Hear Prince and Miles Davis’ Rarely-Heard Musical Collaborations

The days and weeks after a celebri­ty death tend to fill up with pub­lic inquiries. The vaguer the cir­cum­stances, the more ques­tions pro­lif­er­ate, lead to inves­ti­ga­tions, tri­als, depress­ing tabloid pay­days…. But many fans don’t linger over pro­ce­dur­al goings-on or pruri­ent details. Many won­der instead “What if?”—as in, how do we reck­on the artis­tic loss? What projects went uncom­plet­ed? What kind of col­lab­o­ra­tions might have been on the hori­zon?

The spec­u­la­tive answers to the lat­ter ques­tion often give us far more inter­est­ing results than the real thing. While David Bowie’s work with Fred­die Mer­cury and Queen is unques­tion­ably mas­ter­ful, for exam­ple, his joint effort with Mick Jag­ger now just makes us laugh. Bowie worked with near­ly every­one it seems—there are few match-ups left to pon­der…. Well, every­one that is except Prince. What if….?

And now that Prince has left us, we might won­der about all of the super­du­os that might have formed had he lived into his six­ties and beyond. One col­lab­o­ra­tion that did bear some fruit dur­ing his life­time came just in time for Prince’s super­star part­ner, Miles Davis, who died in 1991. Dur­ing the lat­ter half of the ‘80s, the two formed a bond, based on mutu­al admi­ra­tion for each other’s music, of course, as well as for each other’s image and gen­er­al­ly uncom­pro­mis­ing per­son­al­i­ty.

In fact, since at least 1982, Davis, writes his biog­ra­ph­er Ian Carr, became “almost obses­sive­ly inter­est­ed in the androg­y­nous, mul­ti-tal­ent­ed black pop star… whom he rat­ed very high­ly as an artist.” In the short (almost inaudi­ble) inter­view clip above, Davis describes Prince as a syn­the­sis of James Brown, Mar­vin Gaye, Jimi Hen­drix, and Char­lie Chap­lin. He also com­pared Prince to Sly Stone and Lit­tle Richard, writes Carr, and com­ment­ed, “He’s a mix­ture of all those guys and Duke Elling­ton.”

For his part, Prince sup­pos­ed­ly saw in Davis an old­er ver­sion of him­self. After the two artists met in 1985, they crossed paths sev­er­al more times in the fol­low­ing years, with Miles appear­ing onstage to play a solo at a Pais­ley Park New Year’s Eve ben­e­fit and record­ing a solo on the Prince/Chaka Khan song “Sticky Wicked” in 1988. What’s par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing about Prince and Davis’s musi­cal love affair is that the result­ing music played to both artists’ strengths, instead of attempt­ing to meld their styles into some­thing out of char­ac­ter.

Davis’ exper­i­ments with ‘80s R&B tropes in his 1986 album Tutu stem from their work togeth­er, and the record was orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed as a Prince col­lab­o­ra­tion. At the top of the post, you can hear an unre­leased track orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten for Tutu called “Can I Play With U?” and fea­tur­ing Prince’s vocals. Tutu end­ed up going in a dif­fer­ent direc­tion, and received some high­ly mixed reviews, but it retained much of the spir­it of Prince. And for Miles—who since the late six­ties had absorbed and trans­formed influ­ences from so many con­tem­po­rary styles—this seemed per­fect­ly fit­ting.

The Tutu col­lab may not have panned out—Prince was appar­ent­ly unhap­py with the results and scrapped his songs—but the two didn’t give up on each oth­er. On the con­trary, much of the music Davis played and record­ed at the end of his life was writ­ten by Prince. Above, hear one such com­po­si­tion, the sug­ges­tive­ly named “Pen­e­tra­tion,” in a 1991 per­for­mance. Though Prince’s funk roots shine through, it’s also a work very much in Davis’s fusion wheel­house. Although Davis died before the two could com­plete their long-await­ed col­lab­o­ra­tive album, we don’t have to won­der “What if?”

Much of the music they wrote togeth­er sur­vives in live per­for­mances like that above and has cir­cu­lat­ed in a Davis boot­leg titled Miles Davis Plays Prince and a Prince boot­leg titled Cru­cial. Does the music on these record­ings live up to the out­sized tal­ent and per­son­al­i­ties of these two genius­es? Prob­a­bly not—whatever could? But it shows us the direc­tion Davis would have con­tin­ued to move in had he lived on, and also gives us a way to think about the sig­nif­i­cant jazz influ­ences in Prince’s music, a sub­ject rarely dis­cussed but wor­thy of much more con­sid­er­a­tion.

via Bill­board

Relat­ed Con­tent:

See Prince (RIP) Play Mind-Blow­ing Gui­tar Solos On “While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps” and “Amer­i­can Woman”

Prince (RIP) Per­forms Ear­ly Hits in a 1982 Con­cert: “Con­tro­ver­sy,” “I Wan­na Be Your Lover” & More

The Night When Miles Davis Opened for the Grate­ful Dead in 1970: Hear the Com­plete Record­ings

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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