So when we last left your humble writer and narrator, Marcus Miller told me to go say hi to Miles Davis in Clinton Studio C because I was going to be on this album for 5 weeks or 5 minutes! I walked into the live room and took a deep breath. Miles looked up at me. I said, “Hey Miles, My name is Jason Miles and I’ve been programming synthesizers for Marcus and I am so excited to be working on this project. I did the Demos you heard. The music sounds great.” He paused looked at me again and said, “I like your name.” I was like wow, cool. I told him it was an honor to work with him and if he needs anything just to let me know. He looked at me, said thanks and started to mess around with his horn. I turned, walked the other way and went back in the control room. Marcus looked at me and asked how it went. I said, “I’m still here!”
At that point, here comes another set of pressures, making this album. We had 3 tracks already from the previous demos that Marcus finished up in LA. Now we were working on 4 new songs. The first song we were working on was a very funky track called Full Nelson. It had a very Prince kind of vibe to it. The reality of the situation was that Prince and Miles had a song that was supposed to go on the album called “Can I Play With You”, but for some reason, that I still don’t know why, the song wasn’t going to be used, so Marcus ended up writing this song to kind of cover the musical ground of the song we didn’t use. I really liked this one. It was edgy and really had Miles influence along with the Prince vibe.
We were working at Clinton Studios which was an excellent studio on 10th ave and 49 street in NYC. They had 2 big rooms there and it seems like everyday we were in a different room, which meant every night at 2-3 am I would have to break down my gear, get it moved, either up stairs to another studio or downstairs, and re set it up again. The reason being that Clinton did a lot of Jingles and films and those companies would pay significantly more for the room than we were paying making a record. Some studios would get $300 an hour for a jingle. That was a pain, but the fact is, I was making an album with Miles Davis.
I observed some very interesting things during the time we made TuTu, and it was more about dynamics in ones career, than the music. You see when we were making this album, Miles was not at the height of his popularity. He left Columbia and everybody was taking huge gamble at Warner Brothers signing him. Tommy was definitely in the line of fire (Just a term!) if this didn’t go well. That’s why he was so adamant about the material being first rate. I did ask Marcus what the objective was and he gave me an answer that has stuck with me for over 30 years. “We have to get Miles to play great melodies.” That, in the realm of everything, is what it’s about in music, a “Great Melody”. What I observed was that very few people came to the studio to see us or hang, and there was very little buzz around the project, because Miles was not a giant voice in music at that point, and I really believe many people thought he lost it. After hearing his performance on the track TuTu, it was obvious he hadn’t. Very few people came by the studio because it wasn’t the cool hang. Greg Tate, who was a young writer at the time, came a number of times, because he was researching Miles for an article. Miles young son Erin also came by. A famous Japanese photographer as well. To go into the future a bit, the next album after TuTu was a success, was totally different. More people more issues. A lesson to learn for the future, when there is a success, no matter who you are, everybody wants a piece of it.
Miles Davis at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, 1986
I always treaded lightly around him, as I didn’t know what to expect from him. As I was working, he would always check me out, and I finally figured out that he really didn’t know what I was doing with my synthesizers, but he did know the album was sounding great and the synthesizers and the work I was doing, was breaking new ground. We never sat and talked about that, but it was obvious what was happening. On my second day in the studio, he was sketching a stick figure on a sheet of paper. He got a call and had to leave, but before he left, I asked him what he was going to do with the sketch. He said, “nothing, throw it away.” I asked if I could have it and he said, “give it to me”. I did and he signed Miles to Miles on it with a trumpet. Wow. What a moment. That is a moment in my studio.
I had the early days of my synth rig. With a PPG Wave 2.3, Emu Emulator ll, DX7/TX 416 rack, Oberheim Matrix 12, Linn 9000, Prophet V… They were all not your generic brand, except for the Yamaha DX and TX. My system gave the sounds character. I was really into sampling on the Emulator and had lots of cool samples that would really come into play later on in the recording. We were spending about 12-14 hours everyday now on the album. A lot of work making this perfect and arrangements as well, were done in the studio. The word on the street was that Marcus had taken over the album and he didn’t want any other musicians on the album and he would play everything. That is not the truth. That was Miles’s call. I heard him say he dug what was happening and keep it the way it is. Other musicians did come and play on different spots. Bernard Wright, Omar Hakim, Michael Urbaniak, Paulinho DaCosta, Adam Holzman, and George Duke who produced and wrote one of the cuts, were a few of the others.
Here’s a cool story. We were in our 3rd week and Kathy drove me in to the studio so she could take care of some business for us. A couple of weeks earlier Miles had kicked out the wife of a musician because he didn’t like her attitude when she came by. I told Kathy that Miles wasn’t coming to the studio and that she should come by and hang. She was always cool and all the musicians never had a problem with her. She got the scenario. So she comes by and is sitting in the lounge in studio C when all of a sudden the phone rings from the front desk. “Miles is here and on his way back.” I go and tell Kathy Miles is coming and she gets incredibly nervous and wants to leave. I said just chill and hang in the lounge. Miles comes in, acknowledges me. A few minutes later I say, “Miles my wife came in town and she’s in the lounge, I’d like to introduce you to her.” I bring him back and he sees Kathy and he couldn’t have been nicer to her. She has a laid back vibe and it went well. She is still in the lounge when we’re listening and he says, “doesn’t your wife like the music?” I said, “she loves the music.” “Then tell her to come out here and join us!!” Miles always treated Kathy great.
Now that everything has been set up, in the next column we will get into the music and the finale of making this project and the ramifications it had on so many people.
From his synth programming on Miles Davis’ 80s masterpieces to his current album Kind of New with Ingrid Jensen-dubbed by one insightful veteran journalist as the “Quincy Jones of Contemporary Music”—has not only helped shape the landscape of contemporary jazz, but also brought his rich sonic textures as a keyboardist, arranger and producer to artists in a multitude of genres.