Miles Davis: Tutu

The Songs:

  1. Tutu
  2. Tomaas
  3. Portia
  4. Splatch
  5. Backyard Ritual
  6. Perfect Way
  7. Don’t Lose Your Mind
  8. Full Nelson


  • Miles Davis – trumpet
  • Marcus Miller – electric bass, guitar, keyboards, soprano sax, bass clarinet; drums
  • Jason Miles – synthesizer programming
  • George Duke – keyboards (on “Backyard Ritual“)
  • Adam Holzman – additional keyboards (on “Splatch“)
  • Bernard Wright – additional keyboards (on “Tomaas” and “Don’t Lose Your Mind“)
  • Michal Urbaniak – electric violin (on “Don’t Lose Your Mind“)
  • Omar Hakim – additional drums (on “Tomaas“)
  • Steve Reid, Paulinho da Costa – percussion

After 30 years of recording for Columbia Records (Sony), Miles Davis switched to the Warner Bros. label. He made several attempts at recording his first album for Warner before Tutu was released. The first of these was with his own touring band, which included Bob Berg on saxophone and Mike Stern on guitar, and Miles’ nephew, Vincent Wilburn on drums. The recordings made at this session were similar to Miles’ last Columbia album, You’re Under Arrest, and included the Mr. Mister pop hit “Broken Wings”. The second attempt became known as the “Rubberband Sessions”. About a dozen songs were recorded in full or part. Plans were to include an all-star cast of singers, including Chaka Khan, Al Jarreau, and the late Teena Marie. It would also have contained some tracks by Prince. Some of the song from these sessions would make it into Miles’ live sets, but none of them have been commercially released. Other than a live concert at Prince’s Paisley Park Studios, the long-awaited collaboration between Miles and Prince never materialized. One of the main reasons that Miles abandoned these sessions was due to a clause in his Warner Bros. contract, which gave them the publishing rights to any new Miles compositions. Miles was reluctant to compose anything because of this, which led to the circumstances under which Tutu was created.

Marcus Miller, who played bass in Miles’ band in the early 80’s after his comeback from retirement, was brought in to compose and produce the album. Miller played almost everything on the backing arrangements, utilizing an array of keyboards, sequencers, loops, and drum machines. Keyboardist George Duke was asked to contribute to the album and recorded a demo track called “Backyard Ritual”. Miles liked the track well enough that he didn’t bother to re-record any of it and simply laid down the trumpet line over the top of it. The album also contains an almost verbatim cover of the Scritti Politti hit “Perfect Way”.

Back Cover photo



Tutu became one of Miles’ most successful recordings of his final decade. Warner Bros. spared no expense in marketing it. Miles played the music from it at the Amnesty International “Conspiracy of Hope” tour (which included the Police and U2). He also appeared on several television shows to promote it. It won the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Soloist. Miles’ working relationship with Marcus Miller became similar to the one he had with arranger Gil Evans. Tutu can be considered an updated electric version of albums like Miles Ahead. Unlike many of his albums, many of the songs from Tutu became staples of his live concerts. The title track has become a modern standard and has been recorded by the World Saxophone Quartet, Wallace Roney, the bass supergroup SMV (which includes Marcus Miller), and in vocal versions by the Manhattan Transfer and Cassandra Wilson. It also became Miles’ most direct civil rights statement, particularly in regard to apartheid in South Africa. The title track was named after Bishop Desmond Tutu, while the closing track, “Full Nelson,” refers to Nelson Mandela. It also looks back on an earlier Miles composition, “Half Nelson,” which appeared on his 1956 album Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet. Although the synthesizer sounds may make the album sound a little dated at times, Miles’ trumpet playing was confident and strong. Executive Producer Tommy LiPuma stated:

“When Miles played on ‘Tutu,’ it was the best solo I had heard him play for twenty years.”

Tutu showed that even at the age of 60, Miles was always looking to stay contemporary and relevant, if not controversial. While many jazz purists dismissed this album as background muzak, others recognized it as a another milestone in Davis’ storied career. (Buy it here.)

Suggested Reading:

George Cole. The Last Miles: The Music of Miles Davis, 1980-1991.

Suggested Viewing:

Miles Davis: Live in Munich.