Miles Davis’s colourful life lends itself well to the conventions of graphic comic books, which require easily recognisable characters, a strong plot, and plenty of action to capture and hold the reader’s attention. And in Dave Chisholm Miles has luckily found the right creator, for Chisholm has already produced a fine graphic novel about Charlie Parker and obviously loves the jazz he writes and draws about.
His book starts with Miles recovering from a stroke in 1982 and his doctor suggesting he take up drawing as therapy to regain the use of his immobile hand. It’s a clever introduction, for as Miles draws himself back to life Chisholm draws in that life, from Miles leaving home in St Louis to study music in New York and playing with Charlie Parker, then setting out on his own with the help of Gil Evans to produce the cool music of his nonet.
In quick order come his visit to France in 1949 where he meets Juliette Greco, his Prestige records that made his name, the famous quintets with John Coltrane and then Wayne Shorter, his adoption of electric jazz, and then his retirement in the 1970s before his return to the stage in the 1980s thanks to his nephew Vince Wilburn and bassist Marcus Miller.
And of course, there is the running theme throughout the book of Miles the abuser and addict – of women and drugs – his appalling behaviour towards his neglected children, and his overpowering ego that dominated his life and wrecked his relationships. Chisholm doesn’t shy away from the private Miles, but attempts to explain Miles’s constant search for his own sound as a battle that raged within himself. “As I was planning this project it just made sense to adapt Davis’s own words as narration – to provide a sense of his interior world and his philosophies … to illustrate the gulf between what he said and what he did,” Chisholm explains.
The lived life aside, it’s the music that dominates this book, beautifully depicted in the blood-red pages that describe the creation of Sketches Of Spain, and in the visual psychedelic cacophony that accompanies his music in the 1970s. Both evocations are particularly fine.
You don’t have to be a fan of Miles the man or musician to enjoy this book, although that obviously helps. But you do have to love jazz, and enjoy it leaping out of the visual riches of these pages. A true feast for the eyes, and a tough challenge to the senses.
Miles Davis And The Search For The Sound, written and illustrated by Dave Chisholm, foreword by Erin Davis. Z2 Comics, Los Angeles. 160 pp, full colour throughout, h/b, $39.99 (£31.98), oversized deluxe edition $99.99 (£79.95)