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Miles Davis

Miles Davis: “You Are Your Own Toughest Critic”


The legendary trumpet player conceives love for his own art as a degree of self-demand that no other critic can ever reach.

Throughout his fruitful career, Miles Davis changed (many times) the history of jazz: whether with an acoustic quintet or a bop experiment, or a handful of standard electrical arrangements, “the Prince of Darkness”, as his friends and enemies dubbed him, poured himself into understanding and practicing his art in an impeccable manner. Like a true warrior, for whom thinking and acting are indiscernible, Miles brandished an outstanding congruence and a creative and innovative ability beyond this world.

And this is because no-one knows themselves quite like Miles did when he defined his vital attitude as: “I have to change, it’s like a curse.”

Condemned to constantly change and to delve deeper into his technique, Miles lived in a very different time to his listeners: while the critics kept trying to understand the succulent elegance of A Kind of Blue, others kept associating Miles with his acoustic phase without understanding what it actually meant, a phase that had been surpassed the very moment it came into being.

During an interview with Playboy Magazine in September 1962, the journalist Justin Erenkratz asserted that Miles was at the top of all the trumpet rankings in the jazz world, he then went on to ask him directly, which trumpet players he considered should follow him in said ranking. This lead to an irate reflection on the role a musician must play facing his critics:

After me! Hell, it’s plenty great trumpet players don’t come after me, or after nobody else! That’s what I hate so about critics — how they are always comparing artists…always writing that one’s better than another one. Ten men can have spent all their lives learning technical expertness on their instruments, but just like in any art, one will play one style and the rest nine other ways. And if some critics just don’t happen to like a man’s style, they will knock the artist. That bugs the hell out of musicians. It’s made some damn near mad enough to want to hang up their horns.

But the music industry needs critics, doesn’t it? Criticism is an attentive listener, the refinement of taste and sharing the pleasure of art with others. The problem is that not all the criticism in the world is relevant, and with the passing of time some critics become bureaucrats of someone else’s art. Facing this, the only impeccable way forward is thought reflected through action, through which man finds himself:

Well, aside from that, I get sick of how a lot of them write whole columns and pages of big words and still ain’t saying nothing. If you have spent your life getting to know your business and the other cats in it, and what they are doing, then you know if a critic knows what he’s talking about. Most of the time they don’t.

I don’t pay no attention to what critics say about me, the good or the bad. The toughest critic I got, and the only one I worry about, is myself. My music has got to get past me and I’m too vain to play anything I think is bad.

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