By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Miles of podcasts

Yesterday morning I fired up iTunes to check on my podcasts. (Currently I’m subscribed to just two – “On the Media” and Christopher Lydon’s “Open Source.”) Lo and behold, I saw that, on Monday, Lydon had done an hour on Miles Davis, marking the 50th anniversary of a memorable Miles appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival. I downloaded it to my iPod and listened through my car stereo via iTrip. It was a terrific program, though it would have been better if there had been less talk and more music.

I saw Miles twice. The first time was in 1974, when my friend Jim and I caught him at the old Paul’s Mall, in the Back Bay. Within a year, Miles would begin his infamous drug-induced retirement, and the show was a strange one. A loud, largely anonymous electric band cranked away with no discernible breaks between pieces. Miles, meanwhile, came and went as he pleased, occasionally sitting on a stool to blow straight down into a microphone that was emanating from a six-inch stand on the floor. He’d leave the stage – for all we knew, he’d left the building – only to return occasionally for a few more staccato stabs. What was most memorable was that Jim and I got to shake his hand briefly during one of his forays down the aisle.

Then, in 1981, my wife, Barbara, and I were on hand for his comeback performance at Kix Disco, near Kenmore Square. Miles was in a good mood that night, interacting with the audience in what almost might be described as an expansive mood; for him, at least, it certainly was. The performance was marred only by the fact that we were hard up against a sound tower, which nearly shattered our eardrums.

Anecdotes aside, it’s Miles’s records that have meant the most to me – “Kind of Blue,” of course, but also “In a Silent Way” and his flat-out rock albums, most notably “Bitches Brew” but also such underrated discs as “Big Fun” and “Get Up With It.” The best part of the Lydon program was that he didn’t stint on Miles’s later work, even his much-maligned albums from the 1980s. Indeed, I’m now tempted to check out “Tutu,” the best-known of those albums.

“Open Source” is an example of how rapidly podcasts are going mainstream. When I wrote about podcasting in the Phoenix last December, the technology – which greatly simplifies the process of finding and downloading audio programs from the Internet – was still in its infancy, though it was taking off. Lydon’s embrace of blogging and podcasting for his new radio program recently attracted the attention of the New York Times. And, as David Pogue observed yesterday, Apple Computer’s decision to embrace podcasting in its latest version of iTunes has given it an enormous boost. I can attest that iTunes’s podcasting module is far easier to use than the software I had been using, iPodderX – although, according to this chart, the latter has way more geeky features.

What podcasting promises is a theoretically limitless source of audio on demand, with producers ranging from professionals like Lydon to foul-mouthed amateurs like Dawn and Drew. We’re still several technological breakthroughs away from podcasting (or its successor) overtaking traditional radio. But I never would have heard Chris Lydon and his guests talking about Miles Davis without podcasting. That’s a pretty good start.

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  1. Kirk

    Podcasting is definitely taking off, spurred by Apple finally making it easy to do in iTunes. But some are looking ahead to what they think could be the next big thing, “vodcasts.”MacWorld’s sister publication, Playlist, has a how-to guide: has always been rumored to be working on a video iPod, despite denials from Steve Jobs in the past. He hasn’t denied it lately, though, so the rumors have new life. A vodcast wouldn’t be as portable as a podcast, however, which has the advantage of car-listenability (new term).But back to podcasts, once Apple put it in iTunes, that was the first time I subscribed to any. I think a next step will be some smart searching features, which allow you to set up various criteria that iTunes will regularly scan for to bring you other podcasts you might be interested in. There’s already a search feature, of course, but this would be something more along the lines of an agent that allows for “fuzzier” results.

  2. Clea Simon

    OK, I’m showing my ignorance here, but as someone who wrote early early on about Internet radio only to watch it falter, I’m wondering if podcasting can avoid the same issues. Basically, how is it supporting itself? And if it takes ads, won’t it have the same AFTRA issues that have hindered web radio? I’ll keep reading, maybe you already have the answers…

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Clea – Good question, to which I would respond: (1) maybe there is no viable economic model, but (2) it’s already a great distribution medium for public radio and amateurs.

  4. tony schinella

    Welcome back Dan! Great blog!!

  5. Anonymous

    My comments relate to Miles rather than podcasting. I think it’s great that you have an interest in Miles 80’s work. I used to live in Boston and would have loved to be at Kix that night,(though not against the P.A. system!). You expressed an interest in checking out some of his recorded output from that period. If I may, I’d like to make a few recommendations. A good place to start would be “We Want Miles”. A bit raucious for sure but full of energy and an honest presentation of where the music was at during this time. Next, choose some material on which Miles collaborated with Markus Miller,known for his bass playing but also a distinguished writer and composer. I feel Miles really dug working with him. “Tu Tu” and “You’re Under Arrest” should serve. Finally, though I know this will probably draw many peoples ire, “Doo-Bop”, Miles final musical declaration. It shows how he had assimilated the vibes of Hip-Hop and contemporary Top 40 R&B. It’s not an album you’ll find on many a list however an unbiased listen will be rewarding as Miles playing on this album, eventhough he was in terminally poor health is as strong as it was on “Get Up With It” but, of course, in a different vein. I hope you will find these cd’s enjoyable and surprising.Best of listening!

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