“When I was nineteen, Miles Davis put his finger on my soul, and it never went away,” Stuart Hall reflects in John Akomfrah’s documentary, The Stuart Hall Project. Miles Davis not only “touched” Hall’s soul, but the music and its many moods, its vagaries, its experimentations provided a lodestar, a touchstone, and a balm for that self-same Jamaican soul. Miles Davis provided, at the very least, jazz as a musical genre, as a mode of being deeply inflected by race, as a means of delivering solace, succor, and sustenance for two black souls. While there is no symmetry, perfect or imperfect, between Miles Davis’s music and Stuart Hall’s work, what does emerge through The Stuart Hall Project is a glimpse into the soulfulness of Stuart Hall’s thinking. Stuart Hall’s work has shown itself to be ceaselessly inventive, always in search of the conceptual answers to the political demands of the day, deft and subtle in its ability to address the difficulties of dislocation, deracination, and out-of-placeness that is the everyday lived reality of the diaspora. Akomfrah draws us into Hall’s life through Davis’s discography. We are invited to access Hall, not only through his work, his writings, public appearances, and colleagues and comrades, which sometimes are indistinguishable from the other, but through the portal of a radical jazz figure. As such, Stuart Hall makes himself unfamiliar, if only for the shortest moment, and in so doing he compels us to think of him on other terms, on deeply intimate, heartfelt, soulful terms—propensities that are so clearly etched in Miles Davis’s music. In this way, it is possible to say that the Hall oeuvre is a felicitous testament to the challenges presented by Miles Davis’s discography, one that allows us to glimpse a heretofore unseen creative intimacy between two of the most gifted and soulful thinkers of the black condition.
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Grant Farred; Kind of Miles: The Many Moods of Stuart Hall. Nka 1 June 2017; 2017 (40): 8–15. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10757163-3885885
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