Barry Miles' latest recording:
"Home and Away (Volume One)"
This album (with track samples) is available at: cdbaby.com
Artists - Barry Miles
"Pianos don't grow on trees and electricity is a part of nature"
Barry Miles, the Legendary keyboard extraordinaire, pioneer of "Fusion" music, and the man who gave us the amazing,
"Magic Theater", talks to Seymour Nurse at The Bottom End in a very rare interview.
Seymour Nurse: You were a "child prodigy" in the 1950s. Remarkably, you began playing piano at just 4 years old, and then the drums at 7. You joined the Musicians Union and started playing drums professionally at 9, and released your first album, "Miles Of Genius" at 14 years old. Phil Woods once said that you were, "drastically under age." How did you start playing music?
Barry Miles: I studied piano with my uncle who was a great musician who had studied with and played in the style of Teddy Wilson. I remember I could read music before I could read words. Before I was five, I got a glimpse of what improvisation was about by singing alternate melodies to songs I heard on the radio.
I guess I became proficient on drums rather quickly, and with the help and encouragement of my dad,
started playing with some great professional musicians who took me under their wing and gave me some important opportunities. Two people in particular who helped me are saxophonist/arranger Bob Miller and Woody Herman.
S.N: What musicians were you listening to, and who were your main inspirations?
B.M: I was lucky that my dad was partners in a record store and would bring home all kinds of 78's, swing music, especially Benny Goodman, and lots of bebop, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Gene Ammons, to name a few. So at two years old, I was already exposed to all this music and would sit in front of the turntable all day and listen.
My idol on drums was Max Roach and I loved all the recordings he put out. He had so many great musicians, Clifford Brown, Kenny Durham, Booker Little, etc., and they were all great influences on me. Pianists Oscar Peterson, Wynton Kelly, Hampton Hawes, Horace Silver, Ahmed Jamal, all the Miles Davis in the 50's thru "Kind Of Blue",
Coltrane in the early 60's, Ornette Coleman, George Russell and Charles Mingus for their creative developments in composition.
S.N: You have been referred to as "The Founder of Fusion Music", as you were already developing the concept under the name of "Syncretic Music" in 1964-65. This material was first recorded on the album, "Syncretic Compositions" in 1966. How did the idea for this music develop?
B.M: Access to recordings became much more readily available and by the time I reached 12 or so, I really became interested in all types of music, classical, and music from other cultures, everything from Azerbaijani, Greek, Bulgarian, to Indian, anything I could get my hands on.
I think all these musical influences convinced me that one could create music that incorporated all these elements, yet retain a distinct style of its own. I was rehearsing and performing much of this music ("fusion", although it didn't have a name yet) while still in high school, with musicians such as Woody Shaw, Eddie Gomez, Ron Carter, even Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea were there for a minute.
In my freshman year at college at Princeton Univ., I took a philosophy course and studied the writings of Renaissance philosopher, Pico Della Mirandola. He was trying to fuse the work of Aristotle and Plato into a new philosophy, unique to itself. Historians later titled it Syncretism, and this name well-suited what I was trying to do musically.
In the 2nd semester of my freshman year at Princeton, I recorded the live "Syncretic Compositions" concert at the school with Lew Soloff, Robin Kenyatta, Walter Booker, and Don Perullo. It wasn't until several years later that the term "Fusion" came into use.
I guess it wasn't until 1973 that I started using that term (which seemed more accessible than the intellectual sounding "syncretic")
with a piece I wrote which was commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts, and broadcast on PBS TV. It was called "Fusion Suite" and some of the performing musicians were Al DiMeola, Eric Kloss, Terry Silverlight, along with a big band.
S.N: What made you change your direction, and decide to focus on the keyboards rather than drums?
B.M: Even though I started my professional career playing drums, piano was my first instrument, and I was playing it all along, but not on any gigs. When it came time to do the "Syncretic" concert, I couldn't find an available pianist, so I decided to do it myself and was lucky to have the great Don Perullo play drums.
Even though, previously, I had performed this music on drums, it felt so good to do it on keyboards, that from that time on, I "made the switch". It also gave me control over the harmonic and motivic direction in the music.
S.N: Your music had a phenomenal affect within a UK Jazz-Fusion dance Movement in the early 1980s. One of the tracks that was very popular amongst the kids within the Jazz clubs was, "White Heat". This tune featured your younger brother, the incredibly talented drummer Terry Silverlight, on his first recording. What struck me about this was that Terry was only 14 years old at the time, yet his playing was outstanding for somebody his age.
How was it working with your younger brother?
B.M: Another extremely important factor that influenced my switch to piano was my brother Terry. He's ten years younger than I and became extremely proficient on drums and in music in general at a very early age. We would practice and jam together constantly and he sort of picked up where I left off on drums.
Most importantly, we were on the same page musically and he could execute all the different elements that I was incorporating into my music, jazz, classical, Brazilian, rock, early funk, Indian, etc., and it seemed our musical rapport was telepathic. By the time he was 14, I knew he was ready and when it came time to record "White Heat" he was the logical choice.
I was so happy to work with him and Pat Martino on that album, especially on the 3/4 fast samba title track.
S.N: The first tune of yours that I can remember hearing, and dancing to at 13 years old was, "Los Viajeros (The Travellers)." What made your music so appealing to us was your astonishing soloing on the Moog and Fender Rhodes, combined with Terry Silverlight's dynamic drumming. The "Sky Train" is just one of the great examples of this, that displays the unique "Miles / Silverlight" sound. What inspired you to play the Moog in such an exciting manner?
B.M: During the 60's, Princeton Univ. had a pretty substantial electronic music department which included early work with computer generated music and a synthesizer developed by Don Buchla. I had no problem with the mixing of acoustic and electronic music. Pianos don't grow on trees and electricity is a part of nature.
When the Mini-Moog became available in the early '70's, it was very exciting to me.
It gave me the opportunity to expand my palette and even though it had many limitations, it opened up a new means of expression for me and a new musical voice. I could control the timbre, bend and modulate the pitch and express things musically in a way almost like the song of a bird. Basically, the Moog itself inspired me. It was a new tool to work with.
S.N: Our Jazz-Fusion Dance Movement was very influenced by fast fusion/samba tracks, and you have blessed us with many. "Relay", "Latino", "Arrows & Eagles", "White Heat", "Los Viajeros (The Travellers)" were (and still are) big tunes, as well as the exciting "Sky Train", "Hijack", "Country Miles", the more straight-ahead "Routes", and of course the incredible "Magic Theater."
Your composition, "The Samba Express", which you recorded with saxophonist Eric Kloss (on the album, "Celebration") is such an exciting track, producing in my opinion, Kloss's best solo on record.
Your collaborations with various artists has contributed to our dance floors in a very special way, with tracks such as, "Daybreak"- Steve Giordano, "Free Bird"- Vic Juris, "Celebration"/ "Heavy Connections"- Eric Kloss, etc...
You have worked with some other very special musicians including, Alphonse Mouzon, Mike Richmond, John Abercrombie, Anthony Jackson, Randy Brecker, Michel Legrand, the late, great Jaco Pastorius, and the immortal Billie Holiday. How was your experience playing with such giants of Jazz?
B.M: As in any field, the more you are surrounded by creative people, the more it inspires you and brings you up to a higher level. I have been very fortunate throughout my life, to have been surrounded by these people. Even as a child, I got the opportunity to play with and along side with so many great musicians who were so helpful and generous, Cannonball Adderley, Phil Woods, Roy Eldridge, Chet Baker, Johnny Smith, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, John Coltrane to name a few.
In my teen years, I got to meet and play with so many greats who were teens themselves. Keith Jarrett, David Sanborn, Mike Brecker, Woody Shaw, Eddie Gomez. In the 70's I did much studio recording with so many great R&B and pop artists.
Sometimes, I never got to meet them because they would overdub their voices on a later session. Just recently, I finally met Gladys Knight at an airport! I played piano on "Midnight Train to Georgia" (1973).
She was on the road when we did the instrumental track and later recorded her voice in a hotel room using a remote sound truck.
S.N: The "MAGIC THEATER"... As you are now well aware of, this tune was an absolute Monster on the dance floor. Some regard it as, "The Greatest Fusion Dance Track." Its impact was (and still is) quite phenomenal to say the least, as it is such an audacious track. What was the idea behind this composition?
B.M: I always title my compositions after they are completed. This piece brought to mind the surreal quality of the "Magic Theater" in Hermann Hesse's novel, "Steppenwolf". The idea behind this piece is quite simple: a fast, driving funk groove, an open structure with a few guide posts along the way, a scenario for free improvisational dialogue between Terry and myself.
S.N: This was such an exciting quartet which also featured Harvie Swartz on bass, and Bill Washer on guitar. The energy on this track is electric, and the four of you were really flying. What was the vibe like when you were recording it?
B.M: This was a piece we enjoyed playing in live performance and it would turn out different every time, so we just let the tape roll and went for it. Bill provided the electronic colors and funky guitar licks, and Harvie was the anchor. This let Terry and I do our "telepathic" thing, sort of our version of a tabla/sitar improvisation.
I must say the record company people were not too thrilled about including such a long cut on the album and ----just forget about it being played on the radio!I guess they thought I was nuts. I knew the music must have sounded totally absurd to a lot of people, but I also knew it was something special, and just had to make sure it made it on the record.
To their credit, London Records gave up the fight. At that time, there was always the force to make the music more commercial, marketable and accessible, which eventually led to the downfall of the original Fusion music until it got so diluted and became "smooth jazz".
I wanted this piece to survive as a document of what I believed in musically at that time.
S.N: This track was always so challenging to dance to, as it is a real rollercoaster ride. A dancer was respected if they could "take out" the whole tune. Did you have dancing in mind with the "Magic Theater"?
B.M: All of my music is intended to be danced to. To me, music cannot be expressed in words. It has it's own unique expressions and emotions. Dance is it's closest artistic relative and expresses itself through the movement of the body.
The two art forms are obviously made for each other. I always imagined creative, free-form dancing to "Magic Theater". I would have loved to have experienced the Fusion dancers back in the day, performing to this piece. Perhaps someday, I'll be able to check out a modern day "encore"!
S.N: The "Magic Theater" is such a great vehicle for the Moog. I have never heard anybody play a Moog solo like that, and the way it builds up and "takes off" at the end... One of the most exciting parts of the track is when you switch from the Moog to Fender Rhodes. The collaboration between you and Silverlight during this part of the tune is so dynamic. You must have had a ball?
B.M: It's obvious we enjoyed playing this. I felt such a rapport with Terry and the band--almost an out of body experience.
S.N: Was the "Magic Theater" a single take, because I cannot imagine it being anything else?
B.M: Yes, this was one take, beginning to end. It definitely captures the moment. I did overdub some harmony Moog lines in the written section, as the Moog can play only one note at a time.
S.N: What projects have you been working on recently?
B.M: The past few years, I've been doing considerable film and commercial work. I played on a few cuts from Al DiMeola's recent "The Consequences of Chaos" and Gumbi Ortiz's "Miami". I occasionally do a NYC guest appearance with my brother, Terry's band. One is upcoming at The Cutting Room 4/26/07 in Manhattan.
Between 1980 and 1995, I was musical director and keyboardist for Roberta Flack. Since then, I've produced, arranged, and played on several recording projects for her and occasionally perform with her. By the way, her current musical director and drummer, Ricky Jordan, has worked extensively with and is a protege of one of your favorites, the great George Duke!
S.N: Barry, thank you so much. Your contribution to our dance floors has been quite phenomenal, and through this, you have helped forge something so unique in the UK with your music. For this, we all salute you.
B.M: It's been a pleasure doing this interview. I hope someday to meet the dancers in the UK who have connected with my music through the years!