessa. ‘Why America Loved Playboy.’ BBC News Magazine. October 14, 2015. Accessed March 15, 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34471653.
  • Davis, Miles. ‘Miles Davis: A Candid Conversation With the Jazz World’s Premier Iconoclast.’ By Alex Hayley. Playboy (September 1962). Republished as ‘A Playboy Interview With Miles Davis.’ Webpage made by Justin R. Erenkrantz. Last modified August 20, 2010. http://www.erenkrantz.com/Music/MilesDavisInterview.shtml.
  • ‘Davis, Miles.’ In The Oxford Dictionary of Music, 2nd ed. rev. Ed. Michael Kennedy. Accessed March 15, 2017. In Oxford Music Online.
  • Holley, Jr, Eugene. Liner notes. The Best of Miles Davis. Miles Davis (trumpet) with Paul Chambers (bass), Kenny Clarke (drums), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone) et al. Naxos PRCD-5701-2. 2004, compact disc.
  • Kernfeld, Barry. ‘Davis, Miles.’ In Grove Music Online. Accessed March 15, 2017. In Oxford Music Online.

Photograph by Lauren Giddy.

 

 

 

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