pete cosey

Photo by Audrey Cho

A look at the life and legacy of the guitarist Miles Davis recruited in the mid ’70s when he wanted virtuosic playing on par with Hendrix and Muddy Waters.

In the early to mid 1970s, Miles Davis changed musical directions. That wasn’t unusual. Davis did this often—he was at the forefront of almost every innovation in jazz. But the direction of the 1973–75 incarnation of his band was unusual. Although Davis had already gone electric in 1969 with the release of In a Silent Way, as radical as some of his early electric work was, it was nothing compared to the bombastically epic avant-funk he’d unleash just a few years later. And at the epicenter of that mid-’70s lineup—the nuclear bomb Davis dropped on jazz—was the late, great guitarist Pete Cosey.

Cosey was an imposing figure: A large man with big hair and a long beard wearing flowing robes and dark glasses. He performed seated and was surrounded by guitars, handheld percussion instruments, and a floor full of stompboxes. And his playing was unlike anything else. It was a sonic adventure—innovative, complex, dissonant, abrasive, yet ambient, subtle, and rooted in the blues. It was always tasteful and appropriate, regardless of how far out he took it.

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The "original noise-bringer" laid down seminal tracks for Chess Records and launched fusion fusillades with Miles Davis.

Chicago, IL (May 31, 2012) -- As one of the more criminally glossed-over guitar heroes of jazz-rock’s psychedelic heyday, Pete Cosey had an unflashy but unusual knack for making six strings sound like a thousand. When the news broke on May 30 of his death in Chicago at the age of 68, all those scorching leads may have gone silent, but the legacy Cosey left behind—including his classic late-’60s recordings with Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and above all his groundbreaking fusion work with Miles Davis—will resonate among guitar heads for decades to come.

Pete Cosey onstage with Miles Davis circa 1973. Photo courtesy of Urve Kuusik / Sony Music Entertainment.

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