Kind of blue, and pink and black and white … The multi-coloured Miles Davis in the 80s. Photograph: Rex Features
"Man," says Miles Davis, "I haven't been sketching in so long. Maybe two, three weeks. Usually when I get to sketching – I get so involved I stop practising my horn. So when I get a job, I can't touch it. Hey David!" Miles calls over to his genial manager. "Gimme that horn case out of the other room! If I don't have my horn next to me I feel like I'm not …"
He has his sketchpad resting on one leather-clad knee. Gently, he draws arcs and dark lines on to the paper: long-limbed figures with distended stomachs and wide thighs and bird lips. Their heads look like blackberries. Once one is finished – and it might be a few lines or a complicated picture – he turns the page and starts another.
Between pen strokes, he talks. His voice is a legendary rasp: words come out in a long guttural cough. When he laughs, it's like a gargle in the throat. When he smiles, which is rarely, he frowns, too. His eyes are mild but unbearably penetrating: he will look up from the pad, slowly, and freeze a question in its tracks. So I mostly just let him talk. He grants me an hour or so in his Montreal hotel room.
Miles is smiling, though, in the crescent of a particularly bright period. He is the last, grandest and most imperious figure from a jazz tradition that has broken up in disarray. The Prince of Darkness, the little organiser, the cat everybody knows by one name – Miles.
Forty years have seen a thousand changes in his music, yet it all retains the spearing imprint of an extraordinarily particular trumpet sound. A modern sound, terse, fresh-minted, newly-spoken – it always sounds like it was made just now. Charlie Parker's hesitant partner in Bird's Savoy masterpieces from 1945; touchstone in the genesis of the Cool, four years later. Scuffler in and out of junk, then presiding maestro of the Great Quintet with Coltrane. Sketcher in Spain, and purveyor of various kinds of blue.
Through it all was the silvery swathe of the trumpet. It remains a voice as personal as Billie Holiday's, Louis Armstrong's, James Brown's, Michael Jackson's: a small, funky, hip, spare, wisely sinful sound. Miles worked past his acoustic 60s quintet, a group that played as if it were suspended in vast, airless darkness, and soaked in the electric bath of Bitches Brew. His group got freakier, blacker, bloated with intensity, finally going supernova in the Japanese concerts of Agharta and Pangaea. Yet the trumpet was still a parched little voice in the storm.