Behind the Song: “So Emotional,” by Miles Davis

On September 6th, 2019, the Miles Davis estate released the latest in the musician’s (posthumous) catalogue, Rubberband. The music for the album, which was record in 1985 but put on pause to complete and release Davis’ record, Tutu, was finished, improved upon and modernized by several players and engineers close with the legendary trumpet player, including his nephew Vince Wilburn Jr., son Erin Davis and original producers, Randy Hall and Zane Giles. The record, after it’s recent release, peaked at number-one on the Billboard contemporary jazz albums chart. We caught up with both Vince and Erin to ask them about the new addition to Davis’ oeuvre and to go behind the song on the band’s fourth track, “So Emotional,” which features the silky-smooth vocal styling of Lalah Hathaway, daughter of celebrated soul singer, Donny.  

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When did you first hear the tracks for Rubberband?
Erin: I think it was ’85. He and [Miles’ wife] Cicely [Tyson] lived in Malibu. And I lived at the time in Arizona. I used to come visit him once a month. One of those trips, he was working on a track. So, we would drive – he would drive, actually. He drove, he had a Rolls Royce and he would drive it over the canyon in Malibu to Ray Parker’s Studios – Ameraycan Studios. They were working on the stuff there. I remember because he gave me a couple of the rough mixes and I went to go back to Arizona with them, with the cassettes. I had “Give It Up,” I remember that one the most. I think I had “Rubberband,” too. So, that’s when I first heard tem. I thought, “Man, this is cool. This sounds really hip.” And I loved being in the studio just watching them put it all together and have him do his tracks. I saw Randy Hall do a really cool guitar solo and he was actually rubbing the guitar on the engineer’s head. It was really funny. But yeah, so that was it for me. I was like 14 or 15.

Vince: I heard them around the same time. See, I was in the band. And we started playing these tracks live, you know? And then Randy and I grew up together in Chicago. Because Randy is the vocalist on The Man with the Horn from ’79-80. So, you know, like Erin said, we’d go over to Ray’s studio and check the tracks. Then we started rehearsing the music and we played it on the road on tour. But people were like, “Where can we get it?” It wasn’t for sale. For that, Uncle Miles worked fast! [Laughs] Like, “We’ll rehearse this and we’ll kick it out!” Then in the middle of the tour, we started working on Tutu. So, we had to put Rubberband on the backburner and learn all the songs from Tutu. Then he might call Rubberband one night or not call it. But it was fun because it kept us on our toes.

When did you know you had to dive in and complete the record? Did you have to embody Miles in any particular way?
Erin: I think Vince and I would both agree that neither one of us were trying to embody him. We were more or less trying to think, “What can I do to serve the project in a way that he would approve of?” Not trying to say, “This is what he would do.” Because I’m 95% sure what he would do. But that last 5% is big [Laughs]. Vince and I talk about it all the time, “Oh he wouldn’t like that or this.” But we just try to do the best thing that will serve the music and the musicians and we try to work with the labels to get it out there because promotion is really – it’s almost more than 50% sometimes. You can make great stuff and if nobody’s aware of it or they can’t get a hold of it, it’s not getting played. It can be frustrating. That was the main thing, I think.

What was the most exciting part for you to work on the song, “So Emotional”?
Vince: Watching Lalah work her magic. She’s a gift. She’s so talented and she hears things in her head. She’s a composer. She’s a gifted producer. She’s a vocal stylist, you know? She said, as she was recording, she felt Miles’ presence. On the track. I mean, it’s Lalah Hathaway! I heard her voice on “So Emotional” from the start and called her. She just added so much to the song.

Erin: I thought that was your idea!

Vince: But “So Emotional,” I love that track. I love the whole record. Erin and I are proud of this record. And it’s not for everybody. It’s not for the jazz purists, you know? Because they have their own critiques. But, at the end of the day, Erin and I say, “Yeah, this is for the Chief!”

Erin: Yeah!

Vince: You know, don’t be afraid to be fearless and just venture out, you know? Uncle Miles never played it safe with the music. Erin and I are musicians, we’re sensitive. So, we bounce off each other and we’re like, “Yeah, what about this? This is cool!” We, along with everybody else involved in the record, this is what we presented to the world.

What did you play on the record?
Vince: Yeah, I played drums. I played with Randy and Zane and a close friend of mine and extremely talented musician named Isaiah Sharkey from Chicago. And the guy, Ed Gerard, engineered it. He recently passed away. He was a Grammy-Award winning engineer here in L.A.

Erin: I wasn’t on the record. But I was really thrilled when Vince said that Lalah was going to be on it. And I was really happy they were able to release it finally.

What do you love most about the song, “So Emotional”?
Erin: I like Lalah’s vocal performance. It sounds wonderful with the interplay with his horn. It’s beautiful. I love it!

Vince: I’m in love with Lalah Hathaway. I say that with, you know, the utmost respect. When you get in the studio with stylists and they just lace it! You don’t have to do eight tracks of the same thing, you know what I mean? It’s smooth. She’s professional and she’s on time. She does what she does and then she’s out! It’s like, “What just happened?” That’s what happened with Lalah. And that’s what happened when you were around Miles, when you toured with Miles. He could make the best bouillabaisse, the best pasta, the best fried fish, the best butter popcorn. Now, the kitchen would be a mess! [Laughs] But, you know, it rubs off on us. So, anybody that comes within Miles’ aura, it brings out the best in all of us.

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