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Teo Macero on Creating “Bitches Brew” With Miles Davis


Teo Macero is undoubtedly one of the most influential producers in the history of recorded music. Although he first came to prominence as a tenor saxophone player and member of Charles Mingus' Jazz Composers' workshop, Macero is most well known for his work as a jazz producer with Columbia Records from the 1950s through the 1980s, producing some of the best work of Dave Brubeck, Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus, and especially Miles Davis. With Davis, Macero pushed jazz through several changes, from the cool jazz of Kind of Blue to the grand orchestral gestures of Sketches of Spain, finally ushering jazz and popular music into the electronic age with his landmark work on Davis albums like Bitches Brew, In A Silent Way and A Tribute to Jack Johnson among many others. The experimental cut-and-paste method of production which he used on these albums helped put the producer-as-artist on an equal footing with musicians in creating a piece of recorded music, and paved the way for future generations of groundbreaking producers from Herbie Hancock to Prince Paul.
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Legendary producer and arranger Teo Macero discusses working on the album, Bitches Brew, with Miles Davis, and the aspects of his production philosophy that helped that project take shape.



Shoot Date:
July 2004
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Teo Macero – On Creating “Bitches Brew” With Miles Davis

I let Miles have a free hand in the studio.  I always encouraged him to use electronic equipment.  Because if we didn't have it, I'd order it.  Whether he used it or not, that was another matter.  I think I was the first one to give him a Fender Rhodes piano.  And I didn't give him one, I gave him two.  And I had ordered three! 

They ruined the first two.  Chick Corea ruined the first two because they were on the road.  And then Miles called me up and said he wanted the last one.  I said, "The last one is mine!"  He said, "I don't give a shit, I want that. I want that."  I said, "Miles, you want that goddamned thing?"  I says, "Come and get it."  And he came down and they took the third one away.  I don't know whatever happened to it.

In the studio, I was always free flowing.  I wanted things to really happen.  I wanted things to be spontaneous.  Because I knew from my past experience what one could do with a raw tape.  I mean, I had ideas percolating and Miles would say, "Do you remember that little thing that we did yesterday?"  I said, "Yeah.  I remember that."  He said, "I want that to be part of the record."  I said, "Leave it to me.  Leave it to beaver."  I said, "I'll put the goddamned thing in there."  

There were times that we used cassettes into masters!  He'd send me up a cassette and I'd say, "Look it.  You're out of your mind!  You know we're in the 20th century!  Everything has to be stereo."

"I don't give a shit."

I said, "Okay, I'll do it!  Shut up!  Send me the goddamn tape!"  And he would send me the tape and this is how I made all of Bitches Brew.  A couple of people came into the studio and said, “This stuff is dynamite!”  I said, “I know it!  And when we finish with it, it’s going to be even better.”

With Miles at the helm and all the guys there; I think he had Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul.  Everybody.  Because I didn’t care what they played.  You want to jump on somebody’s solo or whatever and make it a multiple thing that was alright too.  Because in those days I might have had six tracks or eight tracks.  I can’t remember whether this is… I don’t think it was done with four tracks.  It might have been done with eight tracks.  So I said, “Hey, I can use this.”  You know.  I can drop this out, put that in, add this, add that, and maybe use Miles as sort of a reverb way in a different way with all the machines I have at my disposal and come up with something quite unique!  I didn’t know when we finished with it that it was going to be as great as it is.  But it is!  It’s a great record!  I think that… that’s it over there. Points to a framed record hanging on the wall. 

I never looked for the moment.  I was always on to the next project.  But I knew that we had something.  And with all of the electronics and the gimmicks.  Because I don’t think he was aware what really went on in the editing.  Because a lot of musicians used to tell me, they would hear this stuff on the radio and they would say, “Who the hell is that?”  And somebody would say, “Well that was Miles’ last record.”  The guy says, “I was on that record.  Is that what we did?  Is that what we did?” Laughs.  I mean, some of them wouldn’t even recognize the material. 

With Miles, it was always when he was available.  He’d say, “I wanna record.”  I’d say, “Okay, let’s do it.  We’re gonna do it.”  He’d call me up in the middle of the night and say, “Listen to this.”  And I’d say “Listen to what?”  And he’d say, “Listen to this.”  And he’d play something for 40 minutes on the phone.  I’m sitting there, I’m lying there.  I’m listening to Miles Davis at one, two o’clock in the morning.  To something that he had done.  And then he’d want a critique!  Laughs.  I’d say, you know, “This is nice!”  I’d say, “That’s fine!  I think you’re on the right road.  We’ll do it tomorrow.”  And we’d come in the studio and I’d take out… now, we might have recorded for five months and I’d say, “Oh, I need a piece there.”  I might go back in one of his tracks and take something out and put it in Bitches Brew.

I’d do that with a lot of his stuff.  When I didn’t have something and I wanted it, I’d go back one or two sessions before or five sessions before because I remembered a couple of good tracks.  I used to have stacks of tapes in the editing room.  Stacks!  They used to come in and say, “Look it! Can you clean out this place here? Jesus Christ!  You’ve got every tape in the vault here!”  I said, “Well I mean geez…”  I’d listen to something and I’d say, “I need those 8 bars or those 16 bars.  That’s just what I want.”




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