But over the past few years the album to which I find myself returning again and again is Tribute to Jack Johnson, recorded in 1970 and released in 1971. The album was the result of music Miles produced for a documentary on the early-20th century heavyweight champion. The album featured John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Billy Cobham, Steve Grossman, and Michael Henderson. In his autobiography, Miles doesn't say much about the album, except that he originally wanted Buddy Miles (then playing with Jimi Hendrix) on the album and that it was not adequately promoted by Columbia Records. In his magisterial biography of Davis, So What, John Szwed wrote that Miles passion for and knowledge of boxing helped give the album its sound:
His own feel for the movements of a boxer came across clearly in the soundtrack, where he tried to make the rhythms mime the grace and confidence of fighters like Sugar Ray Robinson.Szwed notes that Jack Johnson "was one of Miles' favorite recordings for a long time," which is saying something since Miles was often dismissive of his own work in retrospect. Darcy James Argue sparked my revived interest in Jack Johnson. In this blog post on Davis' 1970s work, Argue remembers when he first heard Jack Johnson, which "blew my head wide open" as a teenager:
I can even pinpoint the exact moment when my brains hit the wall -- it's early in "Right Off" where John McLaughlin drops to Bb, but Michael Henderson keeps going in E, and Miles decides this bitonal no-man's land would be the perfect spot for him to make his entrance. And it is.That moment comes at the 2:12 mark. Check it out below, it will get you through your Monday.