Here, the title fits the story. Jason Miles, who cut his musical teeth on childhood accordion lessons and then piano lessons in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, has nearly five decades’ worth of rubbing elbows and playing music with some serious icons of the jazz world. Not only is his own personal journey so entertainingly rendered (one of his earliest gigs was in the Borsht Belt, or Upstate New York, where many Jewish families went on their “vacations in the mountains”), but once the book launches into the behind-the-scenes with the likes of Miles Davis, David Sanborn, Grover Washington, and many others, the story brightly illuminates his sense of joy, excitement and humility. Written with an extremely accessible voice that is generous and inviting, this is a firm recommend. Take a step in and join the hang. It’s a great ride.
What was the moment you decided to write this book…and why?
I have been in the music world for 48 years. I have seen a lot and been in many incredible situations with some of the iconic artists of the last 50 years. I was up close and worked very closely with many of these artists. I have a story to tell and it’s a major one. It shows you the ups and downs of what a career entails and the trials and tribulations of maintaining your place and yet always striving to be excellent and the best you can, showing the arrow doesn’t always point up. I may be one of the most unique people that have passed through this business and I wanted people to know about my journey and what it entailed
How did you decide which anecdotes to include?
That was very hard. I have a lot more stories just as detailed as the ones that are in the book. But I felt that the people that were involved in the story had a consistency and I wanted that in the book to show the spirit of the moment I had with many of these great artists and friends. I left out several that I would still like to tell. One is the making of the Luther Vandross album Any Love. What an experience that was, recording most of the album in New York in the 1980s in the height of some crazy shit being in the studio right in Midtown on 48th Street! But I felt it was more important to tell the story of my first album that I did with Luther. And then also an album that changed a lot of our faith which was Power of Love.
I had to include the two major albums I did with Miles Davis, TuTu and Amandla. Those are incredible stories making incredible albums that will last the length of time. At the same time, I did not include the music from Siesta; it was also quite a story to make that record. So in the end, I had to pick and choose to give the book a certain cohesiveness. I also didn’t talk about some of the productions that I did that were taking me all over the place like the making of To Grover With Love and celebrating the music of Weather Report.
Hopefully, there’s another book to tell the stories.
What were the most interesting or fascinating things you learned that you didn’t expect?
Well, my whole life has been just an education. To do this and advance, you have to have an excellent skill set that covers many different areas. The only way that happens is to be there for a while and to see it happen right in front of you. So what I learned was just the art of my craft from the masters that made the music that I admire the most and they brought me to the place I am now. The reality is like Pavarotti always said, forever a student. I don’t think I could’ve written this book a number of years ago. But I believe I met a certain point in life where the story should be told while many of the people involved are still here…unfortunately, some are gone.
There is also your historical accounting of being at the forefront of electronic instruments/snyths in jazz. What was that like?
There is nothing like being on the cutting edge of something brand new and you get a chance to start from the very beginning and see how it develops. So is my life with electronic instruments and synthesizers. Recording as well. When I was in New York in 1974, at the very beginning, I started getting into electric keyboards and synthesizers and it was in many ways primitive. In 1979 when the Prophet V came out, everything changed and the creativity behind his instruments and what the musician can do went to the next level. I am very happy that I was there to see it and experience it and from there I just kept on growing with the technology and was able to morph it into the music that I was doing.
It was pretty thrilling to be able to start from scratch on an album with Miles Davis or Luther or Chaka Khan. I was working a lot with Marcus Miller and his musical level was at such a very high place so it always kept me reaching for that next level and somehow getting there. Now everything is changed and it’s all on the computer for people to use. You can’t stop the future and the technology. I’m so anxious to see what’s going to be happening in ten years and I’m working as hard as I can to be healthy so I’m around to see it.
I hope this book finally shows people in the audience out there what exactly I’m about and where I come from and the journey and commitment that it took to get here. If there was an easy way to do it, everybody would be doing it, and I can tell you that there’s not an easy way to do it. No matter what you’re trying to do, if you want to reach the levels that you aspire to reach, you have to put the work in. You have to be prepared for the failure as well as the success that comes with working hard.
A lot of times when something fails even though it’s terrible for the moment it’s the only way one can learn and go back to the space again to make it a success. I do hope that people will read this book because I believe it’s one of the most enjoyable reads you will have as well as one of the most informative, with insights into what it’s really like when you’re making a $1 million album and all of the trials and tribulations and good and bad happen in real-time. And to top it all off, you’re right in the middle of it. So was my life, right in the middle of it.
For more information, visit https://www.jasonmilesmusic.com/. To order the book directly on Amazon, visit www.amazon.com/Extraordinary-Journey-Jason-Miles-biography-ebook/dp/B09ZGDC5QT.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Jason Miles.
© 2022 Debbie Burke