From: Bob Davis <earthjuice_at_prodigy.net>
Date: Sun, 5 Mar 2006 01:10:47 -0500

"A TRIBUTE TO JACK JOHNSON" is flat out one of the 10 greatest albums ever
recorded. It's not only essential listening for anyone who wants to
understand why Miles Davis belongs in the RRHOF, but its essential listening
for anyone who wants to understand the convergence of musical styles that
Miles Davis was working with and working towards.

Right from the first note, even before the needle is dropped, you can tell
that "A TRIBUTE TO JACK JOHNSON" is going to be different. Starting with the
album cover. On the front we see a stark black and white photo of Miles in a
white t-shirt playing the trumpet, against a totally black background. In
the photo Miles is leaning back so far that his back is almost parallel to
the ground.

You are all familiar with this photo, because it is a silhouette of this
photo of Miles Davis that Sony Music uses as the "Miles Davis Logo"

Just to the left we can see in large BOLD white typeface....


(and then in a font so small you can barely see it)
"a tribute to"

(and just below that once again in in large BOLD white typeface....)


So the net effect of all of this is that we see the photo of Miles and then
just to the left we see:
So the effect is that Miles has equated himself with Jack Johnson

Then when you flip the album cover over you see a painting of a huge gold
convertible limo being driven by a large Black man with 4 white female
passengers. the just to the left we see the very same bold lettering that
appears on the front cover...

Obviously there are many ways that this album cover can be interpreted.
My own personal interpretation is that...

"While Jack Johnson might have constantly found his back up against the wall
because of the white man, Miles Davis had discovered a way to bend his back
in such a way that the white man could NEVER have his back up against the

(your interpretation of this may vary....)

The album Jack Johnson only consists of two tracks:
-Right Off

And on the original LP each one of these tracks took up the whole side of
the LP.

Once you actually start to play the album you immediately recognize the
difference between it and "BITCHES BREW/IN A SILENT WAY". The album "A
TRIBUTE TO JACK JOHNSON" is defiantly a "rock n; roll album".

The personnel had changed quite a bit. By this time the only players left
from Miles 1960's group were Herbie Hancock and John McLaughlin. Anchoring
the proceedings now is Motown/Detroit bassist Micheal Henderson who provides
a non stop funk groove. That groove is juxtaposed against the firece rock
guitar of John McLaughlin. The song "Right Off" is an expansion of some the
ideas first introduced by Jimi Hendrix on "Axis Bold as Love". On the second
song "Yesternow" Henderson and McLaughlin continue to dominate but Miles
Davis finds his "voice" inside of the space guitar/bass virtuoso mix. The
trumpet comes in thru the side door and joins in the groove.

This album is an act of rebellion on multiple levels:

- On a musical level Miles Davis is playing rock n' roll in a bold move that
must have infuriated "jazz critics".

- At the end of the song "Yesternow" we hear the voice of Miles Davis speak
for the first time. Only it's not via the trumpet, it's channeled thru the
actor Brock Peters who gives us a summary description of Jack Johnson's life
& career. It is then that as listeners we suddenly remember that this album
is supposed to actually be the soundtrack of a movie about Jack Johnson.
Hearing the voice of Brock Peters is a sudden shock to one's ears after
listening to about 50 minutes of blistering instrumental rock n' roll. While
the voice is that of Peters, the words are clearly those of Miles Davis and
while they are about Jack Johnson, clearly those words are equally about
Miles Davis.

- Miles Davis had wanted Jimi Hendrix to join his band and play the guitar
on the album "A TRIBUTE TO JACK JOHNSON". Since that wasn't possible, John
McLaughlin stands in for Hendrix. In some ways the album can be viewed as a
huge "shout out" to Jimi Hendrix. If you listen to the song "South Saturn
Delta" by Jimi Hendrix containing that great trumpet solo, the only song I
am aware of by Hendrix that contains a trumpet, clearly Jimi Hendrix is
giving a huge "shout out" to Miles Davis.

The year was 1970 and the album "A TRIBUTE TO JACK JOHNSON" came in second
to the WOODSTOCK album in the balloting for album of the year at the
Grammys. That was unprecedented for a "jazz album", but that was one year
when the Grammy voters got it right. Obviously no album was going to beat
out WOODSTOCK for "album of the year". However the Grammy voters clearly
acknowledged the genius of Miles Davis and the "fusion" that he had created.
If Miles had stopped right there and continues to create more albums in the
same vein as "A TRIBUTE TO JACK JOHNSON" there is little doubt in my mind
that he would have became a great "rock star". However Miles Davis was
already a "star" and he was on a mission to literally redefine music.


Bob Davis
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Received on 2006-03-05 07:19:39