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Busy times for Miles Davis estate

King of Cool's music continues to morph, evolve in 80th-birthday year
/ Source: The Associated Press

To say 2006 is a busy year for Miles Davis and the estate of the late jazz virtuoso would be like saying Davis was a decent trumpet player.

CDs, a DVD, a book, a movie, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and even a USC marching-band halftime performance are a few pieces that make up something of a comeback for the King of Cool in his 80th-birthday year.

"One of the things that has been most surprising to me is just how iconic the name Miles Davis is," said Darryl Porter, the General Manager of Miles Davis Properties. "Part of our goal is to get a whole new generation of Miles fans."

As music changed, Davis morphed his cool jazz into fusion and experimental sounds that later gave way to jazz funk and hip-hop grooves. This year, his estate is finding ways to reinvent Davis and let the music he composed continue to evolve.

Remixed Davis recordings called "Evolution of the Groove," featuring Santana and the rapper Nas, will be released in the fall.

Miles Davis Properties hired high-powered entertainment publicists Rogers & Cowan this year to promote Davis' legacy and the many events taking place this year.

Porter came on board to run the estate in the past year. He knew the jazz legend and the Davis family since childhood. A lawyer and manager for others in the music industry, Porter now coordinates business and marketing for the estate. Requests to use Davis' music and image come from around the world and are granted by Miles Davis Properties daily, he said.

In May, a collectors' box of the Miles Davis Quintet was released 50 years after the recording sessions. But the momentum that Davis created during a career that spanned decades hardly needs a push from a four-disc box set or the force his estate has put behind him this year.

Sales of Davis' music have not slowed since his death 15 years ago.

"There's not an easier musician to market than Miles Davis. There are so many different version of Miles Davis. People can plug into the Miles they like," said jazz critic Gerald Early, who has edited a book on Davis. "As far as an artistic commodity, he's very valuable."

"Kind of Blue," still sells thousands of CDs a week, according to Sony BMG. It's Davis' most acclaimed recording with the smooth melodies of John Coltrane and other jazz greats. Davis records that also are jazz-collection essentials, including the trippy "Bitches Brew" and "Birth of the Cool" have maintained similar stamina.

Sony Legacy plans to release more Davis recordings this year and his estate is excited that Don Cheadle has agreed to play Davis in an upcoming biopic.

"It's a great year for Miles, there's definitely been a renewed interest," said Chuck Haddix, a jazz historian and director of the Marr Sound Archives in Kansas City, Mo.

In comparing Davis' estate with another jazz legend, Charlie Parker, there's a marked difference, Haddix said. Parker's survivors had been in turmoil for years with litigation over his estate.

"Even before Parker was in the ground his family was embroiled in controversy over money," Haddix said. "I think Miles was a little bit better at taking care of business."

Porter said looking at the strength of Davis' estate today, it was obvious he knew what he wanted for his survivors and understood the value of publishing.

But Davis' survivors have not been without any public feuding.

His son Gregory Davis has written a book that tells how he and Miles Davis Jr. were not named as beneficiaries in their dad's will when he passed on at the age of 65 in 1991. Gregory still owns a portion of his father's publishing rights, however.

Miles Davis' legacy and the eternal proceeds from his name and music are now entrusted to four relatives who make up the Davis estate _ his youngest son, Erin, daughter Cheryl, and nephew Vince Wilburn Jr. and his father (Davis' brother in law).

Gregory's book, "Dark Magus," is expected to be released this year. It paints his father's personality as "Jekyll and Hyde," something other Davis children disagree with.

That's not a side of Davis that's being honored this year from St. Louis, where he spent his early years, to Hollywood.

A jazz concert was held last month in his honor here, where he was honored the year before his death with a gold-plated star embedded in the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Besides the Rock Hall of Fame, Davis this year was also immortalized by Hollywood's RockWalk (having already been etched a few years back into the Hollywood Walk of Fame). In addition, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington had an exhibit on Davis and Thelonious Monk in April, and a performance DVD of Davis will be released on the 15th anniversary of his passing in September.

"He was always about improving the craft and moving forward," Erin Davis said. "We feel like we are honoring him by continuing that tradition."