Miles Davis
Davis exercises in Gleason’s Gym in 1970, at age 46. “He was in excellent shape,” Craig says. “He went to the gym just about every day. He used it for the discipline factor, and as a trumpet player, to build a diaphragm and develop stamina.”. © Glen Craig / Sony Music
Flashing a rare smile, Davis shows pleasure at hearing a Fillmore East playback in the studio. “I was part of his inner circle,” says Craig, who has also worked for musicians in management roles. “The viewer gets to look at a man who was a very private person.” © Glen Craig / Sony Music

In the spring of 1970, on a prearranged assignment for Zygote magazine, photographer Glen Craig and a music writer showed up at the home of Miles Davis on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “We didn’t know what the hell to expect,” Craig recalls, noting the trumpeter’s reputation for unpredictability. “He looked us over, and he went to the area where he had a reel-to-reel and said, ‘I want you to listen to something.’ Then he split—and went and took a shower.”

As the puzzled duo listened to the work tapes, the musician returned.

The trumpeter on the deck of his townhouse on Manhattan’s West 77th Street, now designated Miles Davis Way. “I respected his distance in the basement, where he was like a mad scientist experimenting with things,” Craig says. “He had wah-wah pedals, tablas, all kinds of instruments. He was exposed musically to everything.” © Glen Craig / Sony Music

“He started to quiz us about our musical knowledge,” Craig says. The photographer related that he had worked with artists including B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Jimi Hendrix—it was as if Davis was giving them a litmus test. “Then, very slowly, Miles opened up. We built a mutual trust and a friendship.”

Over several weeks Craig photographed Davis in various settings. “He would call up and say, ‘Meet me and we’ll go to the gym,'” the lensman recalls. This visual collaboration led to the remarkably intimate portraits in A Day in the Life of Miles Davis, on view at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in Soho from April 29 to May 12.

The show follows the recent release of Don Cheadle’s biographic film Miles Ahead, for which Craig worked as an advisor. “The movie is opening eyes completely,” Craig says. “A whole new set of people have been introduced to Miles.”

Miles Davis works out with a speed bag at Gleason’s Gym in the Bronx. “He was fascinated by boxing, and he was good at it,” Glen Craig says. “I’ll never forget the intensity in his eyes as he punched the speed bag.” © Glen Craig / Sony Music

Culminating with a legendary set of shows at New York’s Fillmore East in June of 1970, Craig’s time with Davis was an artistically fertile period. The musician had blended up an avant-garde fusion of jazz and rock with his acclaimed albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, greatly expanding his audience while defying categorization.

“Miles was very spontaneous,” Craig says. “He never wanted to rehearse. There’s a famous quote of his: ‘Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.’ You would see one concert and it would be this way, and the next night it would be completely different. Everybody would vibe off of everyone else.”

With typical athleticism, Davis reaches for a high note on stage at the Fillmore East. “This is where his gym training came in,” Craig says. © Glen Craig / Sony Music

Much of this creativity finally surfaced in a 2014 box set covering the band’s five-date Fillmore East and Fillmore West performances in their entirety. Miles at the Fillmore: The Bootleg Series Vol. III heavily drew on Craig’s photography and created a demand for his exhibit, which debuted at Photokina 2014 and continues to travel. “Before that project these photos had sort of been tossed to the side,” Craig says. He adds that a forthcoming Davis box set due in May will unveil many outtake studio recordings from the period.

Shot with a Leica M4 rangefinder in natural light, Craig’s black-and-white images of Davis are printed full-frame as silver gelatin prints. “Flash was a no-no,” says Craig, who started out as a graphic designer. “You’re always thinking in terms of graphics, and in terms of framing. You’re thinking about patterns, light, movement, spacial relationships and so forth. And above all, you need to blend in. The last thing you want to do is disrupt the music in any way.”

Davis exercises in Gleason’s Gym in 1970, at age 46. “He was in excellent shape,” Craig says. “He went to the gym just about every day. He used it for the discipline factor, and as a trumpet player, to build a diaphragm and develop stamina.” © Glen Craig / Sony Music
This concert photo at the Fillmore East was made on June 18, 1970. In the foreground is soprano saxophonist Steve Grossman, sonically dueling with Davis. © Glen Craig / Sony Music
Davis leads his band at a June 17 Fillmore East show. The shot includes Keith Jarrett on organ, Dave Holland on bass and Chick Corea on electric piano. “Miles chose people for their ability and then he would just let them jam,” Craig says. © Glen Craig / Sony Music
Miles Davis at home in New York City. “When there was something to say it was spoken, when there was nothing there was silence,” Craig says. © Glen Craig / Sony Music