First U.S. statue memorializing jazz great Miles Davis to be unveiled in Alton on Saturday | St. Louis Public Radio

First U.S. statue memorializing jazz great Miles Davis to be unveiled in Alton on Saturday

Sep 11, 2015

There’s no reason  for fans of the man who “defined cool” to be “Kind of Blue” this weekend as the Miles Davis Memorial project plans to unveil its sculpture of the renowned jazz musician in Alton.  A musical celebration that will put a swing in the step of local jazz aficionados will accompany the unveiling.

Miles Davis was born in Alton, Illinois on May 26, 1926 and a group of community members has been working for the past two years to raise $150,000 in order to commission, design and install a statue in a new musical park in downtown Alton that will stand in memory of Davis’ musical greatness. The statue is the first of its kind memorializing Davis in the United States, although two others exist overseas in Poland and France.

Sculptor Preston Jackson poses with his clay model of Miles Davis.
Credit Photo courtesy of the artist.

  “My musician son David is the one who asked me the question that got me involved in this,” Patricia Ackman, Co-Chair of the Miles Davis Memorial Project committee, who spearheaded the project, told “Cityscape” host Steve Potter on Friday. “’Why do we have a statue of Robert Wadlow, we pay tribute to Lincoln Douglas and Elijah P. Lovejoy and not the most famous musician in the world? We don’t recognize him and he is from right here in Alton.’ That got me to investigate why no one had ever done this and got us to where we are today.”

The statue will be unveiled on Saturday with an assemblage of concerts and musical celebrations set to follow in Alton’s art district on Third Street. Ackman, along with fellow organizers Jody and Pete Basola, hope that the concerts and the statue itself will boost Alton’s tourism and could morph into an annual jazz festival to celebrate the musician, who died in 1991.

The sculpture itself is made to resemble Davis’ famous pose leaning back with a trumpet and was molded from bronze by sculptor Preston Jackson.  Jackson, a professor emeritus from the Art Institute of Chicago, who now lives in Peoria, Illinois, was chosen over 10 other artists for the job and told Willis Ryder-Arnold last August that this commission is one of the highlights of his career.

“At Southern Illinois University, I played with a jazz group,” Jackson said. “Miles was like our mentor. We walked like him, we talked like him … just his whole demeanor was something we wanted to be. Even though we were going there for degrees and education and so forth, we want that street life. We wanted to be cool, to be like the music.”

The sculpture stands on a musical note that is embedded on a life-size musical staff, composed of limestone walls where people can sit to enjoy the statue. Commemorative bricks, a part of the fundraising for the statute, surround the park.

Miles Davis was one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, posthumously being accepted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. In 2008, “Kind of Blue”, Davis’ most popular and best-selling album, received its fourth platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America.

Indeed, Miles Davis himself influenced the very artistic style that Jackson used to sculpt him.

“I became way less interested in formalities in musical and art structures,” Jackson said. “The images and figurative images I produced in my artwork became a form, a shape, looking for the essentials of the body and discarding the formalities and all of the rules, not following the expected structure of the music. That’s what Miles did. Miles went for the heart of the song. That’s what I tried to mimic.”

Related Event

Miles Davis Sculpture Unveiling
When: Saturday, September 12, 2015, event begins at 5:00 p.m. with unveiling at 6:00 p.m., and jazz concerts 7:00 p.m. – Midnight. Performing:

  • Kasimu Taylor Quartet
  • Daniel J Smith Duo
  • Jim Manley Trio
  • Erika Johnson/Tom Byrne Duo
  • Montez Coleman Quintent
  • Third Coast Jazz & Blues
  • Ragin Cajun

Where: West Third St. between Piasa St. and Belle St. 

More information.

"Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by theMissouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.