There are a myriad of reasons that Miles Davis is the inspiration for this post. However, one trait that stands above the rest for me is that Miles was never afraid to be Miles. Now you may ask yourself(cue Talking Heads) what does this have to do with Black History Month? Everything.

No one makes history by following the status quo, no one. Miles Davis always pushed his music forward, never comfortable, always searching for innovation and above all else never listening to “critics”. When I first became aware of the music of Miles Davis I was a kid in the 80’s listening to those great records he made with Marcus Miller, which (you guessed it) are often criticized by folks who wanted Miles to continue to wear Italian suits and play “My Funny Valentine” nightly. Miles Davis always had an answer for critics and it usually began with the 6th letter of the alphabet and ended with the 21st.

You wanna make history? You need two things I believe:
1. Be that good(Miles Davis, incredible musician)
2. Be that confident in your art(see #1)

Another reason that I felt compelled to write this editorial is that I feel like we’re on this path that celebrates commercialism so much that it stifles innovation and creativity. If I hear one more discussion about sales and the market and the industry and this number or that number or who’s gonna watch or listen to what because we don’t know who this or that is… yeah I know that was run-on but at this moment I don’t care.

What I care about and what is most important to me is the creation of a legacy. You cannot measure a legacy just in terms of how much an artist sold. Yes, sometimes it is a perfect storm and legacy and consumer appeal line up, but more often than not that is the exception not the rule. Not to pick on Hammer because he has often been a very easy target, but quite honestly he sold a lot of records, where’s the musical legacy? I’m not talking about endorsement deals and all the success he had on the business side, I’m talking purely music. Are there droves of people going out to this day and buying and studying Hammer’s music? I’m not suggesting that the success he has was not important, but what I am suggesting is that the success should be put in it’s proper context.

There are artists throughout history that continue to be relevant decades after their creative output has ceased, chief among them Miles Davis. These artists are typically artists that bucked trends and forged their own way, followed their own voice and respected the music so much that they always sought musical integrity over commercial acceptance. Doesn’t everyone want to be loved and accepted? Of course. We all need to be loved and be able to support and sustain ourselves, but honestly how many cars and homes does one really need? Excellence in music is what we’re after here.

So in the spirit of Miles Davis I would like to suggest that we begin in earnest every Black History Month to celebrate, highlight, appreciate, imitate masterful music making in whatever form it takes. Mastery of your chosen art form is the only history worth studying and repeating.

For all those out there who are concerned with ratings, lowest common denominator mind share and the mediocre as the barometer of what’s valid in music and doing significant damage to our musical future in the process I have a message for you that you can quote: “6-21!”

Ivan Orr is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, performer, and writer. A native of Charlottesville, Virginia Ivan was involved with the forming and nascent days of The Music Resource Center as its first Program Director. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Music, Ivan currently resides in Richmond, VA where he maintains an active performance and production schedule while serving as the Music Editor for Grown Folks Music, a position he has held since 2010.