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Porgy and Miles

Tucker, Mark

Miles Davis traced his rising fame in the 1950's to changes taking place in society. Given Davis's affiliation, first with a group of postwar jazz musicians carving out a new identity for black artists, then with a larger movement engaged in transforming the nation's cultural and political landscape (including the Beats, Civil Rights activists, Abstract Expressionists, and others), it is remarkable that in 1958 he teamed up with arranger Gil Evans to record an album devoted to Porgy and Bess. Yet far from an artistic misstep, Porgy and Bess became one of the most successful albums of Davis's career. Listening to the recording today, it's easy to understand both its initial popularity and long-term appeal. Porgy and Bess showed Davis striving to seek reconciliation with the mainstream, searching for beauty in the "lovely American bottom." On the streets of New York, a celebrated black artist found out that society had not changed as much as he believed. Davis displayed his firsthand knowledge that for African Americans it was going to take a mighty long pull to get there. His art would bear eloquent witness to both the pleasures and perils of that journey.

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Title
Current Musicology

More About This Work

Academic Units
Music
Publisher
Columbia University
Published Here
March 27, 2015
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