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When Montreal said “we want Miles,” they got Miles. The We Want Miles exhibit about the legendary jazz musician Miles Davis made its first North American stop at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts recently, after a successful run in Europe.

The exhibit brings together various mediums – art, music, video, photography – to offer more than a glimpse into the life of this revolutionary musician. Winding through a maze of rooms, visitors are treated to a bevy of paintings by Davis himself as well as works by other artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Niki de Saint Phalle. There are numerous portraits by famous photographers like Annie Leibovitz, William Gottlieb and Dennis Stock, record covers, original sheet music, press articles and even clothing. Video clips played in certain vignettes while jazz music was piped in from overhead.

we_want_miles_inset3.jpgRelated: images from the exhibit

Probably most impressive, however, was the collection of musical memorabilia on display: a number of Davis’s trumpets, John Coltrane’s saxophone, drums played by Philly Joe Jones and a Fender Rhodes Suitcase 73 electric piano identical to the one from Davis’s band all had their special place in the project.

We Want Miles had a successful run in Paris at the Cité de la Musique, a landmark where Davis performed his final concert in 1991 just weeks before his death. Chief curator Vincent Bessières said, “I’ve been working on this project for two and a half years and it’s been one of the best things that could happen in my life. Miles Davis was the first artist I listened to and liked, and it wasn’t a job to do this project – it was a pleasure. He was such an important figure, a figure who covers a whole history of jazz music, and the exhibit was conceived so everyone could experience Miles Davis’s music.”

Montreal has had a love affair with Davis for decades, falling for the musician back in 1964 when he performed at Casa Loma on the Main (St. Laurent Boulevard), right up until his last performance in the city during a three-day stint at Le Spectrum in 1990. He also helped put the Montreal International Jazz Festival on the map (in fact, the Miles Davis award, acknowledging international jazz careers, is awarded every year at the fest).

The Davis family played a huge part in putting together the exhibit – his son Erin Davis as well as his nephew Vincent Wilburn Jr. came to Montreal to attend the press opening on Thursday, April 29. “My uncle didn’t make music for accolades and awards – he did it because he loved it,” Willburn said, then paused. “I’m very emotional ... you had to be around him to understand the man. His mind never stopped till the day he passed away. I want everyone to know there weren’t many artists who can do that. To walk through his life [with this exhibit] – it means so much to me. I have so many emotions...”

We Want Miles will also coincide with the Montreal International Jazz Festival, which takes over the city from June 25 to July 6.

The visually stunning exhibit is a personal look into the life and times of one of music’s most celebrated performers, and whether you’re a  jazz aficionado or not, it’s sure to strike a chord.

We Want Miles will be on display at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from April 30 to August 29, 2010.

Click the numbers below to see images from the exhibit.

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