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“Keith, you know why I don’t play ballads anymore?” Miles Davis asked Keith Jarrett early in the 1970s, during Jarrett’s tenure as Miles’s keyboard player. Jarrett said he didn’t know, so Miles answered his own question.
“Because I love playing ballads so much.”
The exchange illustrates as well as anything the relentless need for reinvention that fueled Davis’s career. Having been present at the birth of bebop and cool, and having brought small-ensemble jazz to near-perfection with his two great quintets, he was nevertheless compelled, by his own artistic conscience, to cast aside even styles he treasured and move on. Almost every time he did so, something equally revolutionary emerged.