Miles Davis on innovation and change, warmed-over turkey and hurt lips

Miles Davis started out playing bebop with Charlie Parker. From there he moved on to cool jazz, modal jazz (Kind of Blue), hard bop, free, electric, rock fusion, and on and on. He never looked back, never repeated himself. He was always innovating, always changing. 

Why? He could have easily just re-done a version of Kind of Blue, the best-selling jazz album of all time, ad infinitum – lots of musicians and artists had taken that route. It pays the mortgage.

“So What or Kind of Blue, they were done in that era, the right hour, the right day, and it happened. It’s over,” Miles told Ben Sidran in a 1986 interview. “What I used to play with Bill Evans, all those different modes, and substitute chords, we had the energy then and we liked it. But I have no feel for it anymore—it’s more like warmed-over turkey.”

The great singer and pianist Shirley Horn (Miles was a fan) pushed him to reconsider playing the gentle ballads and modal tunes of his Kind of Blue period. She says he replied, “Nah, it hurts my lip.”

He didn’t mean that literally. It hurt him in an essential place to try to live in the old – the warmed-over turkey.

So how do we make a change, lead a change, how do we innovate? 

We trust the dissatisfaction. We don’t push it down. We let in the feeling of having no feel for something anymore we used to have energy for. We don’t medicate it with busyness, Facebook, Netflix. We welcome it. 

Dissatisfaction’s the force that will lead us on the hero’s journey to our new home.

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