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THE GEORGE GUND FOUNDATION IMPRINT IN AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES
The George Gund Foundation has endowed this imprint to advance understanding of the history, culture, and current issues of African Americans.
MILES AND ME
An earlier version of the section entitled "The Spin Interview" in Chapter 1 first appeared in Conjunctions 16 (1991).
University of California Press, Ltd.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Troupe, Quincy. Miles
and me / Quincy Troupe. p. cm. Includes index. ISBN
0-520-21624-5 (cloth :
alk. paper) 1. Davis, Miles. 2. Jazz
ML419.D39 T76 2000
788.92'165'o92 - dc21
Manufactured in the
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (R 1997)
(Permanence of Paper)
one meeting miles 9
two up close and personal 39
three listening to miles 111
four saying good-bye 157
Miles Davis was a great poet on his instrument. His horn could blow warm, round notes that spoke to the deepest human emo-tions, and it could spit out cracked trills that evoked the angry sounds of bullets firing. Sometimes his trumpet seemed to float over and through remarkably complex rhythms and time signa-tures with heart-stopping speed and efficiency. His sound could penetrate like a sharp knife. It could also be muted, tender and low, like a lullaby, but it was always charged with deeply felt emo-tion. Miles' sound always made us sit up and take notice. It was burnished, brooding, unforgettable.
When you heard Miles on the radio, you knew right away that it was him. You knew it by the sound because no one else ever sounded like that. Like Louis Armstrong's, Duke Ellington's, Thelonious Monk's, John Coltrane's, his voice was unmistakably unique.
Sometimes when he used the mute, whether on up-tempo tunes or slow ones, we knew we were hearing perfection. When he played muted ballads, it was as if he were tenderly kissing our feelings-then he would stun us with bright, rapid-fire bursts of notes that penetrated our souls. Miles not only soliloquized, he also had a "dialoging" style. It was like listening to him having a conversation with himself, with one of his voices imitating a fast-talking, sweet-rapping black street hustler.
Even when he was first starting out, Miles' sound and style got your attention immediately, because you knew whatever he played, it was going to be unusual. His music was always unusual because that's the way his mind worked-unusually. Miles Davis was always unusual. He didn't get that way just after he became famous-he was special from the beginning.
His homeboys back
Miles knew, too, that they understood him in the way that homeboys always understand the one among them who is differ-ent. Odd. A genius. Someone who sees things they never see. Hears sounds they never hear. Voices. The screech of car tires. Maybe a mockingbird riffing on another bird's song. The lonely
voice of an old black churchwoman singing plaintively in the dusky glow of a backwater country evening, somewhere few come to, save mosquitoes or rats or evil white men dressed in bed-sheets, carrying guns and flaming crosses.
In the night air, the trains never seem to stop whistling past, their wheels humming. The roads are unpaved, empty, eerie in the twilight just before the hants come out to enter everybody's imagination and shut down those dusty roads. The voice of the old black woman floats above the shadows and trees, disembod-ied yet whole. It rides up there and cruises alongside the night birds circling above some unseen church or log cabin, in some out-of-the-way location back in the bushes, hidden. The voice also circles. Plaintive. Haunting. Achingly real.
And if you had the privilege of hearing that voice, perhaps you wouldn't file it away as anything special, something to imitate and relate to for the rest of your life-a reference point for your own life's experiences, making you sensitive, alert, cognizant of other beautiful, necessary things. But that's the way Miles heard it.
Perhaps the voice would remind you of a lonely trumpet sound. But maybe you wouldn't know that what you heard was special because you couldn't see that old black woman's face. And, if you could have met her, you might have been too busy watching her chaw on some snuff to see the wisdom in her old eyes. But Miles did see that face, saw it when he heard her voice. He saw the whole scene, took it all in. Knew that it was real and special and filed it away for later use.
From the "giddyap," Miles' friends knew he saw and heard
things they could never see or hear. They told me so. And so they protected him. He was allowed to be and do whatever was nec-essary for him as long as he was cool and didn't disrespect them by looking down on them.
He never stuck his nose all up in the wind as if he smelled some-thing foul when his homeboys walked into a room. No. He never treated them that way. Even when he was looking down from the elevated heights they had helped him to climb, he never culti-vated an attitude that would have angered or hurt them. He was always just "one of the boys," even if they knew-and he knew- he was also apart from them.
His fame never got
in the way. His
was the black marching bands in St. Louis and East St. Louis who put their distinctive creative stamp on the tradition-the high-stepping kicks and the swaying back and forth of the bugles as they were played were black innovations-and who raised the practice almost to a high art form.
individual black communities and sponsored by lo-cal African-American chapters
of the Elks and various Masonic orders, these marching bands would liven up the
streets on week-ends during the spring, summer, and early fall, and I remember
them with great fondness. I looked forward with anticipation whenever word came
down that they would be gracing my
developed a style of playing the bugle, later trans-ferred to the cornet and trumpet, that became known as the
Armstrong, Al Hirt, Wynton Marsalis, Nicholas Payton, and Terrence Blanchard),
styles came out of different cultures.
It is only
fitting, then, that the story of my relationship with Miles begins in
One note about the possessive spelling of Miles' name in this book. I write "Miles'" without the extra "s" because that is how I hear it. Without the apostrophe and added "s," his name sounds right to me, open-mouthed and familiar. I know that traditionally only a few great names that end in "s"-like Jesus' and Moses'- have been spelled this way. I trust that my breaking with this tra-dition and placing Miles' name in such illustrious company will not offend anyone. Miles Davis was first and foremost all about sound,and so am I.
I first met Miles Davis in 1978
or so at a party at a Dr. Leo Maitland's. Leo, who had at one time been one of
Miles' doctors, lived down the hall from me at
Before I actually met Miles at Leo's, I had seen him a couple of times in the elevator of my building because he lived in the same neighborhood and was dating one of my former poetry workshop students. Yvonne or Evette Duret-they were identi-cal twins, so I can't remember which one, but I think it was Evette who lived in the same building I did. I had also caught glimpses of him a few times at neighborhood bars. He would sit in a cor-ner hidden behind his ever-present dark glasses looking menac-
ingly at everyone. Sometimes I spotted him at after-hours joints. Other times I saw him hurrying through the neighborhood streets, walking or driving his red Ferrari sports coupe.
I said, we lived in the same neighborhood, the
It was the fall of 1956 and I
had just seen my idol, Miles Davis, in person, for the first time. He was
I remember how "sharp" and "clean" Miles looked, and how he seemed so totally in control. He was completely mesmerizing. He was everything I thought he would be. Fascinated by the man's presence, I watched his every move, as did everybody else in the club.
Miles' music was sensational that night. The band he brought with him included a great surprise: instead of Sonny Rollins, who'd been advertised, he brought John Coltrane. My friends and I were all big Sonny Rollins fans, so we were very disappointed
when he didn't show. John Coltrane? Who was he? We soon found out. Trane just blew everybody's mind. Miles was grinning like a Cheshire cat because he knew people would be disappointed Sonny Rollins hadn't shown. His grin and his attitude seemed to say, "but how could y'all ever doubt me? How could y'all think I would ever have brought somebody bad to my hometown for y'all to hear?" Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, and Red Garland were also in the band and they were great, but the night belonged to Trane and Miles. When we left the club, their names were on everyone's lips.
That was also the
night of the incident that left me with an in-delible memory of Miles' temper.
The way it happened was like this: Among the
My friends and I were part of the younger "in crowd," and the word had come down from older hip guys-like my cousin Marvin-that if you did walk up to Miles and try to talk to him, he just might bite your head off with a real cold-blooded cussin' out. So the thing to do was just to lay back and watch him from afar, like he was some kind of untouchable piece of fine jewelry around some fine woman's neck and, in a weird sort of way, I guess that's what Miles was like-a rare gem.
Anyway, that's what everyone was doing when the group took a break-we were all watching Miles from a distance. Then, all
of a sudden, this voice from somewhere behind us said, "Oh look, darling, there's Miles Davis. Let's go up and say hello!"
We all turned around, amazed to see this young white couple walking earnestly through the crowd with these innocent looks of expectation on their faces. They made a beeline straight for Miles, who was standing at the bar drinking a beer, smoking a cigarette, and surveying everyone around him disdainfully from behind those dark sunglasses. I remember looking at the friends who had come with me that evening-Fred Arnold, Leonard Anderson, Percy Campbell, and my cousin Donald Troupe-and laughing nervously under my breath in anticipation of what was going to happen. Everybody else in the bar was watching with keen interest, too. That whole roomful of people was holding its collective breath in anticipation of how Miles was going to respond.
When the young couple got close to Miles, the man stuck out his right hand in anticipation of a handshake and said, "How you doing Miles, my name is-"
He didn't even manage to get his name out before Miles, with cold-blooded, biting fury in his voice, spat out, "Fuck you, you jive punk-ass motherfucka! Get the fuck outta my face and take yo silly little bitch with you!"
The words were fired like bullets, and they penetrated the young man's heart. A stunned look spread across his face. I felt kind of sorry for him. I watched complete embarrassment spread like a scarlet wave over the man and woman's white faces. They were rendered totally speechless by the deep freeze of Miles' words.
Then, having stopped the couple dead in their tracks with his harsh and scornful attitude, Miles simply turned his back on them like the king he was in his own mind. (And in everybody else's mind that night, too.) He took a long drag off his cigarette and blew a jet of smoke toward the ceiling. Then he took a long deep swallow of beer. He dismissed the young couple just like they weren't even there. It was something.
I had never seen a white man treated like that by a black man. And although I did feel a little sorry for the couple, deep down it made me feel really good because white people have always be-lieved that they can walk up to any black person, and no matter where we are or what we are doing, say any and everything to us, no matter how silly and ignorant it might be. Most white people think that just because they're white and privileged and we're black that we're at their beck and call, that they can get away say-ing anything to anyone who's not white. Maybe that's the way they think it's going to be, forever.
But that night Miles showed everybody in that club that he wasn't about to take shit from anyone, black or white. (I, for one, after that night, absorbed that lesson and adopted a similar atti-tude, although my stance could never be as dismissive as Miles' was. Ever.)
As the young couple walked away with their heads hung low, I remember thinking how cruel and heartless Miles' actions seemed. But I also remember thinking that what I had witnessed was consistent with what I had heard about his character. Hav-ing bought into his legend, I would have expected him to do just
what he did. Anything less would not have met my expectations of what Miles was really like.
After all, who did that young white guy think he was, going up to Miles like that? Hadn't he heard the stories? Did he really think Miles was going to talk to him?
To tell the truth, I really didn't feel that much pity for the couple. Maybe I felt that Miles was doing to some white person what I had always wished I could do because of how it was for black people in this country: we were oppressed, despised, our spirits beaten down-in many cases, killed-by a callous white majority. So whatever pity I felt for the couple was minimal.
I didn't totally understand Miles' harsh treatment of that couple that evening but I did learn one thing. I never wanted to see myself in that situation. Later, when I got to know him per-sonally, I would find out that Miles dealt with most people in this harsh manner-whether they were black, white, or whatever- whenever they invaded his privacy. He felt he had to be that way just to keep people off of him because of his shyness.
Miles believed that if he had a reputation for dealing with strangers brutally when they approached him in public, then they should do so with the full knowledge that they might have their hearts, heads, and egos served up to them on a platter. He told me this many times, and I watched him inflict this kind of pun-ishment on people time and time again.
The memory of Miles cussing out that white couple influenced the way I felt about the man ever after. That image of him- impervious and imperial, standing "clean as a broke-dick dog" at
the bar in Peacock Alley, coolly drinking and smoking a cigarette - is forever carved into my consciousness like a stone engraving. I especially didn't want Miles to ever cuss me out the way he did that white couple because I didn't know how I would respond. So I kept my respectful distance from the man. But the night at Leo's would change all that, and after many years of admiring him from afar, I would finally find myself up close, sitting right next to him.
When I arrived at Leo's party the only seat left open was right next to Miles, who was dressed, as he usually was back in those days, all in black. I guess no one wanted to brave sitting next to him and I didn't either, really, but there was no other place to sit down. I was surprised to see him there, tearing away at the food on his plate. Even while eating, he managed to maintain that menac-ing "don't-fuck-with-me" aura he always seemed to carry around as part of his persona. I got some food and sat down next to him. He looked at me, kind of surprised that someone was bold enough to enter his space. Then I heard him say in that famous scratchy voice of his, "What's happenin'?"
"Nothin'," I said without even looking at him, afraid he might scorch me with his eyes, even from behind his dark shades.
"Oh, yeah?" he said, looking sideways at me, a sardonic grin playing at the corners of his lips, which were greasy and shiny with what he was eating.
"You sure of that?" he added, looking back down at his food.
"Sure of what?" I asked, a little confused.
"That nothin' is happenin' here. You sure of that?"
"No, I'm not sure that nothin's happenin'. Maybe it is but I don't see it."
"Well," he said, looking directly at me. "You see that fine motherfuckin' bitch standing over there, don't you? You gonna tell me she ain't what's goin' on?"
I looked at the woman he was nodding toward-tall, brown-skinned, slim, and well-built, with a dancer's body-and said with-out hesitation, "Yeah, I see what you mean. She is happenin'."
"Tell me about it!" he said, nodding his head. "Man, that woman's fine-na than a motherfucka."
"You got that right," I said, nodding my head in approval. 'Teah, you sho-nuff got that right."
"You a musician?" he said, looking at me curiously, chewing hard on his food, then looking back down at his plate.
"No, I'm a poet," I told him.
"No shit?" he said, looking at me again, but harder this time, holding my face in the twin dark mirrors of his shades before go-ing back to his food.
"A poet. No shit."
Then he didn't say another word. When he got up to leave about fifteen minutes later, he looked at me, shook my hand, and said, "Later."
That was it. He was gone, out the door, into the night air of
I sensed the boxer in Miles that evening-something he had once desperately wanted to be-an edginess that clearly came across in his music.
The next time I saw Miles was about two weeks later. He was walk-ing down Broadway between 8ist and 82d Streets coming toward me, on the west side of the street, dressed all in black again, in-cluding a black hat and dark shades. From a distance I watched his mouth furiously working over some chewing gum, his jaws grinding like pistons.
He was in a hurry and was moving rapidly toward me, head up, expression fierce, with that hip, hip-dedip strut and glide, that bouncy walk with a dip in the middle that was his gait. His sig-nature "no-nonsense," cool musician's strut that I got to know so well much later. He was looking straight ahead, not noticing any-one or anything but focused on some imaginary place he held fixed in his head.
Some people were looking at him as they passed by, and some even whispered, "That's Miles Davis," but nobody had the cour-age to stop or say "Hello." Not even a "Hey, Miles." The space that existed around him and locked him in was weird. He was like a king, or at least a prince. His moniker was "The Prince of Darkness," but I would add "The Prince of Light"-because of his magical trumpet playing, yes sir, he was the cock-of-the-walk rooster bringing the light out of the darkness.
And that day all of us out there on the street with him were his subjects. We couldn't even come close to touching him, though he was walking alone, without bodyguards. No crown, save his attitude. But, then, his attitude was enough. He had no need for bodyguards or a visible crown to let us know he was royalty be-cause we all knew he was, and because he was his own best pro-tection. His take-no-prisoners attitude surrounded him like a suit of steel armor.
It was a little past and a warm sun was smiling down and smoothing out my vibe. Because I had met him just a couple of weeks back at Leo's party, and because he had talked to me, I thought he would remember who I was. So, when he was a few feet in front of me, I smiled in anticipation, lifted my hand in greeting, and said, "Hey, how ya doin', Miles?"
He didn't blink or break stride but blew right on by just as if I wasn't even there. Didn't say a word. Nothing. Nothing but in-tense energy moving through space. Later, I would hear him liken himself to a tornado wind-a force of nature. Was his en-ergy dark or light that day? I was so transfixed I couldn't tell. He didn't slow down or hesitate or anything; he just kept right on steppin'. Moving away.
I was shocked. Stunned, but not rendered mute. So I called out his name again as the distance between us grew, "Hey, Miles, it's me, Quincy Troupe, the poet. I met you over at Leo Maitland's."
I said this to his back. But he didn't even pause, not to men-tion look around. Just kept right on steppin'. And before I knew
it he had hooked a left and
disappeared around the corner of
Feeling exposed and foolish, I looked around sheepishly to see if anyone had noticed. A few people seemed to be snicker-ing at me under their smug smiles. I turned around and walked down Broadway, head down, ego shaken, feeling puzzled and angry.
"Why would he
treat me like that?" I asked myself rhetorically, even though I already
knew the answer. My cousin Marvin (now deceased) had told me the answer long
ago, the first time I ever saw Miles up close and in person back in
Marvin had told me not to speak to Miles, and he was right. I knew this. I had felt Miles' dark energy in those bars and after-hours joints. But hardheaded me-with plenty of ego to spare- I had to learn, the hard way, that I didn't know Miles Davis at all, even though I may have thought I did after talking to him at Leo's. Clearly, as far as Miles was concerned, that meeting didn't even come close to qualifying me as an acquaintance, even though in-side my own head, I had thought it did.
I ran into Miles a couple of months later, again at a party thrown by Leo. Out of anger-or curiosity, or stupidity-I walked right
up to him while he was eating a plate offish and asked him why he had "shined me on so bad" that day out on Broadway. He was alone and, without missing a beat, he fixed me with one of those fierce, almost evil looks-a look I saw many, many times later af-ter I got to know him well-and said, "Fuck you, man! I don't hafta speak to your motherfuckin' ass every time I see you. Shit, who the fuck you think you are?"
And with that said, he went back to finishing his food.
I didn't say anything, which shocked me, because normally I'm not the quiet type who lets anybody get away with talking to me that way. Normally I would have said a nasty "Fuck you" back. Maybe I would even have gone upside the person's head for dis-respecting me. But I didn't say anything, much less go upside his head. I just looked at him-probably with a hurt expression on my face-and stayed silent, stunned by his ferocity.
I was also still suffering from a bad case of hero worship, which more than likely had something to do with rendering me mute. Again. The good thing was that only a few people heard how he talked to me that night, not'everybody who was there. But those who had heard looked at me with that smug air of disapproval that people assume when someone as famous as Miles "screams on" someone else less famous.
Like, you know, it all had to be my fault. It couldn't have been his, so why didn't I just sit my ass down and enjoy being in the man's presence-without trying to say a word or really interact with him-the way everyone else was doing? But I was so em-barrassed, again. He didn't say another word to me for the rest of
the time he was there. But from time to time, I would catch him looking hard and evil at me, and I can tell you, those looks sent shivers up and down my spine. Before I knew it, he was gone again, had slipped out into the night without any fanfare. Like one of his mysterious solos, he was there and then suddenly gone, a wisp of smoke into the night.
After that I didn't speak to Miles for several years. From time to time I would see him sliding around in the darkness of bars and after-hours joints, a drink and cigarette in his hands, dark shades on, usually all in black, whispering into the ears of fine ladies, or huddled with some very suspicious-looking street hustlers.
I ran into him in the elevator of my building again. We were alone, standing side by side, but his cold demeanor warned me not to greet him, and I didn't. By then I had learned my lesson well. (I remember wondering, though, if this was the way he whipped the musicians in his band into line-by intimidating them?) When he reached his floor, he got off the elevator with-out acknowledging me. After he left I could still feel the power of the man, the force of his demonic spirit and personality. I was almost happy to see him go.
But it was this same demonic force that propelled his music into magical, powerful, mysterious genius. Whatever I felt about me man, one thing I had learned was certain: up close and per-sonal there was no denying that he possessed an impressive, pow-
erful presence, and whether you liked it or not, he channeled this power into his ever-changing music.
From time to time during the dark years from 1975 to 1980, when Miles was away from music, when he wasn't even practic-ing, stories about his sexual orgies, his excessive use of cocaine and alcohol, and his reclusive craziness would drift through the conversations I overheard at bars and parties.
Many of these stories are as comical as they are pathetic. For
instance, there was the time when Miles abandoned his Ferrari in the middle of
When I would ask my friend Leo about Miles, he would just shake his head and tell me he couldn't comment on what was happening because of doctor-patient confidentiality. But by the look in Leo's eyes, I could tell that what was going on with Miles was not good.
Fortunately for Miles-and for music-that grim period didn't last too many years. In early 1980 word began to creep out that
was back in the studio recording. This announcement cre-ated a tremendous
amount of excitement. There was talk of con-certs. Miles' eagerly awaited
comeback album. The Man with a Horn, was
released later that year. Early in the summer of
1981, Miles played live at a small club called Kix in
interview with Miles had been arranged by a former stu-dent of mine from
I left my top-floor apartment on
It was such a
great day that I decided to walk through
It was a clear, blue afternoon with a lovely, soft, playful breeze. A day filled with New York's unsurpassed electric street life: run-ners and bicyclists racing down all the avenues; picnickers, base-ball and soccer games, and lovers lying on the grass in Central Park; lovely women strolling, handsome men sauntering on all the streets. Stylish, hip people everywhere. But halfway to Miles' place, I decided to go back and get my car because I suddenly re-alized that I might need it later if I decided to go someplace.
When I arrived at Miles' apartment building on
that well-publicized occasion. Miles had excused
himself from the interview after talking to the reporter for about five min-utes.
When he returned after a short while, the writer had asked about a car horn
insistently blowing outside of Miles'
When I got off the
elevator and knocked on the door, a young African-American man, his valet,
opened the door and let me in. It was dark inside despite the light streaming
in from windows that offered a spectacular view of
where. Not one of the numerous awards he had won could be seen either, nor were any of his gold or platinum records mounted on the walls.
(I would later ask
him where he kept all the awards he had won, and he took me to a closet in his
We turned into an alcove off the kitchen and there, in a patch of light beaming in through a back window, sitting at a table draw-ing figures of a woman onto a sketch pad, was Miles. He was wear-ing sunglasses in all this darkness. "In character already," I thought to myself. He was a study in total concentration, his head bent down over his pad; he didn't even look up.
His valet didn't disturb him but just stood there, silent, watch-ing and waiting. I could still see the actors mouthing their lines on the television screen. A clock tick-tocked somewhere. Other than that, silence, except for the furious sound of Miles' pencil moving across his pad.
He was dressed down. There was paint all over his torn black denims and scruffy shirt, paint all over his long, elegant hands and fingers, and paint on his wizened but handsome-almost feminine-face. Tubes of paint were scattered all over the table and on the floor around him. Sheets torn from his pad with half-finished drawings of figures lay crumpled up among the paint
tubes. I was really shocked by this total mess, but he didn't seem to be aware of it, like he wasn't aware of my presence yet-at least, he wasn't letting on that he was.
So I just stood there, along with the valet, and watched him drawing feverishly, not saying a word. I was shifting my weight back and forth from my bad left leg (an old basketball knee in-jury) to my good right one until at last he slowly turned his head toward me. He put down his pencil, took off his glasses, looked at me sideways, kind of slanting his face upwards, and, fixing me with those radar-beacon eyes, said, "Man, you're a funny lookin' motherfucka." Then, squinting through the darkness at my dread-locked hair, he added, "How'd you get your hair like that?"
I was totally shocked by his response to me. It wasn't what I had expected. His take on my dreads was kind of country-human- like people back home, like people from anywhere, when they're being real and not full of bullshit pretensions. It was an honest reaction, something I'm used to, something I prefer, in fact, but I wasn't expecting anything like it from Miles after my previous encounters with him.
I guess I was expecting him to be harsh and cold, the way he was the last time I saw him. Or hip and cool, the legendary slick man of impeccable style and class, he of the kiss-my-ass attitude, the black Romeo. Or maybe I was expecting the one who had ig-nored me on the street and had stood beside me in the elevator without saying even one word. The one who had dressed me down for asking why he hadn't acknowledged me. I was expecting that
one, not this normal sort of guy squinting up at me and asking me about my hair.
"Sit down," he said, pointing at a chair across the cluttered glass table from him. "What do you want to know?"
I sat down and when I looked closer, I noticed that he was wearing a gold and brown hair weave, crushed on the right side, like he had slept on that side during the night. The weave was speckled all over with red, blue, and gold paint. (Later I would discover that this was the way he looked most of the time when he was at home because he was always painting.)
The weave-and the condition it was in-surprised me be-cause either he hadn't been wearing one the last time I saw him up close or maybe I just hadn't noticed it. His openness also sur-prised me because I'd heard how he hated journalists and being interviewed, so I'd come prepared to have my head bitten off. His seemingly casual, open attitude threw me off guard-but I warned myself that the interview hadn't even begun yet. I proceeded with caution, the way one negotiates a minefield, and tried not to say or do anything stupid. I started to pull out my list of questions, written on a yellow legal pad, already considering how I would frame the first one.
But before I could get my pad out he reached across the table with his long bony fingers, grabbed a long lock of my dreaded hair, and started rolling it around between the ends of two finger-tips, asking if it was "for real." And before I knew what I was do-ing, I slapped his hand away from my hair and said, controlling my voice as much as possible, "I grew it like this."
He looked at his hand in disbelief. I felt his valet tense up be-hind me. (Later I would find out that the valet had earned his black belt in karate.) Then Miles looked at me, both fury and puz-zlement in his eyes, and said, "Motherfucka, are you crazy?"
"Naw, I ain't crazy," I answered calmly. "But my coming here to do a story on you don't give you the right to invade my per-sonal space."
At that he looked at me kind of funny, still puzzled. He was probably debating whether he should kick me out or not. Then he shrugged it off, a hint of a smile flickered around his lips, and he bent back over his pad and started drawing again. I felt the valet relax.
Miles asked me where I was from.
"Oh yeah, I remember you now," he said, looking at me more closely. "You're that crazy motherfuckin' poet I cursed out at Leo's, right?"
"Right," I said, kind of surprised that he remembered.
"Yeah," he rasped, not looking up from his drawing, "you're a crazy motherfucka." Then his face broke out into a broad smile and he said, "Well, motherfucka, just don't sit there, ask me some motherfuckin' questions. What chu want to know, brother?"
that's how it started. I believe the closeness between us be-gan developing at
that precise moment, on
to me in some strange way. I believe the fact that he liked and re-spected me had something to do with my slapping his hand away from my hair, something to do with my respect for myself, and my respect for my own space. I believe he related to that because that's the way he was, at all times.
He respected people who would stand up to him. If you couldn't or wouldn't stand up to him, he would-and I was to find this out later-run over you or knock you aside. Miles was always pushing the envelope, testing the parameters, checking the boundaries, both in his art and in his personal relationships. Those who were strong could stick around; those who were weak would run away because they couldn't stand the constant test-ing, the constant applications of heat and brutal honesty that Miles doled out. To stay around one had to dish it out as well as take it. Every day. He loved and respected you only if you could stay strong.
Another thing that
really opened Miles up to me, I think, came up during that same first
interview. He told me that the first profes-sional band he had played in back
"No shit? Really, you Eddie's cousin?"
It was true, and after I convinced him with a few well-chosen
facts about Eddie-what he looked like, where he lived, that he had been married to an Italian woman for over fifty years, that he owned a very successful funeral home-Miles really opened up to me.
That day I spent ten hours-with Miles Davis instead of the hour and a half I had been promised. After Sandra DaCosta arrived and told Miles that the allotted time had passed, he told her he didn't need her "trying to mother him." After three hours had passed she said she had to go and he told her to go ahead, that everything was alright. So she did.
He showed me films of old boxing matches of his heroes Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis, played tapes of his music and a few chords on his electric piano, blew a few trumpet notes for me to illustrate a point, talked to my girlfriend, Margaret, on the tele-phone, and when she called him "Mr. Davis" came back at her with, "You can call me Miles." He cooked for me and asked if I liked his drawings. When I told him I thought that they were rudimentary but interesting, he said, "Really?" looking at me again in that funny, puzzled way that I would grow so accustomed to later on when I would see something knock him off balance.
Throughout all of this friendliness, I must admit I was strug-gling fiercely with a sweeping sensation of awe. This is me sitting here next to Miles Davis like this? My idol? Talking with him like we are long lost friends, like equals? It was hard to believe it was happening.
He told me, among other things, about the troubles he was hav-ing with George Butler and Wynton Marsalis, and that he was
thinking of leaving
"Plus," he said with a grin, "they're gonna give me all the money I need and then some. I'd be a fool not to go, you know what I mean?"
Then he started talking about Wynton Marsalis, though it took him a while to get to the point. He started by saying, "People want to know why Eddie Murphy makes so much money. Hell, they hold all the other actors down. So that when one gets loose, that one makes so much money it's a shame."
He paused to collect his thoughts, then continued. "When Bill Cosby won all the awards for best series on television, you could hear a pin drop at the awards ceremony. Because all of those networks outside of NBC had turned his show down. I know because me and Cicely was there. We saw it go down. I think most of them didn't want the show because it was black and positively black. People want to see blacks crawlin' around and Uncle Tommin'. And they like to compare black people who are doin' somethin' with each other. They'll compare Eddie Murphy to Richard Pryor. Compare me with Wynton Marsalis. Not me with Chuck Mangione. But me and Wynton. That's the kind of shit I don't like.
"But if Wynton listens to all that shit," he went on, "they're goin' to fuck him up. I don't be listen' to none of that shit. But he bet-ter watch out. They'll make him comfortable and he'll stay right where he is. That's what they want him to be-comfortable. I don't like a person that's comfortable where they are. I like a per-son that's always movin', changin', one that says, 'What's this? What's that? Why they doin' this?' That's the way Cicely is. And that's the way I am. Been like this all my life."
Warming up to the subject, he went on. "Like, there could be some classical composers instead of a classical soloist like Wyn-ton. Why don't they take some young composers' work and play that instead of all that old shit? I mean, they're gonna have to change sooner or later. Time is gonna make them change. I mean, they gotta stop doin' Tosca and all that dead old classical shit. And Wynton playin' their music. The kind of stuff anybody can do. All you gotta do is practice, practice, practice.
"I told Wynton they should be suckin' his dick for playin' that simple music. I told him I wouldn't bow down to play that mu-sic, that they should be glad that someone as talented as Wynton is playing that tired shit. I wouldn't. I did it once, but I wouldn't do it no more.
"I mean, Wynton takin' time off from playin' his own shit to play their shit. And, if he misses one goddamn note, they gonna be on his ass. Naw," he went on, shaking his head, "I don't think no honor should be bestowed on a black person just 'cause he's playin' some fuckin' 'Flight of the Bumblebee' shit! Hell, man," he said, his voice almost a shout, "Wynton should be gettin' a life-
time salary for playin' that music! I mean, bein' a black person, I don't accept that shit that so-called jazz has stagnated. Old jazz, yeah, but not the new stuff. White people teachin' jazz in schools now. Tryin' to claim it as theirs. But I don't see why our music can't be given the respect of European classical music. I mean, Beethoven's been dead all these years and they talkin' about him, teachin' him, and still playin' his music. Our music is classical. They just don't want to do it because black people started it.
"My point is," he said, biting down on a cheese Danish, "why should black people devote their time to learnin' their music, their operas, their reason for fallin' in love, their reason for committing suicide, the way they fuck, the way they talk, the clothes they wear, their problems, you know what I mean? Damn, at one o'clock on the fuckin' TV, all you can see is them with their hair all fixed up and shit, talkin' about, 'Well, I don't know if Jim's gonna tell me not to go with Irving 'cause my mother used to go with his mother.' That kinda shit! That's not black! We don't sit up there and lis-ten to Billy Graham and that other motherfucka, Bishop Sheen, who be soundin' just like Reagan. No," he said emphatically, "I won't ever do their shit no more and I don't see no honor in no other black person doin' their shit."
It was getting dark outside. The sky was almost as gray as the walls and floor of Miles' apartment. He'd grown silent, gone back to drawing again. He asked me if I had a car. I told him I did. He
asked if I could give him a lift downtown. I was surprised but told him that I would. He left to get dressed and then we prepared to leave. He told Michael, his valet, that he'd be back tomorrow. Michael nodded his head as Miles and I moved out of the apart-ment and into the elevator.
On the street,
"It's the piece of shit that's gonna give you a lift downtown if you keep your mouth shut," I answered right back before I could even think about it.
He kind of grinned and chuckled to himself as he got in. Then he said, "Man, besides being funny lookin', you're about a crazy motherfucka, too. Does the tape deck work?"
"Yeah," I said.
"Well then, turn the motherfucka on," he said again, chuck-ling to himself. "I wanna play you some real new shit I just recorded. See where your head is at."
I turned the radio and tape deck on and he slid the tape in and pushed the play button. The music bloomed out in waves, mu-sic that would later be on his Tutu album, the first record he would
make for Warner. I liked it and told him so. He just smiled and then looked at me and said, "You know, you're alright, but you still one of the funniest looking motherfuckas I've ever seen."
Then he sank into
silence, shaking his head, chuckling to him-self, eyes darting here and there
behind his dark glasses as we rode downtown through the
He looked long and hard at me for a moment, his eyes in-scrutable behind his wraparound dark shades. Then he pushed them up on his forehead, and I saw that he was eyeing me hu-morously, incredulously, as if he didn't believe what he'd just heard. A twinkle flashed into his eyes, and he laughed that sneak) laugh of his under his breath and said, "Man, you sure are a crazy motherfucka. Call me if you need anything else, OK? Later."
He turned and walked away, bouncing up and down in that hip
bop strut of his. When he disappeared into the building, I felt I was on top of the world. I drove off exhilarated, not the least bit tired, feeling like we'd connected in some real meaningful way, though I had no idea what this relationship would lead to. The first thing was to get those tapes transcribed and write a good story for Spin. After that, I remember telling myself, whatever happens will take care of itself. And it did. Yes, it sho-nuffdid.
The Spin article turned out great. In fact, the piece, published in November and December 1985, was the first two-part feature Spin ever ran. Rudy Langlais, my editor from the Village Voice who had moved to Spin, did a fantastic editing job on it. My future wife, Margaret's, criticism was very helpful, too. (She called the first draft "a piece of shit" and it was. So I rewrote it, and she loved the rewrite.) Everyone who read it was knocked out by it. But, most important. Miles loved it. He called me and told me so. Af-ter our brief but to-the-point conversation, I was thrilled. I was up there, floating on some clouds. Nonetheless, when the call came through from Bob Bender and Maliaka Adera, both editors at Si-mon and Schuster, that Miles wanted me to write his life story, I was shocked. Marie Brown negotiated a coauthorship deal for me, and I signed the contract in the spring of 1986 and began
spending hours upon hours interviewing and taping him, in
During the summer of 1986,1 came to know Miles as almost child-like (which was a shock), delicate (which was a bigger shock), and much softer than I could ever have imagined him being. Of course, he could turn tough and hard again in a flash. One thing was certain: it would have been damn near impossible to take advantage of him because he was always alert to such a possibil-ity from any- and everyone. At first he seemed to be on guard most of the time, even when he was pretty relaxed. Still, if he liked and trusted you, he was quite generous with his time, ideas, and feel-ings. After we had been working together for a while, he started giving me live tapes of his concerts on the condition that I not give them to anyone else, and I never did.
The most striking thing for me about Miles' physical makeup besides the extraordinarily beautiful color of his deep black skin was his eyes. They were riveting. You could see his resolute sense of self in his eyes, which were large and round, with a lot of white surrounding the iris. When he looked at you, it was with a direct, unflinching, hard gaze. You saw and felt his genius in those eyes. Feminine, like his face, his eyes when he was happy could be very soft, almost delicate. When he was angry, they could be as fierce as his words.
Sometimes, when I was looking at him, he had an almost spir-
itual, mystical effect on me. I remember looking at his face many times while we were talking and actually hearing some of his tunes, especially "All Blues." I would always hear the music dis-tinctly, clearly, as if it were emanating from somewhere inside his being. It was weird but fascinating. At first, I thought he might be playing a record player in another room. But then I knew that couldn't be true, because Sandra DaCosta had told me that he never listened to any of his old music, that, in fact, he loathed even talking about the past.
This fact was brought home to me in many of my early inter-views with him because it was like pulling teeth to get him to talk about the past, especially about his old music, friends who had died, or his children, whom he always seemed to be protecting. "What chu wanna know that for?" he would ask if my question had really bothered him. I would respond that it was his life, but he had "picked me" to write it-so I had to know. Then, over time, he would relent and answer my question, but always grudgingly. After a while, maybe six months or so, he became more relaxed and our conversations flowed more easily. Eventually, he seemed to relish telling me some of the old stories about Charlie Parker, "Philly Joe" Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane. But he still never played any of the old music.
As I got to know him better, my awe of him was replaced by a healthy sense of respect. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the com-plexities of his genius and his character, Miles was very unpre-dictable. He was subject to rapid mood swings, especially after he had injected insulin for his diabetes or had had a bad day. He used
to say that the reason his moods shifted so quickly was that he was a Gemini. He enjoyed telling me, "I'm a double six, the Devil, so don't fuck with me." Then he'd smile that mischievous smile of his. I noticed that his most severe mood shifts occurred right after he had taken his insulin shots. If I came around at those times, he would have such a low energy level that he would soon get drowsy and want to sleep. And if I stayed around too long, he'd get edgy, incommunicative, and sometimes downright hostile.
But when his energy was high he could be very funny, with a sly, wicked
sort of humor. Like the first time I walked into his
Miles' humor could also have a cold edge when he wanted to make a
point. For example, he was always putting down my Saab because he was used to
all those expensive foreign sports cars he owned and drove. So about the third
time I was scheduled to fly out to
When I arrived, there was no Miles to meet me. I wondered where he was. I went down to the carousel to pick up my luggage. No Miles there either. So I picked up my baggage and walked out of the terminal and there, parked by the curb, was Miles in his yellow Ferrari Tesstarosa.
"Get in," he told me, grinning. "Now this is a real car, motherfucka. This is the real thing."
"Sure is," I said, smiling, relieved he hadn't forgotten to pick me up.
He sensed this and said, "Thought I wasn't going to be here, didn't you?"
"Yeah," I said, curious as to how he knew. I didn't find out, because the next thing he said was, "You wanna drive this bad motherfucka?"
I was taken aback. I looked at his face, half-hidden by his ever-present sunglasses and asked, "You really don't mind?"
"Go ahead," he said, opening the door and getting out of the car. When I came around the back and passed him, he added, "But you better not wreck it, motherfucka, 'cause you know your poor ass can't pay for gettin' it fixed."
He was smiling again when he said this. He knew he was right. But he was generous in this way-he liked to share what he had with appreciative people.
Outside of the public's relentless scrutiny, Miles Davis was a relatively simple man, a person who loved movies, sports, great food, and all kinds of music. His fame wasn't a big deal to him. If he liked you, he would cook and serve you a great meal and
not think anything of it. (He cooked a lot of dishes, but his chili was memorable.)
Miles loved all kinds of music. When I went over to his house or apartment, he might be listening to anything-Mozart, Beethoven, James Brown, Prince, Phil Collins-anything except old jazz. He never, ever listened to old jazz because he thought it was dead-even his own older recordings. His new music, yes;
he listened to that.
I think Miles felt a detachment from the music of Mozart that allowed him to continue to appreciate it and that was unlike his feelings for old jazz, some of which he had helped to create and which he felt a need to evolve away from into something new. The tradition of African-American music-all of it-has always been to try to move forward, to constantly create new styles and new forms, to live in the present moment and not the past. "Don't look back, someone might be gaining on you," Satchel Paige, the great African-American baseball pitcher, once said, and many black mu-sicians seem to take this statement as an article of faith. That's why most young African-American musicians (and, I might add, music lovers) don't listen to blues, which, like much of jazz, has a white audience-because it's in the past. Rap and hip-hop culture are now the rage because they're in the present, and that's where younger African-Americans' heads are at. Miles was like this, too, always dealing with the present and the future, instead of the past.
Miles liked being alone; he told me that being alone was the price he had to pay to always be open to the flow of his creative juices. To that extent, his isolation was self-imposed. It was some-
thing he orchestrated in order to create the space he needed to soliloquize with himself. This isolation kept him focused on his music and painting and helped him elevate his contribution to jazz to high art. He changed his personal style of music and of jazz itself at least six times.
As I said, at times Miles seemed very childlike to me. He once told me he believed that great artists have to retain a childlike fas-cination with what they do. They have to remain open to the world in the way that children are in order to do the work they do. Miles believed that when artists grow too adult in their thinking and emotions, they lose the ability to let their imaginations run free. Then, they become closed to the many creative possibilities that are always emerging. He thought that young children, especially those of kindergarten age, who are still relatively unburdened by the rules and regulations of the adult world, are free in this re-gard. He believed that the rules governing adult conduct stifled and eventually strangled creative imagination and expression.
Miles loved my son Porter from the first time he met him. I had described to him how two-and-a-half-year-old Porter used to come into my study when I was writing the piece for Spin and go directly up to a photograph of Miles I had lying on the floor and just stare at it. I would tell Porter, "That's Miles Davis," over and over again, and he would just sit there, staring at Miles' face. Porter was fascinated with the photo and over time he began to
say "Miles Davis" every
time he saw it. I told this story to Miles a few times and he, always on the
alert for the con, acted like he didn't believe me. He would say, "Aw,
Finally, in the summer of 1987, when Porter was four and a half, Miles called me one Saturday to see whether I was coming down to his apartment on Fifth Avenue. I told him I was planning to and he told me to "bring that boy-I want to see if you been bull-shitting me all this time, saying he recognizes me." I said, "OK," and Miles came back with, "And don't tell him you're coming down here to see me, either. I want to see if you've been telling the truth all this time or putting me on."
I laughed, but I wondered whether Porter would recognize Miles when he actually met him face to face. If he didn't, it would set me up for Miles to be forever taunting me about being a liar.
Porter and I drove downtown to Miles' place from my apart-ment in
A big grin broke across Miles' face and he ordered Porter to "Come here, boy!" And Porter did, running across the room as fast as his little legs could carry him. He jumped into Miles' arms shouting, "Miles Davis, Miles Davis!" Miles loved it and from then on Porter had a special place in his heart.
After that, from time to time I would take Porter with me when I was just going to hang out with Miles. On these occasions, Porter became fascinated with Miles' beautiful red and blue trumpets and would ask him to play them, which Miles did several times. It was a beautiful scene to watch: the legendary trumpeter play-ing just for the child, with Porter laughing and squealing along with every note Miles played. Miles would be smiling, too, ex-plaining to Porter the different notes he was playing.
As time went on,
though, Miles grew tired of Porter asking him to play every time he visited. I
could tell this was happening be-cause Miles lost the enthusiasm of his first
encounters with my son. One day when Porter and I arrived, the blue and red
trum-pets were nowhere to be seen. Porter searched all over the apart-ment for
them in vain. Miles and I watched him running fran-tically from room to room,
growing ever more disappointed. Finally, Porter came up to Miles and demanded,
"Where are the trumpets?" Miles told him they were in
However, Miles had left his beat-up old trumpet out, and when Porter found it, he asked him to play. At first. Miles refused, say-ing, "Aw, Porter, I get a lot of money to play this horn. I ain't got
time to play it for you today."
Upon hearing that, Porter broke down instantly and started to cry. Miles looked
at me, startled, and then with a disgusted look in his eyes, he got up, got the
trumpet, and played a few notes for the boy. Miles was obviously irritated but
he went through the motions anyway. Of course, Porter was delighted. But the
next time my son came downtown with me there were no trumpets anywhere in
sight. When Porter asked about them, Miles said they were all out in
Although he refused to play for him anymore, Miles contin-ued asking
after Porter all the time. Once, in 1988
when I took Porter with me out to the house in
When he told him this, he smiled at Porter as if they were in on some kind of conspiracy together. I told Porter, "Ask Miles to buy you a Ferrari because he's rich and can afford it."
Well, I thought, that was the end of that. But instead of buying Porter a real Ferrari, Miles bought him an expensive red toy Ferrari, an exact replica, which, naturally, Porter completely destroyed in just a few weeks. The boy took it apart piece by piece. First it had no wheels, then the doors went, then the hood. The trunk door was
the last to go. When Miles would ask about the toy, I'd tell him how much Porter loved it. I never told him what condition it was in. Not a word. But it was a beautiful toy while it lasted.
Miles felt at ease not only with children but also with animals,
especially horses. I often went with him to the
Miles had three
horses, if memory serves: Kara, Kind of Blue, and Gemini. Kind of Blue was
named after Miles' tune, and Gem-ini after his sign; I don't know where Kara
got her name. I went riding with him once; I rode Kind of Blue and he rode
Gemini. He wasn't a great rider but he had a lot of style up in the saddle,
trying to look like he was in control. Kind of Blue just tolerated me because I
was definitely an amateur, and scared to death. But we rode around at a slow
trot for about an hour, with the beauti-ful mountains of
When we rode up one of the trails that climbed the mountain, we could look back and see the sparkling, cold blue water of the Pacific and hear the sound of its power pounding the shore. It was awesome. When I looked at Miles he was smiling peacefully, at ease with himself. I was still scared shitless and this amused Miles to no end; he teased me unmercifully about it later on that evening. Still, the experience remains for me a rare, beautiful mo-ment: Miles and me on horses, the mountains behind, and the sea, in all its power and beauty, making that thundering sound.
On our first ride downtown together, in the summer of 1985, Miles had played some tunes for me from the album that would be re-leased in 1986 as Tutu. (It was named after the black South African Nobel Peace Prize winner, Bishop Desmond Tutu.) When the album came out, I liked every tune on it very much. I thought it was a first-rate record, one of the best of Miles' last studio al-bums. Tutu was Miles' first album for Warner's, but it didn't fea-ture many musicians from his working band-only Adam Holzman on synthesizer and the bassist Marcus Miller were members of the band. The rest of the musicians were brought in just for the recording date.
A young synthesizer programmer, Jason Miles, whom Miles called "a programming genius," was brought in to coordinate the computer programming of the music, which kept changing con-stantly. The way it was done was like this: After the arrangers had
gotten the percussion instruments, synthesizers, and electric vio-lin parts down on tape. Miles would come into the studio and play his trumpet over the tape-recorded parts. For Miles, who had always played right alongside the other musicians in his bands, this was a totally new way of working. Recording with his work-ing band had become problematic. Miles said the reason he hadn't used that band on Tutu was that it was just "too much trou-ble." He told me: "The band might not feel good the day of the recording session, or, at least, some people in the band might not feel good. So you've got to deal with that. And if one or two musicians don't feel good that day, then they throw everybody else off. Or they might not feel like playing the style you want or need for the record you're doing, and that might cause prob-lems. Music, to me, is all about styles; and if somebody can't do what you ask for and need, then they look at you all funny and feel bad and insecure.
"You've got to teach them what you want them to do, show them right there in the studio in front of everybody else. And a lot of musicians can't take that kind of shit, so they get mad. That holds things up. Doing it the old way, recording like we used to, is just too much trouble and takes too much time. Some people say they miss that spontaneity and spark that comes out of recording with a band right there in the studio. Maybe that's true; I don't know. All I know is that the new recording technology makes it easier to do it the way we have been doing it. If a musician is really pro-fessional he will give you what you want in terms of performance in the studio by playing off and against the band that's already
down on tape. I mean, the motherfucka can hear what is being played, can't he? And that's all that is important in ensemble play-ing; hearing what everyone else is doing-and playing off or against that."
Tutu was well received by the critics as
well as the record-buying public, and it brought Miles a measure of the
critical respect that had been missing since his return to the scene. (The
album cover, a full-faced black-and-white photo of Miles staring out at the
viewer, was plastered all over
were definitely looking up, but Miles was still having problems with his
working band. The personnel kept shifting. Musicians kept leaving and
returning. His bass player, Marcus Miller, left because he found that he could
make more money producing than playing full-time with Miles. He was replaced by
a gifted young player from Chicago, Darryl Jones. But Jones left in 1986 to tour with the rock star Sting. John
Scofield, Mike Stern, and Robben Ford each played guitar for a while. Darryl
Jones came back. Then Marcus Miller sent Miles a tape of a young bass guitarist
"Listen to this and tell me what you think of it," he said in that whispery voice of his one Saturday afternoon right after I arrived to work on the book. He put the tape in the machine and turned up the volume. We were sitting on his terrace looking out at the sunlit, beautiful Pacific when all of a sudden this Jimi Hendrix-like blast came roaring out of the speakers. I was stunned, but I
dug it. The playing was very raw but had a compelling beauty and energy.
"Well," he said, looking at me with his hard, penetrating gaze, "what the fuck do you think?"
"I like it," I said. "It's powerful. He can play."
"Good," he said. "That's gonna be my next guitar player. His name is Foley, and he's gonna be a bad motherfucka."
I agreed. Foley could play his ass off. The only problem I could see was that Darryl Jones was still in the band. But it all worked itself out later when Darryl decided to leave the band for good, which Miles was already anticipating. Miles was a smart man-most times he was ahead of the game.
On that day Miles was happy, upbeat, telling jokes. But other times he was a very difficult person to get along with. Some days, when things didn't go his way, he was irascible, contemptuous, brutally honest, and extremely bad-tempered. For all his fame and money he was also insecure about many things. He was both proud of being black and totally freaked out sometimes by the deep blackness of his skin and by the hair weave he wore.
Miles told me that his hair began falling out in the late i96os and early 1970s "because of a hair disease." First, when it was in style, he sometimes wore an Afro wig. Then, as the times and hair styles changed, he began pulling his hair back and covering the bald spots by wearing caps and hats. In the i98os, he got a hair
weave. He was very sensitive about his hair and sometimes if I wanted to scare him I would hold my hands over the top of his head, acting as if I was going to pull his weave out. He would wave his hand over his head frantically as if he were battling a swarm of gnats, smiling nervously and telling me to "knock it off." He never got really mad because he saw the humor in our playful interchange. Still, I think it annoyed him sometimes because his eyes would sometimes flash hard and he wouldn't talk to me for a while.
His skin color was a deeper problem. It's not that he absolutely hated his color. No, that wasn't it. But he did talk about how his deep black color always elicited comments, some good and some bad. He used to tell me how sick he was of people talking about it. "Why can't they just accept it, my color, for what it is?" he once asked me. I didn't have an answer. He also told me he didn't want a woman darker than he was. In our book. Miles, he said:
"If you ask me what color woman I prefer, I'd have to say I like a woman my mother's color, or lighter. I don't know why that is, but that's the way I am. I think I've had one girlfriend who was darker than me and you know that was dark because I'm black myself."
Many African Americans of Miles' generation, if they were as dark as he, felt deeply inferior because of the hostile manner in which they were treated. An African-American saying from the times went something like this: "If you're black, get back; if you're brown, stick around; if you're white or light, you're alright." Many African Americans from Miles' generation internalized these
racist attitudes and turned them into self-hatred. I'm not saying that Miles hated himself, far from it; he seemed to love himself as far as I could see, but he might have been deeply troubled by his dark color, over which he had no control, unlike the music he played and composed.
As I said, Miles was a very complex person. In some social situa-tions he was absolutely unsure of himself. But he was always to-tally confident of his musical ability, though not, as some have suggested, arrogant about it. In 1986, he was still in awe of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Duke Ellington, even if he stayed away from listening to their music. He loved James Brown, Prince, and Michael Jackson, and great classical composers, too. He loved barbecue, pig snouts, chili, French pastries, ice cream-in fact, he loved most sweets - and he snuck out to eat these things despite his advanced diabetic condition.
Miles was a bundle of walking, breathing contradictions. He was generous and cheap, stylishly elegant and a "country bump-kin," naive about many things and completely shrewd and learned about others. For example, although he drew and painted many hours every week, he knew almost nothing about African-American or African art. He knew few artists' names, but he could discuss what he liked and disliked about Pablo Picasso's and Sal-vador Dali's work, at length. He was one of the kindest people I ever met and one of the most infuriating assholes, too.
At times, he was extremely funny; at others, unbelievably mean. He could be so humble one moment, and the next mo-ment (and I do mean the very next moment) he could turn into the most exasperating, most obnoxious bastard you could ever hope to avoid meeting. He always used to say, "Everything's about timing." And so it was when it came to Miles-who you got de-pended on when you caught him and what state of mind he was in. Really.
Davis was a very good actor. When he was with me he was always acting all the
time, giving me this and that character- the gangster, the lover, the artist.
He had in him a little of Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire, dark Gable, and the
When you were with Miles and, in his opinion, you came off wrong, you would suffer one of four things. One, he just might completely ignore you. Two, he might take off his glasses and turn his ray-gun, laser-beam eyes on you as if he were trying to exe-cute you with his stare. Three, he just might curse you out, put
you down so hard and in such an unbelievably cruel way that you would never, ever repeat what you had just said or done-at least not in his presence. Four, and only if he liked you, he might play with you the way a cat plays with a cornered mouse. In the first three months that I worked on his book with him, I underwent three fierce put-downs for doing and saying things he didn't like: for showing up at his Manhattan apartment for an appointment when he was making love; for calling him on the phone when he was doing the same thing; and for asking him what he considered a stupid question. Three baptisms by Miles' verbal fire.
While Miles was endlessly contradictory in his life, most of the time he was completely consistent in the quality of the music he played. When it came to music, he was almost always on the mark, on his mark. He knew what he liked and disliked as soon as he heard it and he seldom wavered once he had made up his mind.
bringing by the music of Kassav for him to listen to one afternoon when he was
feeling down. Kassav is a West Indian band whose members are mainly from
cause they were in French. Kassav's music completely freaked him out, and after borrowing the CD from me and listening to it for three days, he directed Larry Blackmon and Marcus Miller to write something for the album they were working on based on Kassav's rhythms and feeling. That album eventually turned into Amandla.
Miles was always asking me to bring by music I liked because he said he "trusted" my musical judgment "sometimes." One day he said he was looking for a saxophonist, so I brought over some records by the World Saxophone Quartet. I thought everyone in this group was great. After he heard the music, he rejected all of it right away, saying, "They can really play but they ain't doin' nothin' new in their individual voices that ain't been done before. I like all of them but I can't use none of their individual styles in my band, you know what I mean?"
Yes, I did, and although I disagreed with him, I understood per-fectly well why they didn't serve his needs. He wanted -needed - someone younger, someone who hadn't been a leader, who would play his music without question and whose voice spoke to and blended with his. One day a few months later, I went by his place and he told me his new saxophonist was Kenny Garrett. This fabulously gifted young player stayed with his band until Miles' death. Today he is one of the rising stars on alto saxophone in the world of jazz.
I remember another
incident with Miles that involved my mu-sical taste. It happened when I went to
and I always seemed to be spending together. Blue sky.
Cool ocean breezes tonguing in. The mountains on the other side of Highway 101 across from his house loomed high and
reminded me of
This was about three months after I had begun working on the book with him. We were closer. I could feel the friendship grow-ing every time I was with him. But I was still wary of his unpre-dictable wrath and I didn't want to go through another verbal dressing down. So on that August evening, when we were both silently staring out at the breathtaking sunset, I was carefully choosing the words that I would say to him, running them back and forth through my mind and reviewing them the way a film editor looks at frames.
I remember the darkness swelling up as suddenly as yeast in baking bread. Miles was gulping down great quantities of his beloved Evian water straight from the bottle. He had turned on
the terrace lights and was drawing on
his drawing pad as on the day of our first interview. All of a sudden he
stopped drawing, took off his glasses, and turned those eyes of his on me. They
were glit-tering devilishly. He bit down on the
earpiece of his sunglasses, and the corners of his lips twitched playfully as,
out of the blue, he asked, "
I sensed a set-up, so I proceeded cautiously. "I like the group sound Trane had when McCoy was in the group," I began.
"Answer the question, motherfucka," he broke in with his rasp-ing, low voice without missing a beat. His eyes were alternately flashing mischief and menace. "Answer the motherfuckin' ques-tion! Do you like him or don't chu?"
"I like him. Miles," I said, a little taken aback by his sudden at-tack erupting after such a long stretch of silence.
"Why?" he asked, after a long, pregnant pause. "Why do you like McCoy as a pianist, Quincy?" He said this sarcastically, with a touch of playfulness giggling around the corners of his words.
"Because I think he plays well," I said, on the lockout now for a verbal sucker punch.
"Oh, 'he plays the piano well,' you say," Miles said, really warm-ing up to the game he had set in motion, really enjoying having me cornered like a mouse.
"Well, are you sure he plays well?" he continued, trying to keep a smile from cracking his face. "And how the fuck would you know he's playin' well? You a trained pianist or something?"
"Naw, I ain't no trained pianist. I'm talkin' about what I like to hear in a piano player," I said, by then more than a little hurt and offended by Miles' attitude and the dilemma I found myself in.
I was especially hurt by all of this because Miles had recently told me, "All musicians aren't great, creative people. Some of them are just technicians and can't hear shit. Now take somebody like you, Quincy; you got great ears and can hear your ass off. If you played an instrument you'd be a 'bad' motherfucka, a really great musician." I had taken that as a measure of his respect for my knowledge and feeling for music. Now, here he was treating me like a bum, like someone who didn't know the first thing about music, and I was really hurt by it.
"Oh, is that what it is? " he said, almost laughing at me then. "You like what you're hearin'? Well, do you know what you're listenin' to? Do you know if his playin' is in context to what every-one else is playin'?"
"Well, Trane must have liked it," I shot back, going on the of-fensive. "If he was good enough for Trane, then he's good enough for me."
I started to tell him, "I just told you what I liked about McCoy, Miles," but I didn't say it because I realized that I hadn't told him
why I liked McCoy. I stopped and thought for a moment while Miles' eyes burned into mine, waiting for an answer. I had to ask myself, Did I really like McCoy as a pianist by himself, or did I just like him within the context of Trane's group?
One thing I did know was that I hadn't bought but a couple of records by McCoy since he left Trane's group. So what did that mean? I didn't really know.
"Well," Miles said, quietly, "do you like him, or what? What is it, brother?"
He was really being sarcastic by then, a little smile playing openly around his lips. He was enjoying being the cat and me be-ing the mouse.
"I really don't know. Miles," I said after a while. "Plus, I really don't really give a fuck!"
"Oh yeah," he said in a raspy, playful voice that told me he knew I was as mad as hell. "Is it that you don't know, or is it that you know but are afraid to tell the truth because you think I might get mad at you?"
He was laughing out loud, certain he'd got my ass exposed, hanging over a barrel. Whatever the name of the game he was playing, he was right and both of us knew it. I was truly mad then, almost to the point of wanting to exchange blows. But I knew he wasn't going to lighten up, so I just played the game out, unwill-ing to come to blows over an emotional conversation like this, be-cause in the end I had too much to lose.
"Naw, Miles, that ain't it." I sank back in my chair, exasperated
to the core, which he knew. "Anyway, fuck you, man," I said, badly needing to try and rescue some of my self-respect. "You just playin' head games with me."
"Oh, yeah," he said, "you think I'm just playin' a game with you? Well, you still haven't answered the motherfuckin' question. So what it be, brother, what is the answer, motherfucka? Answer the motherfuckin' question, brother."
He spat out the word "brother" and turned back to the figure he was drawing.
"Well, Miles, I think he can play," I said halfheartedly, not even believing my own words now that he'd beaten me down so bad.
"Naw, Quincy," he said without looking up. "McCoy can't play shit. All he do is bang around the piano. Just bang around. Never played shit and never will. He's a very nice person, but he can't play no piano to my way of listening. I told Trane that, too. But Trane liked him, liked what he was doin', and kept him on. But for me McCoy couldn't play if his life depended on it. Then, again, a lot of people didn't like Trane's playin' in my band. But I did, and that's all that counts."
Then he smiled his sideways smile that meant he was about to let me off the hook, and said, looking directly at me now, his eyes gone soft but still sparkling with mischief, "Quincy, I'm surprised at someone who can hear music as well as you liking someone as bad as McCoy Tyner. Now I'm gonna have to reevaluate what I said about your ears, that you could hear so good and all. Yeah, brother," he said, bringing the discussion to a close and giving me
a sly look, "I'm gonna have to think about what I said about your ears. You know what I mean, brother? Yeah, I'm gonna have to rethink all of that."
This conversation taught me a lot about Miles Davis and about myself as well. What it taught me about Miles was that he loved to confront people to see if they really believed what they said they believed. Arguing with Miles was like fighting with a great swords-man: he was always thrusting for weakness, both in your charac-ter and in your argument. He always kept the pressure on, in his arguments and in his playing as well. If you couldn't stand up to him, he had no respect for you. Sometimes he might play the devil's advocate just to see where you stood, just to see if you would stand up for what you believed. If he found you weak, he would just plunge his sword straight through your heart and keep on step-pin' without looking back, because he was a man who didn't seem, outwardly at least, to suffer from guilt.
He taught by example, by the way he conducted himself, by the way he did things, and by the way he created and played his music. He taught his band in the same way he taught me. If you were strong you could stay around; if you weren't you had to go.
What I learned about myself on that August evening back in 1986 was that I had to speak out what I believed and be willing to fight for it. After all, Miles was right: If I liked McCoy so much, why hadn't I played the music he'd made since leaving Trane? Until I met Miles, I had stood up for what I believed in with every-one else, even with my heroes. I had always held my ground. After this scene, I vowed that from then on I would stand up to him,
too. And I did, from that point on until his death; and our friend-ship constantly deepened and his respect for me continued to grow.
In 1986 Miles and his working band played the
Amnesty Inter-national concert right outside of
something else to watch the respect with which these celebrities approached Miles and to see the great honor and esteem they held him in. They were starstruck by him and were grateful to be in his presence.
Despite all the
rain, and the media madness of cameras and bright lights, Miles and his band
played very well that day at Meadowlands. The concert was broadcast live all
over the world. Carlos Santana, the rock guitarist from
reminds me about the time Miles told Andy Warhol to pick up his cape at a
fashion show they were both modeling for the Japanese fashion designer Kohshin
Satoh at the Tunnel dis-cotheque in downtown
alized his cape was dragging on the floor. So he turned around and fixed Warhol with one of his fierce, withering looks and said, "Andy, pick up my motherfuckin' cape!"
It was a command. There's no other way to put it. But Andy just smiled and said softly, "OK, Miles," and he walked over and picked up the cape's hem, and they both walked out onto the run-way. The audience exploded with screams and cheers. I remem-ber noticing that Andy's handlers were appalled to hear their boss addressed that way. But Andy loved it. He had a big smile on his face as he walked behind Miles keeping his cape off the floor. He loved Miles and his music and I could see that he loved being with him like that. For Andy, as with so many others. Miles Davis was royalty. A few weeks later Andy was dead as a result of a botched gall bladder operation.
By 1986, the much-ballyhooed marriage between Cicely Tyson and Miles Davis was just about over. I knew this from seeing and hearing about all their problems from Miles. It wasn't about any other woman. Miles told me he had never loved Cicely in the physical sense but had felt that she was more like a great friend, or a sister. She was the one who had wanted to get married, and he married because she had, in fact, saved his life. That's what he told me.
He also said they weren't getting along because they had dif-ferent values. He thought that she wanted to be too controlling.
She wanted to screen the friends and people he saw-including me-and he rebelled. Basically, that's what their separation came down to. Plus the fact that, although Miles was from an upper-class family, he had never had the middle-class values or aspira-tions Cicely Tyson had. At least that's my read on their differences, based on my conversations with Miles on the subject. In any event, by early 1987, they were living separate lives.
But make no mistake about it. Cicely Tyson did Miles a world of good. He had already had his first stroke in 1981 and his health was critical. When he got together with Cicely, he was a long-time serious diabetic who needed to shoot insulin regularly. His health was at the point where it was "Stop using everything or die." After he met her, he completely stopped drinking and using all drugs. Cicely introduced him to health foods and fresh juices. She helped him to kick all of his habits, including cigarette smok-ing, by turning him on to a Chinese acupuncturist, Dr. Chin, who treated Miles until his death.
(When we were working on the book, Miles talked me into go-ing to Dr. Chin with him for treatments. I wasn't sick or anything like that; Miles just enjoyed my company, and when I told him that I had never had acupuncture, he convinced me to go. I thought it was weird, all those little needles vibrating in my body. I can't say I felt any different after Dr. Chin's treatment, but to-day I do go to an acupuncturist for my back and I know that the treatment helps me now.)
Cicely also helped him rebound after the deaths of Charlie Mingus and Bill Evans in 1980. Their deaths had really saddened
Miles, and he was ready to quit everything: he just needed some-one to support him and Cicely gave him that support. She helped him get off everything that was killing him and got him to live a healthier lifestyle. She saved his life, and he stayed clean until he died.
After breaking up with Cicely, Miles started seeing a Jewish woman, Jo Gelbard, who was a sculptor, painter, and jeweler. I got to know Jo pretty well and I thought she was a dynamite lady-strong, pretty, spiritual, and sweet, an artist in every aspect other life. When they met, Miles had already begun doodling and drawing-to keep his hands occupied, he liked to say, so they wouldn't have to pick up a drink or hold a cigarette. It was Jo who encouraged him to stop doodling and start painting seriously every day. It was also Jo who helped deepen his budding interest in art by taking him to museums, galleries, and art openings.
By the end of his
life, Miles was taking his painting as seriously as he took his music. During
the years I knew him, when he wasn't touring and playing and was staying in his
Gil Evans died in 1987, his death was a
great loss for Miles. Gil Evans was Miles' best friend, bar none. Miles loved
him and respected his judgment on many things in addition to music, and Gil
loved and respected Miles in return, naming his son after him. When I first
started going to Miles' house, he displayed only two photos. He carried them
with him each time he moved from
After Gil died, sometimes when I visited Miles, he would tell me of a conversation he had just had with Gil earlier that day. He couldn't believe Gil was dead. He wouldn't accept it, believed only Gil's flesh had left. At first, I was shocked because Gil had died, in the physical sense. But for Miles he had not died, not in the spiritual sense. I began to realize then that Miles believed in spirits, in a spiritual presence after the flesh was gone. So, as far as he was concerned, Gil was speaking to him. Every day. Miles also told me of visits from Coltrane, Monk, Philly Joe, Charlie Parker, and especially his mother and father. He would sit there, serenely talking about what they had told him and what he had said to them, without batting an eye. For him, they really had been there, carrying on conversations. He was always smiling when he
told me of these exchanges across the divide, his face completely relaxed, at ease. After a while, I used to wonder if he talked to anybody else about these otherworldly conversations, and to this day, I still don't know whether he did. But Miles was like that. He was in touch with things most of us weren't. He saw and under-stood things differently, and he seemed to feel and know things spiritually, almost to the point of having extrasensory perception.
I remember one
evening eating dinner with him in his apart-ment on
When Gordon arrived with the stranger in tow, we had finished dinner and were sitting in the very large front room facing the park. Miles, peeved with the man for his having come upstairs alone, immediately told Gordon that the stranger wasn't going to work out. Gordon, who could really handle Miles, responded by saying that what happened on the road was his job, that he was the expert, that he knew this man was good, and that he needed him. Well, Miles looked at Gordon for a moment, then told him
to tell the man to go into the kitchen and get everyone some ice cream. Gordon relayed Miles' request, and the man started walk-ing across the wide front room to the kitchen. Miles pulled up his sunglasses and peered intently at the man as he walked. When he disappeared into the kitchen, Miles dropped his sunglasses back into place, turned to Gordon, and said, "Gordon, he's not going to work out."
"Aw, Miles," Gordon said, a little exasperated. "Come on. Why isn't he going to work out?"
"'Cause he walks out of tempo, Gordon," Miles said with a chuckle. "Can't you see, he walks out of tempo. If we hire him he's gonna drop and break everything."
"Come on, Miles," Gordon said, laughing. "You can't be serious."
"I am," Miles said. "Watch what I tell you. He's gonna break everything."
Anyway, the man
was hired and went to
"Yeah," I said, not knowing what was coming.
"Well, he dropped and broke everything. We had to fire him and get somebody else. I told Gordon but he wouldn't listen to me. I guess he will next time, huh? Later."
And he hung up. I could hear him chuckling just before the line went dead.
the end of 1988, the personnel in his
band had changed again. Having already added Kenny Garrett on reeds, he brought
in Joseph Foley McCreary on lead bass and the great drummer from
I was in
Miles released Siesta in 1987.
It was the score for a film of the same name set in
ter." Here, for the first time in the last years of his life, Miles re-turned to the music he had played in the past. On the title tune, his style echoed the open horn playing he did on Sketches of Spain, an album that I come back to from time to time.
Another big event
in 1987 was that Miles' first album for
Warner, Tutu, won the 1987 Grammy Award
for jazz. That year Miles toured all over Europe, South America, Japan, China,
New Zealand, Australia, and, of course, the United States, managing during this
same time to go into the studio to begin recording Amandia, a joyous,
exuberant album that was Miles' last real stu-dio effort with some of the
members in his working band of the time. The recording, which he finished in 1988 but which didn't come out until 1989, is an amalgamation of many styles, from
West Indian zouk and American go-go-a black musical style that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s from
I think it was in late 1988 that Miles started telling me how much he was getting into rap and hip-hop. He said he had started listening to it because some of the younger musicians in his band, like Ricky Wellman, played it on the bus whenever they were touring. Miles said that at first he hadn't paid much attention to it, but he had gotten to know people like Freddie Brathwaite (better known as "Fab Five Freddie"), who was a rapper, DJ, and graffiti artist, and
he had begun to like the sound. He recognized it as a new form- a departure-and then he began to hear the new sound in his heart and body. (Max Roach once told me he thought hip-hop and rap were the "first departure in American music since bebop.")
I had been
listening to rap ever since 1979, when I
moved up to Harlem and the kids from my neighborhood played it and rapped it
right across the street from my apartment on 116th Street and Seventh Avenue into
the wee hours of the morning. (My apartment was around the corner from where
Minton's, the leg-endary jazz club, had been located in the 1940S and
1950S.) The kids rapped and played their music in
But all that was outside the house. In 1979, my daughter Tymmie and my oldest son, Quincy Brandon, ages fifteen and thir-teen respectively, came to live with Margaret and me and brought the music into our house.
So by the time
Miles started talking to me about it, I had been listening to it for nine
years. He said he wanted to do a record mixing rappers and electronic music
with Brazilian and
to talk to Quincy Jones about the project, but whether he ever did, I don't know. Although Miles didn't know a lot about rap-pers, they knew a lot about him. I used to hear them mentioning his name and talking about how "bad" they thought he was, how creative, how he was "the joint."
same year, on November 13, Miles was
inducted into the Knights of Malta at the
was laid up in a hospital in
When I was writing his autobiography with him and Miles told me this, I didn't know what to believe. I had read the story in The
Star, too, and I had heard Miles blame
Cicely Tyson for leaking it. He thought she did it to get back at him over the
breakup of their marriage. I once asked him point-blank if he had AIDS, and he
angrily denied it. I do know that he was always suffering from bad cases of
some mysterious flu-like virus that sometimes confined him to bed, without
visitors. Also, a short time after the story in The Star appeared, when
I asked him about some pills he was taking, he said they were AZT. Now, AZT, as
is well known, is the drug widely taken for AIDS. I don't know whether he was
pulling my leg or not when he told me the name of the pills, but I do know that
when I asked him, "Isn't AZT the drug used for AIDS?" he clammed up
and told me, "It's none of your business," which it wasn't. So I
never brought it up again. Later on, he told me that he had had a complete
blood change, somewhere in
Whatever the truth was, whether Miles had AIDS or not, it wouldn't have made a difference to me. I do know that he had relationships with many women. I met many of them myself. It was also rumored that he had homosexual relationships with friends like his hairdresser, James Fenny-who died of AIDS after Miles passed away-and his former drummer, the late Tony Williams. I never saw Miles in a homosexual relationship, al-though I can say that he had many close homosexual friends, in-cluding Jimmy Baldwin, Fenny, the dancer George Faison, the late great Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace, and others. But
so do most artists. Me included. He never "hit" on me during the entire span of our relationship.
(I felt I had to address this issue in this book because so many different people have asked me whether Miles died of AIDS. I say that I don't know and that the question should be put to his physician, not to me. What I can say is, as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter; what mattered for me then and matters to me now is the music he played and my friendship with him.)
During the fall or winter of 1988,
some friends at the Studio Mu-seum of Harlem asked me whether a public
discussion / interview could be arranged
between Miles and me for their series 'Vital Expressions in American Art."
I told them I would ask Miles, and when I did, to my surprise, he agreed to do
he just didn't announce his generous gifts to the public.
In the spring of 1989, the buzz began to go out all over New York's cultural wires and, for those in the know, all around the country's wires, too, that Miles and I were going to sit down and
do a live interview at the
When the big night
arrived, Miles and I met at his apartment and drove up to
Once inside the museum, we were ushered-along with my wife, Margaret, who met us there-up to the green room on the second floor, where the trustees and board members were gath-ered. The museum staff had laid out a spread of cheeses, fruit, bottled water, and juices on a long table. The people there were delighted to see Miles and they greeted him with pleasure. He was gracious and told them all how nervous he was. It was all go-ing very nicely until an elegantly dressed, beautiful black woman and her husband came up to speak to Miles. The woman ex-tended her hand in greeting and said she was so happy Miles had graced them with his presence. He shook her hand and watched
her warily from behind his dark
glasses. She went on to say that many people had thought that Miles wouldn't
show; that although she was a board member, she hardly ever came to anything at
the museum; that she was here tonight because she considered this the
Margaret, Miles, and I were shocked when we heard her say this, but Miles responded to her immediately with, "This is a great place, and I wouldn't have you on my motherfuckin' board if you didn't show." And with that he clammed up.
The woman was stunned. Her husband looked as if he wanted to say something but he thought better of it, so they turned around and left the room, as Miles was saying under his breath, "Bour-geois sorry-ass tired black motherfuckas." Everybody in the green room heard the exchange but nobody said anything about it. It was deep.
Then it was time to go downstairs and do the interview. Miles told me again how scared he was. With a nervous grin playing around his mouth he said, "I don't know why I let you talk me into doing this." But he was doing it. My longtime friend Pat Cruz, the wife of the painter Emilio Cruz, had given us both fab-ulous introductions while we were upstairs. When the crowd saw Miles standing at the top of the stairs, following after me, applause and cheers erupted like you wouldn't believe, because the audi-ence had not been sure that he would show up, either. He was all decked out in a purple silk flowing shirt and black balloon pants that pegged around his ankles, his black wraparound sun-glasses securely in place.
Because of Miles'
nervousness, the interview started off slowly, but it picked up speed after he
felt the crowd was with him and he relaxed. Then he told some great stories
about Charlie Parker, James Brown, Prince, Max Roach, and John Coltrane. He
talked about how the sound of dribbling a basketball was a rhythm he sometimes
used in his music, in his playing. He talked about African-American history and
art, about how if black children knew about their African history, then they
wouldn't feel so dis-connected in
He commented on his own drug use, how it had almost de-stroyed him, what a scourge it was in the African-American com-munity, and the need for our young people to stay drug-free.
He was really
funny, wise, and informative for about an hour and a half. The people fortunate
enough to be there that night were absolutely enthralled, and they asked
questions that he freely answered. He was playful with me and showed a side of
his per-sonality that most people never expected to see, or even knew ex-isted.
He was fabulous, and that thoroughly integrated audience (it looked like the
United Nations) applauded like crazy when he finally said, "Can I go now,
I was really proud of him that evening, proud that he was able to overcome his fear and pull it off. The next day, after I told him how great he had been, he told me he was "glad he did it" but that he wouldn't do it again. I took him at his word, even when the question came up about whether he would do a book tour to
support our book. I told the editors at Simon and Schuster that he wouldn't tour or give talks or sign books. They didn't believe me, and when he refused to do it, bad feelings developed between Miles and the company.
In the end, I had
to go out on the road and do the book tour on my own.
Many people were disappointed when I showed up without Miles, especially in our
In 1989, radio producer Steve Rowland and I came together around an idea that I proposed to him about doing a Miles Davis radio show. After first refusing. Miles finally agreed to participate after I convinced him that it would be a historic event. The end result was a seven-part series, "The Miles Davis Radio Project," narrated by Danny Glover. Steve Rowland and I, along with Jay Allison, won a 1990 Peabody Award for excellence in radio broad-casting for the series. But it was an incredibly taxing and difficult project. In the end, it cost me my friendship with Steve Rowland, whom Miles quickly grew to detest. Now, I'm not saying that the fact that Miles disliked him so intensely was Steve's fault, because Miles could be a very irascible, contemptuous, and difficult per-
son to get along with. But the truth is that Miles did dislike Steve, and he disliked him intensely. Let me relate a couple of instances here to illustrate my point.
During the summer
of 1989, Steve and I went out to Miles'
We started out with me interviewing Vincent. Miles' sister and brother declined to be interviewed for the show. Then it was Miles' turn. Now, first of all, you have to remember how much Miles hated to be interviewed, even by me. But he had managed to put his dislike aside and was doing it as a favor to me. Every-thing started well, with me asking him questions and him an-swering with verve and humor. Then, about half an hour into it,
I saw Steve's forehead wrinkling with concern as he listened to the sound through his headphones while he was twisting the knobs of his tape recorder. He seemed agitated about something. Knowing that Steve was a perfectionist about any little disturbance in the sound balance, I began to get worried that he would stop the interview because of some technical problem or other, which I knew would upset Miles and possibly end the interview. So I frevently hoped Steve wouldn't do that.
All of a sudden, I saw him taking off his headphones and walk-ing over to where we were sitting. Miles was smiling at me when Steve came over and didn't see him approaching. When Steve got there, he told us we had to stop because there was "a little glitch" in the sound that was coming through. Miles looked at him and I saw a dark cloud of fury gathering in his face. Vince, sitting close by, saw it, too. I watched his face kind of flinch with concern. Then Miles said something like, "Well, you're an engi-neer, aren't you? Why can't you wipe it out after we get through talking? What's the big problem here?"
"I just want it to be perfect. Miles," Steve said. "So could we just pick up somewhere in the middle of the last question? You think you could remember what you said before? Because that was a great answer, man!"
Miles looked at me and then at Vince as Steve walked back to his tape recorder and put his headphones back on. Then Steve gave me a signal to begin, which I did by asking the same ques-tion again. Miles looked real pissed off. He answered the ques-tion, though not as well as he had before. But about five minutes
into the interview-1 could see it coming-Miles ripped off his headphones and called a halt to the proceedings. He said he wanted to talk with me, privately. I looked at Steve with a look that said, "I told you so" on my face, and I followed Miles, who was walking down the hall in the direction of his garage. When I caught up with him he turned, looked me straight in the eyes with that fierce gaze of his, and said, "What's wrong with your boy?"
"Well, Miles," I began, "you know, you make some people ner-vous. Plus, Steve just wants to make it good, that's all."
"He can clean that shit up in the studio, man. Why he fucking with me and you like that? It's disrespectful. I don't like the motherfucka anyway, never did, never will. He's got to go, and I mean right now. You can stay. We gonna have dinner, watch some movies, listen to some of my new tapes, OK? But that motherfucka's got to go."
He said that with
intense finality. But I countered with, "Well, you know, Miles, I drove
both of us out here, so Steve doesn't have a way to get back to
Without blinking an eye or missing a beat, he shot back with, "Well, you go, too, and come back either later or tomorrow. But that motherfucka's got to go. Now!"
Having said his last word on the matter, Miles turned and walked away, leaving me speechless. When I informed Steve that we had to leave, he got really pissed off, too. He tried to tell me that we were paying Miles ten thousand dollars to participate in this program and so he was obligated to sit for the interview.
I told Steve that
Miles didn't have to do anything he didn't want to do, that he would give back
the money we had given him and that would be the end of the project. When Steve
heard that, he calmed down, and we left to begin the long drive back to the
Silverlake area of
There were other
incidents with Steve, like the time Miles threw him out of his rehearsal studio
Still, as I said,
our friendship didn't survive the heavy-duty stress of putting together this
monumental program. I've talked to him only once since we had a transatlantic
screaming argu-ment over the phone in the summer of 1990. I was in
In June of 1989, Miles played Avery Fisher Hall for the Kool Jazz Festival. It was a double bill, with Miles sharing the limelight with Wynton Marsalis. The tickets went in a flash because every jazz buff and his mama in the Big Apple (and elsewhere, too) was sali-vating over the chance to experience these two trumpet players together on the same bill and to see, hear, and compare the two acknowledged titans of American classical music-jazz.
Wynton had once
been one of Miles' many disciples, but in 1989
he found himself at odds with the master over Miles' con-tinued use of the rock
and pop musical vocabulary and his use of electrical instruments instead of
acoustic ones. They also had dif-ferent philosophies about the direction jazz
should be taking. Miles wanted jazz to continue to evolve, so he married funk,
rock, pop, blues, and classical European music with rap, zouk, reggae, and
So this concert was an opportunity for fans to hear both musi-cians in the same evening and to see who would prevail.
I wasn't there for the first set, which Miles opened, so I don't know what Miles played, but it must have been the set that the New York Times music critic Peter Watrous heard and gave an un-kind review to, because the second set was simply fabulous. When Margaret and I arrived, people were streaming out of the audito-
rium at the end of the first set, and there was a definite buzz in the air.
As always, Miles drew the hippest of hip crowds. Everyone was dressed in their very finest-or, as Miles loved to say, everyone was as "clean as a broke-dick dog." His concerts were almost like fashion shows, with everyone watching what everyone else was wearing, which was Issey Miyake, Donna Karan, Gucci, Armani, and Versace, flowing silks, fine linen, "fly" Italian shoes, "slick" bracelets, and hip earrings-you name it, they had it on. Mar-garet and I were dressed in black Italian jackets-mine, by Benassi E. Vaccari, went well with my hip, blooming, peg-legged pants by Marithe Girbaud.
Miles had gotten me two of the best tickets in the house, three rows from the stage, front and center.
Wynton played a very good opening for the second set, but he talked too much, giving lectures on the blues, on this and that to people who didn't need to hear them; we had come to hear him play, not talk. After Wynton's set and the intermission, everyone filed back in for Miles' second set.
When the stage went dark, signaling the time for the Prince of Darkness to appear, an electrical current of excitement went through the packed house. After he was introduced onstage with the simple line, "Ladies and gentlemen, Miles Davis!" the dark hall was pierced by the sound of his plaintive, mournful, disem-bodied trumpet, coming from somewhere backstage. He was play-ing a tune called "New Blues," with no accompaniment. His mute was on, but he was playing wide open, his sound filling up the
hall with stark, lonely notes played with deep feeling. The hall was completely quiet. It was mesmerizing to hear him without seeing him, in that absolute silence.
By the time Miles came bopping out with that gimp-legged strut of his and walked into a single spotlight-still playing alone, but having switched from the mute to an open bell, dressed in bil-lowing black silk pants pegged at the cuffs, a black T-shirt cov-ered by a black-and-white checked jacket, and, of course, his wraparound space-cadet shades-he was playing so fine that everyone was stunned into silence. When he finished this a cappella blues solo, the audience gave him a standing ovation. I re-member thinking to myself, "Miles sure knows how to make an entrance." And this one was so good it had wiped whatever Wyn-ton had played right out of most people's minds. Then the rest of the band joined him, one by one, walking slowly onto the stage: Joseph Foley, lead bass; Kenny Garrett, alto sax and flute; Ricky Wellman, drums; Kei Akagi, keyboards; Benny Rietveld, bass; and Muyungo Jackson, percussion.
With a single nod from Miles, the band kicked into a tune en-titled "Intruder," played at an astonishingly fast tempo. The tran-sition Miles made from slow blues to an ass-kicking up-tempo song was stunning. Miles and Garrett traded fours in the middle of the piece, an antiphonal tour de force that brought the packed house to its feet again. It went on like that for the rest of the set, with one gem after another. The band and Miles played so wonderfully that Wynton's entire band - but without him - came and stood in front of the stage listening, their eyes bugged out, their mouths wide
open. It was unforgettable. After one amazing solo, Miles walked to the lip of the stage in front of Margaret and me, pulled up his wraparound shades, and smiled and winked at us. It was beauti-ful, something Margaret and I will never forget. When the con-cert was over, people rose to their feet again, applauding, cheer-ing, and whistling like crazy. It was an incredible evening of music.
When our book, Miles: The Autobiography, finally came out in late September of 1989, it received a great deal of attention. Amandla had just been released to great critical acclaim the month before and was selling very well. The album ignited interest in the book, and a large spread on Miles-with an excerpt from the book-in Vanity Fair also helped. Miles and I were on cloud nine.
But not all of the attention was positive. The book was quite controversial because of what Miles had to say and how he said it. Many people objected to what they thought was his excessive use of profanity, and they came down hard on me for not editing it out. But that's the way Miles talked. Some readers were angry and disappointed about the way he revealed himself to be an oc-casionally harsh and brutal person. But he was like that, too. He told the truth in our book, and I deeply respected him for not try-ing to whitewash his life. That took courage. Still others hated that he shattered their perception of his "cool" persona by com-ing clean and being truthful about so many unpleasant parts of his life. It was as if he was deconstructing his own myth and leg-
end. This left many of his admirers unhappy because they would have preferred to continue to believe in the mythology about Miles that they had constructed. Most people want their heroes to be perfect. Many readers didn't like the idea that Miles was just another flawed human being. Some readers would have preferred for Miles to have kept his mouth shut about some of the facts he revealed in the book, especially his treatment of women. I know this is so because a great many of his fans told me that.
But the majority of those who read the book loved it for the same reason that it was hated: for Miles' truthfulness and his lan-guage. I know one thing for sure: almost every musician I knew read the book-most of them two or three times-and it was a big hit with them.
For many, the book instantly became a classic, reaching almost cult status. Readers told me so everywhere I went. It was amaz-ing. I know it increased the audience for my own work, because sales went up for my books of poetry after it was published. It also didn't hurt my sales one bit that Bill Moyers did a profile of me for his award-winning PBS series on poets, "The Power of the Word," which came out that same September. Suddenly, I seemed to be everywhere. That kind of exposure is something that most contemporary poets never experience in their lifetimes, with the possible exceptions of the late Allen Ginsberg and Amiri Baraka. Much of my name recognition as a poet was due to my co-authorship of Miles' book and the Moyers PBS series.
Miles loved the book. He told me so on many occasions. As a matter of fact, when I delivered the manuscript to him for his final
perusal in October of 1988, he called me after he had read it,
laughing hysterically and wanting to know how I had managed to nail his
speaking voice, his inflections and cadences, as I had. Hearing him say how
much he enjoyed the book was a very happy moment for me. Truly.
I had worked hard on it, going to
I had interviewed scores of people to get their takes on Miles. I wanted readers to feel as though they were sitting across from Miles and he was talking directly to them. That's the kind of in-timacy I was after. I wanted it to seem like a one-on-one exchange, with him telling his story directly to each and every reader. I be-lieve I achieved that.
I wrote the entire book without showing it to Miles until I had finished with it. I told him this at the beginning, that this is how I work, that I put everything in, warts and all. He agreed to this process, though he did bug me from time to time to let him see it. I refused, because I thought showing him would slow down the process. After a while he stopped asking.
Miles accepted the book as it was because, as he told me, "it was the truth." He did worry some ove the way the book portrayed his treatment of women, but when I reminded him that this por-trait was accurate, he didn't protest. The only changes he made were when he disagreed with a date or fact.
I loved doing the book. I loved organizing it. In the end, to get
the language straight, I almost had to become Miles, sort of the way an actor becomes a character. In order to get Miles' spirit down on the page I absorbed a lot of his behavior and personal-ity, for instance, his curtness on the telephone and his cryptic comments on almost everything. After I finished the book, I had to separate myself from him, deprogram myself, so to speak. I had to force myself to stop talking like him in order to get back to be-ing myself.
The reaction of some of the critics, however, was perplexing. Some felt that the first part of the book had much richer portraits of people like his father, mother, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones, and others than the later parts. That was true. But there was a reason for that difference. During the latter part of his career, Miles was not particularly friendly with most of the musicians who played in his bands, with the exceptions of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, Mtume, and Al Foster, with whom he was very close. The portraits of many of the later players were sketchier because Miles didn't hang out with them and, consequently, he had fewer stories to tell. Some critics didn't like the book for other reasons and that was OK; that's their right, and their job.
One of the funny things that happened around the publication of the hardback edition had to do with the picture of Miles smil-ing on the back cover. He hated seeing himself caught smiling in photos, so we, the editors and I, conspired to keep him from seeing a proof of the back cover picture, which was shot by the French photographer Gilles Larrain. Miles equated smiling in
public with black Uncle Tomming. He hated seeing Louis Arm-strong, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie smiling or laughing in public. So he was determined he wasn't ever going to be pho-tographed while smiling. In public he always kept his tough-guy, no-nonsense mask in place. But I thought the photo would show his fans a more human, likable side of him, which I thought would be good for marketing. It was-but he hated it. He called me up shortly after he got his copy, and cursing and spitting into the phone, he demanded to know what my involvement had been in selecting the picture. I denied having anything to do with it, which he didn't believe, going on to rave about a conspiracy to make him look like an Uncle Tom and a fool. I tried to humor him but he hung up the phone so hard that it made my ears ring for days. Miles could be very gentle, loving and funny, and he smiled a lot. It was just that he didn't want the public to see that side of him. Ever.
It was an honor
and a privilege for me to have been selected by him to write his book,
and I still feel that way today. Miles and I became even closer friends after
the book was published. He was always inviting me down to his place to eat and
talk. Once the burden of doing interviews for the book was lifted, we could do
other things, like watch sports, listen to music, and talk art and politics
together. I used to bring him food cooked by a friend of mine, Verta Mae
Grosvenor, a commentator for National Public Radio and a great cook. Verta was
staying with Margaret and me at our
and from time to time I would take some of it to Miles. He loved Verta's cooking so much he used to scheme to try and get some of it every day, especially her great seafood dishes, okra, greens, and cornbread. Of course, I couldn't be going to see him every day, and neither could Verta be cooking for him on a regular ba-sis. But that didn't keep him from trying.
Sammy Davis Jr. and Miles were very good friends and had been for a
long, long time. In 1990, Sammy Davis was
dying of cancer; everybody knew it. There had been several tearful tributes to
the great entertainer on television, and everybody who knew him was making a
pilgrimage to his
Miles returned to
it felt like a death watch, and how it made him feel so sad. Then, when he went in to see Sammy, he thought on how thin Sammy was, who was always a skinny man, and how big his head looked atop that tiny body. Miles said he could think of nothing else to say, so he just spoke the truth; told him what he was thinking right then and there, saying, "Goddamn, your head look so big, Sammy, sitting on top of that tiny little body. Man, you betta eat some-thing, 'cause you look real weird right now."
He told me that everyone in the house was appalled at what he had just said, but that Sammy had instantly broken into hysteri-cal laughter when he heard Miles' words; that Sammy laughed so hard, for so long, tears running down his face, that Miles got worried.
"I felt like he was gonna die on the spot, because his tiny body just shook so hard, his big old head was just rolling around on top of his tiny, tiny body like it was gonna fall right off! Man it was something else to see."
Miles added that Sammy called him the next day to thank him for being so truthful and for bringing some much needed laugh-ter into his final days. Shortly after, Sammy passed away, and Miles told me he was glad he had been able to lighten his friend's last hours.
As mentioned earlier, Miles had been suffering from recurring bouts of a flu-like virus ever since 1985. If my memory serves me
right, ever since I'd done the Spin
story, he had been periodi-cally struck down by the disease and by the side
effects of his se-rious case of diabetes. Now, at the end of 1989, he was under the weather again with the
virus, and it put him flat on his back for a longer time than was usual. This
time he told me he was suf-fering from pneumonia. After he recovered from the
illness, he went down to play four nights in Pointe-a-Pitre,
Miles paid for Margaret and me to come down and be with him on the last night of the engagement. The morning after his last concert we looked down from our hotel terrace overlooking the beach and saw him in his bathing suit peering around from behind a bath house, seemingly trying to figure out whether he should go in for a swim, though he didn't.
When I saw him later, I asked him why he hadn't gone in be-cause I knew how much he loved to swim. He just laughed and said, "Oh, you saw me, huh? Well, I was just tryin' to figure out if all them people out there on that beach knew who I was, and if they did, would they come up askin' me for autographs like the Japanese people always do. I didn't want none of that shit, so I just sat there and watched. Man, that was a beautiful beach with some gorgeous ladies on it. Did you and Margaret go in?"
"Yeah," I said.
"How could you stand it?" he said, looking at me quizzically."
"Stand what?" I said, not understanding what he meant.
"Them 'bad,' beautiful women, man. They was finer than a motherfucka. How could you stand it? Not looking at them and shit. I bet it was Margaret, right?"
"Right," I said, smiling.
"Yeah, you got that right. Margaret's a voodoo woman. She would have beat your ass if she caught you looking at all them foxes. Man, I know I wouldn't want to get on her bad side."
"You got that right," I said. "And I don't." Then we both cracked up and gave each other high fives.
Miles had given
Margaret the nickname "voodoo woman" one afternoon when we were at
He went on, pointing to the upper right-hand corner of the painting, "See, the colors kind of merge with the figures. Can you see that, Margaret?"
A little smile of
condescension was playing around the corners of his lips like Margaret didn't
know what he was talking about. Margaret, a quiet but forceful and, when
necessary, outspoken woman with a deep knowledge of art-she has an art gallery
how to look at a painting. I can see. I have a lot of paintings at home. I know a lot about art, probably more than you do."
This shocked Miles. Hardly anyone ever expressed disagree-ment with Miles. He looked up, his eyes bugging out of his head and said, "Well, excuse me." Then he asked, this time with a lit-tle hesitation in his voice, "Well, what do you think about it?"
"Well," Margaret said, looking straight at him, "it's alright, but it could use a little work."
"What?" Miles said, a little taken aback, a little angry, but with some humor and surprise in his voice, that smile still playing around his lips. "Well, why don't you let me see some of your fuck-ing paintings?"
Everybody laughed then, and Miles looked at me and asked, "How do you live with her?" grinning and looking at her as if he was seeing her in a new light, really seeing her for the first time. Then he said, "She's a voodoo woman. That's what she is: a voodoo woman."
After this incident Miles had nothing but respect for Margaret and treated her accordingly every time he saw her. Most people told Miles what they thought he wanted to hear, but Miles re-spected only those who honestly spoke their mind.
There was another revealing incident that occurred when Miles invited Margaret and me to the old Essex House apartment to eat his beloved barbecue with him. While the three of us were eating the ribs, Miles brought out a bottle of French red wine that he said had cost six hundred dollars and asked if we wanted some. Remember, by that time, he didn't drink at all. He said he had
been given a case by some rich fan. We said, "Sure," so he opened the bottle, and being red wine lovers, Margaret and I began drink-ing like our lives depended on finishing every last drop. When Miles discovered we had finished the whole bottle, he said, a little perturbed but laughing his way through it, "Goddamn, you motherfuckas must not have ever had no wine like that. Shit, that fuckin' wine cost six hundred dollars and y'all done drunk it up like that?"
"Yeah," Margaret said, "it was real good. You ought to have some."
"You know I can't drink because of my diabetes problem," he said, looking a little sad. "I like to watch other people drink and enjoy it, though."
"That's why we drank it," I said, "so you could watch us. You don't drink, so somebody had to drink it, and it might as well have been us."
"Fuck y'all," he said, half smiling. "You motherfuckas just greedy, that's all." Then he popped a cough drop in his mouth to relieve a coughing fit that came down on him all of a sudden.
"Do those cough drops have sugar in them?" Margaret asked him, mindful of his diabetes.
"No," Miles said. "They're natural and sugarless."
"Let me see the package they came in," she said.
"Take my word for it," he said, looking a little annoyed.
"Well, are they sweet?" she asked, laughing.
"Yeah, they sweet, baby, but I guess they're naturally sweetened."
"Miles, if those cough drops got any sugar in them, one of these
days your fingers and toes are going to fall off and you're not go-ing to have nothing but nubs in their place, because diabetes don't play."
Miles looked at Margaret in amazement, then he spat the cough drops into a bowl on his glass coffee table. "Damn," he said, "you don't ever give a motherfucka a break, do you?" Then he smiled, a big half-moon grin splitting his face.
Moments like these endeared Miles to my family and trans-formed the celebrated legend into a human being and friend. We loved it, and him-and he loved it, and us. There were many such instances of warmth and closeness during the time I knew Miles, like the fashion shows he would put on late at night to de-lay me - or Margaret and me - from leaving his place. He would pull out those great outfits he had in his closet and model them for us, strutting around in all his splendor. One night he gave Margaret a marvelous suit and said that he was sorry that he didn't have anything that would fit me because I was too big, which was true.
wanted us to stay because he was lonely. He didn't have that many friends he
could just relax with. I remem-ber one night after his video for Tutu
was previewed at a private club down on
was everywhere. Beautiful women and handsome men trying to look "cooler" than Miles swarmed all over the place. But no mat-ter how hip they thought they were, if they didn't know Miles they were too much in awe, or too afraid, to introduce themselves and speak to him. They watched him from a distance like beautiful mannequins in a Bloomingdale's display window, smiling all the while, and drinking and "stuffing their faces" with all that ex-pensive, catered food.
After a while, Margaret and I got bored with all the stylin' and profilin'. We told Miles we were leaving; it was too plastic for us. He was bored, too, so he left with us, leaving his limousine there. Everyone was shocked. When we got outside, a waiter who worked across the street at Raoul's, a great French restaurant that Margaret and I frequented, was outside. This waiter was also a photographer and he asked me if Miles would mind him taking a photo. I asked Miles and he said he wouldn't mind, so a couple of pictures were taken, one of which still hangs over the entrance into the kitchen and garden in Raoul's restaurant. When we drove uptown, Miles asked us to come up and have some food or some-thing, but we declined. When he got out of the car, he looked hurt that we hadn't taken him up on the invitation. "Later," he said as he walked away from the car and through the doors of his apartment building. I think that was the night I first realized how lonely he often was. On the drive uptown, I remember, Margaret and I talked about how bad we felt because we hadn't hung out with Miles. But it was late, and we both had a lot of stuff to do
the next day and we needed to get some sleep. We would have been there until the early hours of the morning, eating, listening to music, watching films, and checking out the "terrible rags" he would have modeled for us.
The Tutu video party reminds me of the annual birthday parties that
Miles would throw for himself and a few friends at some great restaurant in
So in 1990, when we were living in
ful, as fine as they come. So when they brought the flowers in to Miles with big grins on their faces, he kept looking at them so hard they got a little nervous. They told me Miles' eyeballs al-most fell on the table, he was so amazed. He liked them so much that he invited them to his party, and when they declined, he got up and walked them to the door.
The next day he
called me and asked where I was, and how come I hadn't come. I told him I
didn't like those kind of affairs because I found them
boring. After agreeing, he asked me, laugh-ing all the while, about my
beautiful friend and her gorgeous daughter, saying with a deep chuckle of
appreciation, "Man, they were finer than a motherfucka." With that I
agreed. The follow-ing year, in
Around this time
Miles got real tight with the pop star Prince and started going out to
Something else that never worked out was that I was never able to arrange for Miles to meet our homeboy Chuck Berry. I wanted to see that happen real bad. They were born in the same year and had never met. I thought it would have been very interesting to
get these two innovative musicians and creative spirits together in the same room, turn on a tape recorder, and see what would happen. I knew that a conversation between these two iconoclastic musical titans couldn't have been anything but fascinating. Al-though Miles said he was willing, it never came about.
was very loyal to his friends. There are countless stories about him trying to
help people he knew from behind the scenes. When James Brown had his run-in
with the law and was jailed down in
there was the awful mess my oldest son, Quincy Brandon, found himself in. In his senior year at the State University of
New York at Stonybrook, he was falsely accused of raping a white woman and was
jailed. Miles' lawyer (and the executor of his estate), Peter Schukat, read
that if I needed anything, to get in
touch with Peter, who would do what he could to help. Luckily, we didn't have
to-after a long ordeal, everything worked out for
Sometime in 1990 I became aware that Quincy Jones wanted
to arrange and conduct some of the music Miles had recorded with Gil Evans in
the late 1950S. He wanted Miles to play
that music live with a big band, perhaps at the Montreux Jazz Festi-val. At
first, Miles hated the idea. He absolutely rejected it and kept complaining
about it to me. He loved
When Miles told me he was going to do it, I tried to tease him in a good-natured way about the fact that he had said he would "never play that old music again," that he would rather die than do so. I told him that he "must be dying," since he was playing his old music. First I saw his eyes flash anger, and then they bore into my eyes like electric screwdrivers. He had never been this angry with me before. I remember wondering, Is he going to hit me?
"Man, fuck you!" he said, so fiercely it almost took my breath away, his voice trembling with rage. "What the fuck do you know about it? Sheeet. You don't know nothing. You ain't no mother-fuckin' musician. You just a writer. What do you know about it? So just shut the fuck up!"
"Hey, man, I was just kidding," I said. "You can play whatever you want to. But it was you- not me- that said that you'd 'rather die than play that old shit.' That's what you said!"
"Man, fuck you," he said, taking a step forward toward me. "Get outta my house. Right now."
He was livid, his face flushed, spit coming out the side of his mouth. I had never seen him this mad before. He was almost crazed. I started backing up, saying, "Miles, don't think you can hit me and get away with it."
Then, going on the offensive, ready to stand my ground, I got mad, too. "I don't take no ass-whippings, so don't even think about it."
"Get out, motherfucka," he said, almost spitting the words. "Just get outta my house, you hear me? Right now."
"Don't worry, I'm leaving," I said, backing up toward the door, not trusting him not to hit me in the back of the head if I turned around. No. I wasn't going to expose my back to this crazy man. No way.
"Just leave," he kept saying. "Just leave. Right now."
After I left, he slammed the door so hard I thought he had bro-ken the door frame. I couldn't figure out why he had gotten so angry. I really had been joking, pulling his leg as we so often did-with each other, just teasing him. But he had literally exploded with rage. It was the angriest I had ever seen him.
was one other equally strange time when he be-came enraged with me. This
happened when we were still work-ing together on the book and one day he
convinced himself that I was dating Jo Gelbard just because she and I left
back," he kept screaming. "I trusted you like a brother and you
stabbed me in my back. You thief. Send it back. Right
now! Send back Jo's drawin' of me and that map of
Not knowing what this tirade was all about-since we had both agreed that I should take the drawing-1 called him right back and said, "Don't hang up on me. I don't know what you're talk-ing about. Stole what? What did I steal? You gave the drawing to me!"
"Just send it back, motherfucka. That's all. Just send it back. Now!"
Then he hung up the phone again. I was livid. If we had been in the same room, there is no telling what I would have done to him. So I picked up the phone and called him again. When he heard my voice, he hung up the phone again. I was defeated and fuming with rage. Later, Margaret called him, and he talked to her, said he didn't want to talk to me. He told her the same thing. "Tell him to send back my fucking drawing and map." Then he hung up on her. So I sent him back Jo's drawing and the map. A
few days later, Jo called me and told me why he had been so an-gry. Miles had thought we were sneaking around with each other. After she reassured him that wasn't happening, he finally called and we talked as if nothing had happened.
This was also what he did after he got so mad at me for teasing him about him playing his old music at Montreux. He just shined it on. About three weeks after our argument, he called and acted just as if nothing had happened. Later, I figured out that maybe the reason he got so angry was because I had hinted at the possi-bility that he was dying-he did die later that year, and he may have had a premonition that he didn't want to be reminded of. That question remains a mystery to me until this very day.
In both cases, he never mentioned the argument again. He never said he was sorry-he was incapable of apologizing, ever, at least in my relationship with him-but he would just act like nothing had happened. Perhaps in his mind, nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Perhaps he thought that very angry dis-agreements were just part of having a relationship. People speak their minds, at times harshly. That's the way life is, or at least that's the way he was. After it was over, it was over, and you just went on with your life.
Still, I always thought it strange to have such intense arguments with someone whose music had always given me great pleasure and joy. Miles' music had been the place where I always retreated to when I needed solace or to be energized. His music was, and is today, my safe harbor.
I entered the world of jazz through a Miles Davis record I heard
back in 1955, when I was fifteen years
old. I had gone into a fish joint-on
joint had a yellow linoleum floor and the prefabricated look of vinyl and
plastic that later became so popular at McDonalds, Jack in the Box, and all the
other banal fast-food restau-rants that swept over
people in the neighborhood hated the way it looked. We called its sterile style "clean looking," to distinguish it from the usual "greasy spoon" style that most local black eateries wore back then. As we liked to say, this joint was "trying to look white." But we loved the great food that was served up there, and we came back time and again despite our reservations about their "fried hair" and "white look."
Once inside, I immediately noticed a booth filled with four black, hip-looking older guys wearing the latest "in" clothes. Smoking cigarettes and wearing shades, their wide-brimmed hats hanging majestically on the prongs of two steel poles, which seemed to grow beside their booth like facing trees.
The men were sitting there talking and eating deep-fried "jack-salmon" sandwiches doused with hot sauce, with sides of potato salad and cole slaw. They were also listening to the juke-box that was jamming sounds I had either never heard before or never paid attention to. Whatever it was, it was new to me, and at that moment, I was drawn to it like the rabbit to the tarbaby.
I remember being struck by the music easing out of the brightly colored jukebox, which seemed to match the cool style of the four men sitting there nodding their heads in time with the rhythm. In unison. Although I had intended to buy a take-out sandwich, I decided instead to sit down in a booth to eat and listen to those men talk, and to drink in the music they were nod-ding their heads to.
They talked about the sounds they were hearing on the box. One man said the trumpet was played by a "homeboy" from across the river, someone named Miles Davis. Another said the tune was called "Donna." I also recall one of them saying that "the young alto player sounds almost like Bird. Man, he's something else." Well, I didn't know who Miles was, or "Bird," or the young alto player who sounded like him, either, but I found the conversa-tion fascinating and I listened intently while they played the record over and over again. Jazz music made sense to me that day for the first time in my life.
Until then, my choice in music had always been black rhythm and blues, music I could move my body to-though I suspected that I could also move my body to "Donna," the same way those hip guys were dancing on their hind parts in that booth, nodding their "processed" heads. At that time, I liked the Platters, the Dells, the Cadillacs, Sam Cooke, Johnny Ace, Clyde McPhatter, Jackie Wilson, and the alleged wild man of music who was then living right down the street from me. Chuck Berry. But this music was totally different. It had no words, no voices, no vocal dancing to slide words around, over, ahead, behind, and still land right back on the beat.
It was a completely different kind of music and, after the four men left, I found myself getting up, reaching into my pocket for a nickel, and walking up to the jukebox. I found "Donna," dropped my coin in, turned around, and eased my way back to my booth as the music poured out of the box. As I polished off
my second fish sandwich, I kept nodding my head to the tune's insinuating rhythms and moving my hind parts in time to the beat.
I left that joint that afternoon, I felt as though I had un-dergone a secret
initiation, a rite of passage, one that would sep-arate me forever from the
rest of the students who attended
During the summer of 1954 my mother had moved us from our old black neighborhood. She had wanted us to be the first black family on the block, but actually we were the second. We were a family of six: my grandmother, Leona Smith; my mother, Dorothy Smith Troupe Brown; my stepfather, China Brown, blues bass player, leader of his own band, and clothes presser at a large clean-ing plant; my uncle Alien, unemployed wino, a gentle, harmless man; and my younger brother, Timothy. Our white neighbors hated all of us immediately.
We lived next door
to the first black people on the block: a couple, Thomas and Margaret O' Guin. He was a doorman at a local hotel and
she was a homemaker. They were older, more con-servative than we were, and had
no children, which probably ex-plains why they had never had a problem living
black men into the neighborhood. After we arrived, the whites on the block began leaving faster than people in a movie house when someone's yelled "Fire." Our white next-door neighbors never spoke to us, not once.
In this hostile
racist environment, I was fast learning to hate myself just for being black.
Earlier in my life, living in a black neighborhood, I had never felt any
self-hatred. In fact, it was the other way around; I was proud of who my father
was, and of what our family name meant in the black community. My father,
Quincy Trouppe (he added a second "p" to his last name because he
liked the way it was pronounced when he played in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and
Mexico), was a great star in the old Negro base-ball league, and his older
brother, James ("Pal"), was a leading black political and labor
leader around St. Louis, who had also made a ton of money from real estate and
"other" investments. A distant cousin, Ernest Troupe, was a lieutenant
on the police force. So, within the
Naturally, I hated
the new block and would walk back to my old neighborhood every chance I could
get (a distance of about four miles). When I asked my mother why she had moved
us, she simply said it had been in our "best interests." She,
however, travelled outside the neighborhood to work as a telephone op-erator
every day, just as my stepfather,
with the racist neighborhood kids every day, and they were like a pack of howling, rabid dogs.
During my first
two years in my new home, the white kids (mostly boys) called me every vile
name they knew. They called me "nigger," "coon,"
"monkey," "gorilla," "jiggaboo,"
"shinola," and "boy," to name just a few. We fought on many
occasions. With the exception of one Italian kid, Tom Palazolla, who invited me
to his home, they hardly ever spoke to me or even looked my way during my ears
That's why Miles Davis and his music came to mean so much to me. The white kids at Beaumont High were into Bill Haley and the Comets and Elvis Presley. But what they really loved was Pat Boone's rendition of "Ain't That a Shame." I hated Boone's ver-sion of that song, because I had heard the "real thing" by Fats Domino, and I knew that Pat Boone had "borrowed" it from him and become famous singing it because he was a white man. Boone made a career of such "borrowings." He also made a "mint" with his cover of Little Richard's "Tutti Fruity." But my white school-mates didn't know or care about any of this. They didn't give a Hying fuck if Boone was getting over because he was covering black songs. It certainly didn't matter to them that Elvis Presley was doing the same thing. Chuck Berry lived in the neighborhood, but the white kids didn't even know his name, not to mention what a great contribution he was making to American music.
But I knew. I knew the "real deal" and it bothered the hell out of me that these white teenagers didn't even care that they didn't know shit; that they could think of black people as stupid and uncreative while all the while their musical heroes were stealing our songs, music, and language and calling them their own.
When I discovered Miles Davis, I knew I had found something these white squares didn't and couldn't know. I was hip. I wanted to be seen as someone completely different from the squares. And, "quiet as it's kept," I really saw myself apart from all my high school classmates, the black students as well as the whites. I had no re-spect for my black classmates because they had bought into the idea of their own inferiority. They believed that their culture, lan-guage, and music were beneath those of their white counterparts. So they tried their best to be as white as they could in their speech, dress, and manners. It sickened me to see my old friends change that way. I refused to change, and I guess that sickened both my black and white classmates because we all quickly drew apart.
What happened to us was sad. But at the time I had no lan-guage to explain myself to them, nor they to me. We were mute in our separation and pain. We couldn't explain why we were drift-ing apart. We only knew that we were and that we were power-less to stop it. But I had Miles Davis in my life, and they didn't, and that's what saved me: his music and his living example of what a black man could be: someone completely independent, amaz-ingly creative, fiercely proud.
As a teenager in the late 1950S, I had few fiercely proud black role models and heroes: Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, Paul Robe-
son, and my father's older brother, Albert, were at the top of my list. Of these men my Uncle Albert was the only one with whom I had a real personal experience-though Chuck Berry lived three blocks down the street from me and I would see and speak to him on occasion. Uncle Albert taught me firsthand what it meant to be what I later came to know as an "unreconstructed black man." This was a dangerous, lonely, and unrewarding position in which to place oneself. Uncle Albert didn't take anything off anyone-black or white-and the reason my father's family had to leave Dublin, Georgia, during the late 1920s was that Uncle Albert, as a teenager, threatened to kill a white man who had called him a "boy" and a "nigger." He refused to be disrespected, whether by a boss, his friends, or anyone else. As a consequence he kept his self-respect but had a hard time keeping employment and mak-ing a living. And although they managed to make a much better living than did Uncle Albert, Chuck Berry, Paul Robeson, and Miles Davis were like that, too.
I began to look for more records by Miles. I found out who "Bird" was by finding Miles Davis' name on some of Charlie Parker's records. In the same way I also found out that the "young alto player" who sounded just like "Bird" was Jackie McLean. I wanted to learn everything I could about Miles Davis. So I started asking some of the older guys about him, which led me to my cousin, Marvin, a very good drummer and everyday criminal and junkie. (He was a junkie so obsessed with getting money to support his large habit that he later broke into his own father's house, my Un-cle, James "Pal" Troupe, and stole everything that wasn't tied down.
It was the talk of the family for years.) Marvin - dead now - always liked me. He was always telling me I had "potential." Somewhere around 1955 he turned me on to the album Bags Groove, which completely blew my mind because it was so different from "Donna" and all the other music by Miles I had heard until then.
The title track "Bags Groove," named after the
vibraphonist Milt "Bags"
Even though I had been moving fast through all of Miles' records I could wrap my ears around, I still wasn't prepared for his wide-open, soaring, lyrical voice on "Bags Groove." I loved Monk's wonderful solo in the middle of the song. I loved Bags's vibe work underneath it all, with Percy Heath walking the hell out of his bass lines. And I loved the way that Miles comes back in that clear, crisp,
beautiful tone of his. Man, when I first heard "Bags Groove," I felt I had died and gone to some very hip heaven. I also felt I could dance some very cool steps to this music, and, on a number of oc-casions, I did. But even more than that, more than making me want to move my body, more than challenging me to think about what sound is all about, "Bags Groove" went straight to my heart. It made me feel older and "cool," on the inside of something new. It confirmed my sense that I was a cut above the group I was hang-ing with, people who weren't into Miles or jazz. And, to be sure, after a short time I found myself uncomfortable with most of these old friends and moved on, eventually finding a place for myself with an older, more adventurous crowd.
I didn't know when I first heard "Bags Groove" was that in the fall
of 1953, just before recording it, Miles
had kicked heroin. I knew about his drug habit from my cousin Marvin and I had
even thought it had a positive effect on his playing and was one of the reasons
he seemed so cool. I wasn't alone in this opinion. In the early 1950S, many hipsters thought that using heroin
was very cool. At that time, heroin was just beginning to work its dev-astating
way into urban communities all over the
reasons I never got involved with heroin were that I was an athlete and that my
cousin Marvin, a junkie himself, advised against it. So, because I respected
Marvin and trusted his advice, I never shot up or even sniffed it. Still, deep
down, I continued to think that the people using heroin were the hippest people
I knew. They were so "clean"-well-dressed-and had such hip, laid-back
attitudes. But I didn't know that before Miles recorded "Bags Groove,"
he had secretly gone to his father's farm in
After I fell in love with "Bags Groove" I redoubled my
efforts to find out everything I could about "The Prince of
Darkness." I began reading all the magazine articles I could find about
Miles. I discovered how he dressed-all decked out in elegant clothes and
expensive Italian shoes. I checked out his aloof, disdainful but always-to me-cool attitude. From conversations with
older black men who had known him in
Although I wasn't into Bird's music as much as I was into Miles', because of my love for Miles, I paid attention to the news of Char-
lie Parker's death in March of 1955. Today, I love Bird's music but, perhaps because I grew up with him, I still prefer Miles.
After I first saw Miles play live, as far as I was concerned, he could do no wrong musically or socially. I had had black sports heroes previously, but Miles was my first black hero beyond the world of sports. His music and the way he presented himself to the world opened up the possibility that I would be able to do anything I could imagine myself doing. His music and his example made me feel special. Free. Able to utilize my own imagination.
Later I would come
to know that Miles had had the same ef-fect on the lives of many other people
from all over the world. In fact, when I was working on his book with him, I
discovered there was a group of men and women of all ages and races who
followed him around the world attending his concerts, just to hear how dif-ferently
he would play at each one. I came across them compar-ing notes at a concert on
By the time I graduated from high school and went on to
sic he and his first "great
quintet" created from 1956 to 1960 be-came some of the most influential
small group jazz ever played. John Coltrane, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones,
and Red Gar-land were the personnel. I remember waiting impatiently for every
record the group released. And whenever a new record came out, if it was during
summer or a holiday break, I would make a bee-line over to Percy Campbell's
house, on Labadie in
By the time Miles
released Round Midnight in 1956,
he had added the great alto saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
to the band. This expansion of the group into a sextet led Miles down even
greater musical roads, which fact became evident when he released Milestones
in 1958. In December of 1958, I caught the sextet live at the
Sutherland Lounge in
I was home from
college on Christmas break and some friends and I drove to
were better, and it seemed as if the audience paid more attention. I got into the club with a false draft card again, only this time it was easier, probably because my friends and I were older. We were flat-out "clean," with the attitudes to match our hip clothes; aloof, disdainful, and too arrogant for words. We didn't have much money-just enough to get in, buy a few soft drinks, and pay for gas for the trip back home-but we were imitating Miles and that got us over. The music the band played that night was glorious. It was so good it was transcendent.
Of course. Miles' music had changed since the first time I heard him live. He was moving full speed ahead into his modal period, and everyone was really beginning to stretch out, taking long so-los. Coltrane was something else that night. He yelped and howled and blew so furiously it seemed as though his life de-pended on every note. He was just beginning to get into the style that would later become known as "sheets of sound." Cannon-ball was something else, too, tearing off solos that flew like birds. But it was Miles himself who was the spark, the catalyst that ig-nited, sparked, and drove everyone else that night. The way I re-member him playing that evening, his trumpet seemed to soar above the other instruments like a golden eagle, lyrical, probing, and driving everyone to play beyond themselves. He burned through his solos in that now famous "running" style that he had perfected. Then he switched to the mute on the ballads, tonguing the notes like a passionate lover kissing his woman. He was on top of his instrument. He knew it inside and out, knew what to play and when and where to play it. His mind was sharp and
free of drugs, his dress was sartorial splendor. Yes, he was "The Man." I tell you he was something else again, and I left the Suther-land Lounge that night completely blown away.
after stunning album was released during this great period from 1956 to 1960,
one of the most fertile periods any American musician has ever known. And I
listened attentively to them all. Sometime during these years, Miles' legendary
hipness merged with his great music and turned him into an almost myth-ical
figure. In 1958 alone, Milestones,
Miles and Monk at
Like Bags Groove, the album Kind of Blue changed the way I lis-tened to music. This was the third time that Miles taught me how to open my ears. After hearing this album, I found that I needed a sense of openness and open-endedness in the music I listened to. I learned to need space within the structure of the composi-tion. I needed surprise, too, rather than the rigid, tightly wrapped sameness that seemed to be typical of a lot of other musicians. Af-ter hearing Kind of Blue, I began to accept and understand the idea that a great artist works in many different forms and styles, always searching, always challenging the status quo. That's what
I, and many others, began looking to Miles for, this notion of change. We began to understand that it is alright to move away from the familiar and to evolve into something different. We learned that venturing into the unknown could produce some-thing special, as indeed Miles proved with Kind of Blue.
I always had loved Miles' tone and his licks. Now, I also ex-pected him to show me something different every time I heard him, to lead me down a different musical path-preferably one that I knew nothing about. This notion was exhilarating-positively revelatory. It brought me closer to understanding the concept of what freedom for a young black man could be. On Kind of Blue, Miles once again led me to a place within myself that would teach me something about who I was, about what I thought greatness in music, art, sports, any endeavor could be. Kind of Blue became a barometer, as "Donna" and "Bags Groove" had been before it. Miles was my barometer, and no one else came close, not even my father.
Miles' music and his attitude were beginning to affect how I chose to live in the world. I was starting to choose flexibility over rigidity as a must-as an essential value. When I considered all the different races, religions, subcultures, and social and politi-cal philosophies we have in this country, it began to seem im-perative that we learn to respect our differences. It seemed to me then - and today seems even more so - that believing in "this and that" wins hands down over "this or that," which was then and still is the prevailing philosophy-whites or blacks, classical mu-sic or jazz. I was beginning to understand that we could love it
all. The improvisations of jazz along with the fixed, unyielding notation of classical music. Because in the modern world one has to be ready for anything, to have the ability to switch up when confronted with the constantly new situations that a multicultural society presents.
It was Miles Davis and his music, his ever-expanding approach to and embrace of many different styles, that taught me to see the importance of inclusiveness rather than separation. Later, other artists would stretch my inclusive vision even further: Pablo Pi-casso, Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Aime Cesaire, and Derek Walcott, to name a few. But Miles Davis remains the most important model for me, because he was the first to demonstrate that it was alright to court change and strive to be different, that you could constantly reinvent your art and do it artfully, with grace, with the possibility of greatness and integrity. Flexibility, not rigidity: Miles was "The Man" who showed the way for mil-lions like me all over the world.
After hearing Kind of Blue in 1959,1 began to crave change. I didn't know exactly what I was seeking but I did know I wanted and needed change. I knew it was out there, because Miles Davis was out there, playing and living it. So I knew it was possible. By 1959, my friends and I were wearing shades all the time like Miles and the other hipsters. We walked the way we thought he walked, we spoke to women the way we imagined he spoke to them, we stood
and dressed just like he did. He was our main man. And in our young minds we were just like him.
So in the autumn of 1959 when
word came down to us about Miles' run-in with a white policeman outside of
According to the news reports, the incident began innocently enough,
with Miles walking his friend, the famous white newspa-per gossip columnist
Dorothy Kilgallen, out of the club to get a cab. Out on the
street. Miles encountered a white policeman, who asked him to "move
on." Miles refused on the grounds that he wasn't loitering as the
policeman had accused him of doing, point-ing to his name on the display board
outside Birdland's entrance to prove it. The cop wouldn't listen to him and a
struggle followed, with Miles getting hit on the head by a second policeman,
who had been watching in the shadows. After beating and subduing him, they took
It seems like we knew all of this even before the picture of a bloodied Miles walking out of the jailhouse hit the newsstand. In the photograph, his beautiful, stylish first wife, the black dancer Frances Taylor, was draped over his arm. Miles had a bloody band-age wrapped around his head and blood spattered his expensive Italian sports jacket. Despite his injuries. Miles still looked un-broken. In fact, he looked positively defiant, his eyes flashing rage. This photo was flashed all around the world, in the pages of news-
papers everywhere. Naturally, it caused outrage among many of his fans, including me.
This photo and the fact that he had defended himself and seemed willing to fight to the death for his rights only increased my respect and admiration for "The Man." After all, this was just before the beginning of the civil rights movement, and respect as equal citizens was what most black people would soon be fight-ing for. With that incident, Miles vaulted into the political arena of civil rights. (What timing he always had!)
In 1960, Sketches of Spain
was released to universal critical ac-claim. Gil Evans, Miles' best friend,
served as arranger, making this their third album together. Perhaps because of
its strong clas-sical European overtones, the critics loved it almost
immediately. On the other hand, my friends and I in
immediately after Kind of Blue, Sketches of
azines like Time ran feature stories about him. He had crossed over from being an idol of black people to being an idol of whites, too.
For a black man in 1960 to achieve this kind of musical suc-cess was astonishing. Today, such success can be understood only when compared to the impact that Michael Jackson had twenty-five years later. Miles' Sketches of Spain was the first real "cross-over" moneymaker.
finishing college, I joined the army and traveled to
I returned to the
From the beginning of his career, Miles had wanted to reach a wide, racially diverse musical audience. He always wanted to be cutting edge, but he always wanted to be popular, too. In the early 1960s, his challenge was to accomplish both of these goals without compromising his musical integrity. Sketches of Spain had brought him a huge audience, but more American whites than African Americans were listening to it. After its great suc-cess, Miles wanted more than ever to reach black Americans, es-pecially young black Americans.
Grown weary of playing old standards, he wanted to return to music that was closer to the roadhouse funk he had grown up with-but he also wanted a contemporary sound.
Miles set out to create a more accessible music, one that com-bined jazz with elements of rhythm and blues, African modal music, and rock and roll. That's just what he eventually did ac-complish, but when he achieved his goal he was both celebrated and ridiculed for his efforts by long-time fans and music critics.
He began by
listening to the music that was popular with young people: James Brown, Jimi
Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone. He also listened to Motown, the
African-American label out of
In 1965, for the first time since I had begun
listening to him, I wasn't paying much attention to Miles' new recordings
because they seemed out of sync with my musical tastes. When I'd re-turned to
the States, after hearing James Brown's "Papa's Got
a Brand New Bag," I was out on the dance floor shaking my booty again like
everyone else in
In the 196os, the
great social upheavals the
music), was pointing me toward a fundamental reassessment of my life.
I had moved to
But as much as I was learning to love Trane, Miles remained my idol and role model. From the mid- to late 196os I had mem-orized almost all of my favorite solos by both musicians. I used their riffs and licks as a foundation for the rhythms and cadences of my own emerging poetic language. Their horn solos helped me to pull myself away from the sonnets, sestinas, and villanelles I was composing when I first started writing poetry.
I kept trying to imitate the flow and structure of their musical ideas. With Miles I wanted to get something like his floating sound and jabbing, insistent staccato rhythms into my poetic lines. With Trane I wanted to learn how to generate the same kind of energy and passionate intensity that his "sheets of sound" did.
In 1966, I "rediscovered" Miles' music. My ears finally opened to his new sound. By then the second quintet (and sometime sex-tet) had been working together for two years. It took me so long
to hear what they were doing because the music was so difficult and different.
In fact, this band was one of the most liberated I have ever heard-then or since. Hearing that band live was like watching a chameleon go through its changes. Night after night, they never played the same tune the same way. Although they played the stan-dards, they did them with extraordinary harmonies and rhythmic experiments. They freed themselves from all the conventional chord changes. But no matter how much they broke with tradi-tions, they swung. They always swung.
The band members
were all much younger than Miles and they led him into newer, more challenging
directions. The drummer, the late Tony Williams, was seventeen years old, fresh
Influenced by the
band's exuberant energy and the great tunes the other musicians were
writing-especially those of Shorter, the band's main composer-Miles' approach
to the trumpet had changed again. His horn had flown into the stratosphere. He
played higher and faster than he ever had before, splintering off notes like
wood chips flying out of a wood thrasher. The change was so evident it was
almost like hearing a new trumpet player. At a club in
Feather marveling at how fast Miles was playing. He kept shak-ing his head in amazement about Miles' great new sound.
In the few years that the quintet/sextet was together, the per-sonnel and instruments kept changing and electric instruments were added. For Miles, electrical amplification represented the future of music-but it also led to the breakup of his second great band.
The year 1968 was a momentous one for Miles. He began a short-lived marriage to Betty Mabry, he suffered from a depression caused by the death of his friend John Coltrane in 1967, and he found himself searching for a new sound again. As Dizzy Gillespie once said, "Miles is like a man who has made a pact with himself to never repeat himself." And, I, after hearing Miles play the memorable solo "Petits Machins" ("Little Stuff') on the al-bum Filles de Kilimanjaro, was altogether into his music again.
With the release of In a Silent Way, it was clear that Miles had found his new sound. At first, it was hard to listen to, because I had just recently become accustomed to the second quintet, and I wasn't ready for him to move in another direction; but it wasn't long before I was loving the new sound. By then, I understood that one important reason to love Miles was that you would never know what to expect from him. It wasn't that his playing was so differ-ent on In a Silent Way but rather that he had placed himself in a new musical context. He had surrounded himself with an entirely
new sound that brought his voice into sharp relief, allowing us to hear it in a more open and expanded way. There were deep, mys-terious spaces in the music and there was something mysterious and magically compelling beneath its surface that bubbled like an underground river. It drew me back to listen to it over and over again.
In a Silent Way uses three electric pianos, an electric organ, and an electric
guitar in addition to conventional acoustic in-struments. All the musicians
take long solos, but Miles' are espe-cially bright, haunting, and, at their
core, sad. Miles had learned and absorbed so many new musical ideas from the
members of his second "great" band that he had caught up with the
musical language of the younger generation. And once he was comfort-able with
new instruments like the synthesizer, he felt it was time to move on. He wanted
to move forward with his own musical agenda, and he knew he wanted to go in the
direction of Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Sly Stone, and Charles Lloyd. Years
later, Miles told me that Charles Lloyd had served as a catalyst for how he had
played In a
I met Hendrix in
poetry on the beach in
following week I came back to
Miles had plunged deep into electric instrumentation for the first time on In a Silent Way, and he continued in this direction even further with his next album, the ground-breaking Bitches Brew, which rose to the top of the jazz charts and eventually sold five hundred thousand copies, becoming Miles' biggest-selling record.
Like Kind of Blue, it exerted a tremendous influence throughout the worlds of jazz, pop, rock, and blues.
But more than any other album until then, it polarized his au-dience into two distinct groups: those who loved his music before Bitches Brew and those who loved it after hearing Bitches Brew. In the first group were the older lovers of jazz and European clas-sical music, perhaps evenly divided among all racial groups. His new audience was equally diverse but decidedly younger and more tuned into rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and funk. When they came together at Miles' concerts, the two groups were like oil and water; they were loudly contentious and even got into ar-guments about which way Miles should take his music.
However, it was the younger group that raved about Bitches Brew and bought it, and it was on the hook of the younger group that Miles hung his musical hat. One thing is certain: Miles knew exactly what he was doing. He knew that his new approach would reach the younger generation and, like the true innovator that he was, didn't care what anyone else thought. He once told me, "Old people don't buy records but young people do."
He sure was right in this assessment, because many of his older fans never bought a record of his again after Bitches Brew, and this included many of my older friends. I think it was a class dif-ference as well as a generational one. His older audience liked to wear suits and ties and go to concert halls. Many of them also liked European classical music and opera. The kids who liked Bitches Brew were not only younger; they were raunchier. They dressed down instead of up and danced in the aisles and cheered in the
"wrong" places. They were bored by classical music or opera but loved rock and roll, funk, and soul.
I, for one, appreciated Miles' courage, especially because it seemed to me that he was at the top of the music world when he made these changes. In my opinion, it's a lot easier to change when you're closer to the bottom than when you're on top. Miles always initiated change when he was riding high and being richly rewarded for what he was doing. The cause of his many changes was never financial need. It was what he needed to do to advance as an artist.
Others didn't see it that way, especially the critics. After Bitches Brew, Stanley Crouch called Miles "the most brilliant sellout in the history of jazz" and a "traitor." Leonard Feather, who had been one of Miles' biggest fans, didn't appreciate the change, either. But then, until a certain point in time, Feather hadn't liked John Coltrane, and he'd urged people not to buy Trane's records or to listen to him live because they would only be listening to "noise." Miles once told me that Feather had urged him not to include Trane in his first great group. Time sure proved him wrong on that point.
Miles went his own way despite the beating he knew he would take from hostile critics and fans. Miles knew that all forms of art reflect their own societies and cultures. In 1969, despite the furi-ous objections of the purists, he knew that electrical instrumen-tation was here to stay. As Ralph Gleason wrote: "Electric music is the music of this culture and in the breaking away (not the breaking down) from previously assumed forms a new kind of mu-sic is emerging. The whole society is like that. The old forms are
inadequate. Not the old eternal verities but the old structures." Miles, according to Gleason, was always reaching for "new ideas and new forms, and in music this has meant leaving the traditional forms of bars and scales, keys and chords, and playing something else altogether which maybe you can't identify and classify yet but which you recognize when you hear it and which when it makes it, really makes it-is the true artistic turn-on."
Miles and his band were excited about what they had ac-complished with the
recording of Bitches Brew, it did not equal the shock that his fans went
through when they first heard it- whether they loved it or hated it. The first
thing I noticed when I bought the album was the cover. It was truly strange. It
was a "cosmic" painting by Abdul Mati of three black people looking
at sea and sky, two men and a woman. The woman's hair seems like a small
tornado connecting her head to the dark clouds in the sky. She has an arm
around a man's waist and he has an arm around her shoulders. They are nude
above the waist. Another black face juts out of the left margins above a
flaming pink flower. All three seem to be Africans looking westward toward what
I remember getting ready to listen to the record by fixing my-self a stiff drink, going into the front room of my home in Athens - I was teaching at Ohio University at the time-and placing the
first of the four sides (Bitches Brew is a double album) on the turn-table. When the drumbeat opened up the music, I sat down ea-gerly. It was early afternoon and I kept listening until late into the evening, even bringing my dinner into the front room to eat with my plate on my lap as I absorbed every note and chord of this at first very weird music. Before the night closed down, it had deeply impressed me.
It took a while
for me to understand what Miles was doing and to hear the music's roots. Bitches
Brew went even deeper into the rock-funk-blues bag than had its
predecessor. In a
The album begins
with Joe Zawinul's tune "Pharaoh's Dance," which opens in a swirling
maelstrom of electrical pulsations that carry the listener into a strange new
place where nothing is pre-dictable. Guitars and electric pianos lay out short
runs that widen like the concentric circles a rock makes when it is thrown in a
river. Then comes Miles' first mournful, very short solo, and af-ter that, when
the other musicians start up again, Miles seems to jab and punch his way like a
boxer through an enveloping sound that swirls all around him. His horn almost
screams a few times as if frustrated at not finding a way out of all that
sound. The group mimics the traffic noise of rush hour in
The title tune starts slowly. Miles opens with a marchlike, trilling solo that moves into a long passage that rises, falls, and spreads out as if the trumpeter were descending into some kind of private hell. His voice sometimes screams, other times pleads. The trilling, marchlike figure, reminiscent of his drum and bu-gle beginnings, is repeated throughout the composition like a re-frain. Miles' solo in the middle of this twenty-seven-minute piece is stunning in its creation of a feeling of profound loneliness and isolation.
In contrast, "Spanish Key," which opens up the second side of the album, pulsates throughout. It churns and boils like water in an iron cauldron over a large fire. Everyone who solos here does so splendidly-John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Benny Maupin, Zawinul, and, of course. Miles.
"Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" is a memorable Miles Davis composition. From the opening bass line punctuated by drum ac-cents and guitar blues licks to the bass clarinet moaning in the background of Miles' opening statement, you know this is the blues, but the blues played in a way you've never heard before. The music seems to be boiling, with voices emerging from what-ever the concoction is that is being cooked down there. "Sanc-tuary" closes out this very controversial album more in the style of his second great quintet. When set against the rest of the songs on this album, its haunting tune seems almost tame.
Bitches Brew broke down the barrier between rock and tradi-tional jazz. Some critics, fans, and musicians never forgave Miles for doing this, but he was celebrated by millions for pushing the
envelope of innovation and creativity in that direction. The al-bum also pushed Miles into larger venues than the small jazz clubs he had played for years. Bitches Brew not only generated controversy; it made Miles richer, too, and more famous than he had ever been. He played gigs with the Grateful Dead, Carlos Santana, and the late Laura Nyro, taking his music to an ever-growing, larger audience.
After Bitches Brew, Miles drew more and more from the same pool of musicians-his "stock recording band" as he liked to call it- to make his new recordings. This was true for Circle in the Round, Live-Evil, Big Fun, Get Up with It, Jack Johnson, and On the Comer, all recorded in the early 1970S, though some, like Circle in the Round, were released much later. Live-Evil was an ex-tension of what Miles had done on Bitches Brew, using some of the same musical concepts and figures, only this time around, in his words, they were "more worked out" because on Live-Evil he knew exactly where he wanted the music to go.
He was moving away from everyone having a solo to using more ensemble interplay and group improvisation, a hallmark of funk and rock. This caused an even larger rift between Miles and the jazz purists because jazz has always been considered the soloist's art form, the place where an individual can improvise and solo to his or her heart's content. Now Miles was moving away from even this sacred tenet. There were still solos, but they were
shorter, more intense bursts within the group context. For many of his older fans, this change proved to be the last straw; but their places in Miles' audience were eagerly taken by younger, rock-and funk-oriented fans.
Between 1965 and 1970, Miles released many albums that car-ried his name as leader. All of them used members of the stock recording band that he had developed over the years. It seemed as though he was living and sleeping in the recording studio. Most of the albums I liked, listening to them over and over again; some I was indifferent to, listening to them only occasionally; others I listened to once and never played again. But if Miles was be-coming more prolific during these years, he was also becoming more improvisational when he played live at concerts.
During this period
Miles was literally making up the music on-stage, creating it as the concert
went along. Songs grew longer and longer and he completely abandoned the
traditional standards, like "My Funny Valentine" and "If I Were
a Bell," that had driven Coltrane out of his band. In 1971, when Miles toured the
On the Corner, recorded in the summer of 1972, was released later that year. The critics and fans who had thought Bitches
Brew the most controversial jazz album Miles would ever release had more surprises in store, because On the Comer was indeed just right around the corner. This album produced more shocked dismay among jazz purists than even Bitches Brew. I, too, was confused and disappointed when I first heard it. But I came to think, and still do, that On the Comer was a powerfully inno-vative album.
cover-paintings of black street scenes by
Initially, I was
even disappointed by Corky McCoy's cartoon-like drawings of black people on the
cover. But the second time I listened to it and looked at the cover drawings, I
heard the rhythm underneath that pulled me into the music, and I understood Mc-Coy's
images, too. The album has not let go of me since. On the Comer is
quintessentially an album that comes from the sounds, rhythms, and attitudes
that permeate the culture of that great city,
In 1972 I was living on
City and I felt as though I was in heaven. Tall buildings, millions and millions of people, all kinds of cultures and sounds mashed together. Close up.
Had I not been
On the Comer is definitely African-American urban funk tinged with jazz and
Indian and African flavors. It's a jambalaya or gumbo from
On the Comer is all about an urban musical attitude and its orientation is funk, while its wonderful displays of musicianship are the improvisational skills found in the best of jazz musicians. A deep groove is laid down from jump, a rhythm that bumps and bounces along like a hip black man or woman walking down a New York street and taking in all the sounds and images. You can hear the car horns.
Miles plays wah-wah guitar rhythms on his horn, wailing, screeching, screaming, and meowing like a cat in the night. And though there are fine featured solos. On the Comer is really about group ensemble playing. The drummers and percussionists an-chor this recording and goose and push it with an unbelievable pulsation and synchronicity. In the background, bells shake,
gourds are scratched and shaken,
whistles are blown. The drum-mers make the sock cymbals shimmy and shake like
the behinds of men and women bouncing up and down and side to side on
With this record, Miles proved definitively his ability to absorb different musical genres and turn them into his own musical id-iom. On the Comer is a great synthesis. Over time I have grown to cherish it as much as I do any other album Miles ever made. In my opinion, it is a masterpiece that captures the music and sounds and feeling of our times like no other. Of course, the purist jazz critics hated it and had a field day bad-mouthing it, but it was not only panned by mainstream jazz critics - it didn't sell well, either. Initially, then, it sank like a stone. But time has done well by it because as many young music lovers have discovered it, it has become an indispensable record for them.
On the Comer
was a harbinger for the direction Miles would take from 1972 until 1975, when bad
health, cocaine addiction, alcoholism, and disinterest in what he was
playing-and with the entire music scene-forced
him into five years of silence. From 1975
until 1980, he did not play a concert,
cut a record, or even pick up his horn to practice. He just slid further down
into drug and alcohol addiction, sex orgies, and a lifestyle that kept him
prowling the streets of
last time I heard Miles play live before he retired was at the Kool Jazz
Festival at the Avery Fisher Hall. It was a great and strange night. I went to
the concert with my homeboy and friend pianist John Hicks and another friend,
writer Steve Cannon. Hicks had told me that Miles had asked him to play at the
concert, so he had gotten us great balcony seats overlooking the stage, and
backstage passes so we could hang out with Miles and the musi-cians after the
concert. Hicks was overjoyed to be playing with Miles,
and I was happy for him and for the opportunity to be there to celebrate with
him. After all, he was one of the guys who used to sit up in the bleachers at
When the band took the stage I saw that the working band had changed again-this time Miles was on trumpet and on the elec-tric organ and keyboards. Sonny Fortune was on saxophones, Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas on electric guitars, Michael Henderson on electric bass, Al Foster on drums, and Mtume on percussion. But no John Hicks. Where was he? I thought that he would prob-ably come out in a short while, but he didn't. It was very strange. He didn't join us in the extra seat we had, either. I remember thinking he would show up sooner or later.
The concert was great, one that brought people to their feet many times with whistling and standing ovations. Miles was play-ing with fire that night. The rest of the group played what music critic Howard Mandel later called "scorched earth music," say-ing they were "burning the house down" with their music that night. Music critic Greg Tate called that band "the world's first fully improvisational acid-funk band." And it was that, too. I also remember the crowd being younger and blacker than previous ones, but with lots of Latinos, whites, and Asians, too. It was cer-tainly a more multicultural audience than any I had ever seen at Miles' concerts in the past.
When the concert was over, Steve and I went backstage to see if we could catch up with John Hicks. We found him standing just outside Miles' dressing room door, ranting and raving, mad-der than a motherfucker. When he finally calmed down he told us that Miles had been so high he had forgotten that he had asked Hicks to play. Miles told Hicks that he, Miles, was going to play piano that night, which he did. Well, that just about sent Hicks off the deep end, and he threatened to hit Miles upside his head with a beer bottle; but some of the musicians stepped in, stopped him, and cooled the whole thing out. When we were leaving, Hicks said it was the drugs that were making Miles trip that way.
The energy backstage that night after that concert was awful. I had never seen Hicks so angry-and I had known him for twenty years. He was always smiling, even while playing some of the "baddest" piano around. I remember feeling very bad and sad for him
when we left the hall that night to get ourselves a stiff drink. I also remember thinking that Miles couldn't keep going on like that, being so fucked up on drugs that he would forget something as important as who he had asked to play with him at a concert. John Hicks wasn't a liar; he took his music and everyone else's seriously. So I knew the problem had to be with Miles, and that disturbed me. It also disturbed me that he could do such a hurting thing to so fine a musician. My respect for Miles slipped that night. I re-member thinking that just because someone was a legend, that didn't give him the right to treat a person as badly as Miles had treated John Hicks. It was awful. A year later, in the summer of 1975, Miles retired from the music scene, and he didn't come back for five long years, leaving a big hole in the music and in many of our lives.
Rollins, Art Blakey, Abbey Lincoln, Mtume, the late Jules Hemp-hill, and Dizzy Gillespie, also were in attendance, along with many, many others.
I was there, too, along with my future wife, Margaret. Every-one was "dressed to kill." And although his comeback album, The Man with a Horn (1980), had been totally savaged by the critics (I too was deeply disappointed with the music on this album), everyone was there to hear what Miles was now into musically, since its release had been some months earlier. In the end most went away happy, because the music was popping-even though Miles' trumpet chops still weren't all the way back, his musical ideas were almost there. Still, his playing was much better and stronger than it had been on The Man with a Horn, where it had been dismal. He sounded much better, richer, more adventurous in his playing, and this encouraged almost every Miles fan there. His band that evening was first-rate: Marcus Miller on electric bass, Mike Stern on guitar, Bill Evans on saxophone, Al Foster on drums, and Mino Cinelu on percussion, with his guest artist for the evening the beautiful and outstanding percussionist Sheila E.
encouragement was rewarded with his playing on his next album, We Want
Miles, which is a compilation of Miles' 1981 summer concerts at Kix and Avery Fisher
Hall and his September tour of
his sound, tone, and attack are much richer, stronger, and more confident. We Want Miles sold over a hundred thousand copies (extremely well for a jazz album) and won a Grammy-a "sym-
pathy vote," I remember one of his detractors saying after the award was announced. I didn't think so, because there were some very nice cuts on that album, including "Back Seat Betty," "Jean-Pierre," and "Fast Track," all composed by Miles.
By the time his next album. Star People, was released in 1982, his playing chops were even better. And although I liked this album-especially "Speak," "It Gets Better," and the blues tune "Star People"-it was his next album, Decoy (1984), that fully got my attention. Even though it was awarded the Grammy for that year, I don't think it's one of his greatest albums, although it in-cludes some good tracks, notably the title tune, "Code M.D." (for "Miles Davis"), "Freaky Deaky," 'What It Is" (a favorite expres-sion Miles used when greeting friends with one of his rare smiles), and "That's Right." The music on this album is open, airy but tight, and very, very rhythmic, with catchy contemporary musi-cal hooks, funk grooves, and a group sound so large it seems like a big band is playing in many places.
Miles' next album, You're Under Arrest, also sold over a hun-dred thousand copies, in a very few weeks. This was due in part, in my opinion, to Miles including the very popular songs "Hu-man Nature" and "Time After Time" on this album, tunes that would remain in his live performance repertoire until his death. Again, this wasn't one of my favorite albums, though it had some moments, like those two lovely pop ballads, the opening track en-titled "One Phone Call Street Scene" (which features Miles, Sting, and others talking), "Intro M D 1," and "Katia" (two other songs he kept in his concert repertoire).
Miles said he made
this album because of "the problems that black people have with policemen
everywhere." He personalized this belief when he said: "The police
are always fucking with me when I drive around out in
Still, the arresting part of this album-at least for me-is the striking photo of Miles on the cover and back of the album. He's dressed in all black, with a wide-brimmed black hat and a no-nonsense look on his face, and is holding what looks like an au-tomatic rifle. It's a stunning photograph.
The good thing I would say about this album is that Miles plays very well here; his sound and tone are bright and clear, his play-ing and attack are very confident, very strong. Throughout this album he shoots off flying riffs in high and middle registers with ease-his playing chops are fully back!-and he has perfected the big-band sound that will remain a signature of his band un-til his death.
I liked the huge sound, the way it was structured, layered, and arranged, the way each musical instrument was voiced. Miles had learned much from Duke Ellington, Stockhausen, and Paul Buckmaster about using rhythm and space, about how to ma-
nipulate the band's sound from high to low and all points in be-tween, in the blink of an eye. Among the modern jazz musicians he was, in my opinion, unsurpassed in achieving this huge, lay-ered big-band sound with relatively few-six or seven - musicians. You're Under Arrest was the last album Miles recorded for Co-lumbia Records, ending what had been a very rewarding record-ing relationship of almost thirty years.
Miles moved over
to Warner Records, and on his first album, Tutu, named after
Aura is outstanding for its inventive, adventurous spirit and structure.
Recorded in 1984 in
Miles' playing on this album is really outstanding. His solo riffs at times soar into the stratosphere. On other occasions, he plays a more thoughtful horn, open or muted, his solos sometimes long
and sometimes fragmented, seemingly bitten off just as they get started. On still other occasions he plays with a pure introspec-tive beauty reminiscent of his earlier, pre-electric phase. All in all, it is a wonderful album.
Amandla (meaning "freedom" in Swahili) is also a truly first-rate
album, continuing the layered big-band sound, only funkier. The album has more
Live Around the World is rewarding for other reasons, mainly because it captures how really magnificent Miles' last bands were live and in concert.
Although very, very interesting in places, doo-bop-like Ralph Ellison's last novel, Juneteenth, published in June 1999-is an unfinished project, because Miles died before the album could be completed. Had he lived, I am convinced, doo-bop would have been more fully realized, and possibly the innovative, truly out-standing record that Miles told me he wanted to make. As is, doo-bop is only an indication, a musical index finger, if you will, point-ing in the direction music might go in the future. Already some musicians, like Branford Marsalis, Greg Osby, and Russell Gunn, have released intriguing musical albums that move confidently in that direction, and perhaps beyond.
When I listen to Miles play I see things. I hear birds sing. I see and hear rivers and trains as they cross a lonely , midwestern landscape. I see beautiful women floating, naked and clothed; I see stylish men, pimps and slick-dressing gangsters. See ghosts all up in and between his chords, and I hear old and young people talking on southern porches after the sun has gone down. I hear horses whinnying and dogs barking. I mean, the way his sound flows is, for me, like seeing a parade of very hip people, magical in their elegance, flow by in an unending stream of eloquence just as the sun sets in the west and all those marvelous colors are singing their sundown song. He was magical for me when I first heard him and he was magical at the end, and he still is. Not despite all the changes in style his music and playing went through, but because of them.
When Miles Davis died on
Just like that, he was gone. All that fierce energy, all that light and all that darkness. Gone. Just like that. A stroke paralyzed him, put him in the hospital. Then a second stroke killed him. (His father had died of a sudden stroke, and in the summer of 1996, his oldest sister, Dorothy, would die of stroke, too, so they seem to run in the family.) The official cause of death was given as pneu-monia and, I think, heart failure.
Margaret told me that Miles had had a stroke when she met
me at the
I thought about it for a while and told her, "No, I'm not com-ing. I want to remember him like he was the last time I saw him." I told her I didn't want to see him lying up there helpless, with tubes running all up into him, up his nose. Told her I wanted to remember him-selfish as this might sound-alive, full of great energy, with that fierce attitude about him, told her I couldn't bear seeing him helpless. I told her that I just couldn't take that, that I was sorry, which I was. (A few years later, Ricky Wellman, Miles' last drummer, told me he had gone to see Miles right before he passed and was shocked by the image of him lying there inert, seem-ingly waiting for death. Ricky said he found himself wishing some-times he hadn't seen Miles in this way, because this image seemed to dominate all the rest of the remembrances he had of Miles.)
Dorothy said she understood, that the family was there and that
dark Terry, Miles' boyhood idol and old friend, was calling every day. She said that although he was unconscious, he would move his left hand ever so slightly every time he heard dark Terry's voice. I thought it was wonderful that dark was calling Miles. It seemed that Miles had come full circle and was depending on his old friend again for emotional sustenance.
Miles' death was peaceful and, considering the condition he was in, probably for the best. Had he survived, he would have been para-lyzed and most likely bedridden for life. He would have been un-able to play ever again and probably would have gone crazy in that condition. It would have been pure torture. Yes, I think un-der the circumstances, it's best that he died and did not have to live as an invalid. He would have hated that.
After his death, I began to think that he knew he was dying, and perhaps that was why he got so angry with me when I reminded him that he had said he would rather die before he "played that old-time music again." If he felt himself dying, maybe he thought that I had peeped his hold card. I don't know. I do know that the last time I saw him he seemed weaker than he had ever seemed before.
Miles never talked about death; he even hated the subject be-ing
brought up. He hated going to funerals, too. In
1987, when I told him that James Baldwin had died, he hadn't heard the
news yet and couldn't seem to get it together in his head that Jimmy was gone.
They had been long-time friends, and Jimmy's place in St. Paul de Vence in
After hearing of Jimmy's death, Miles kept saying that he had just
seen him earlier in the year when he had played
After I asked him if he was going to attend
of lifeless flesh and bones. Naw, man, I want to remember him how he was: a bad motherfucka. That's all." (That's why I didn't visit Miles in the hospital or go to his funeral; I wanted to re-member him as the "bad motherfucka" he was.)
Throughout that day he talked about many of his friends who had died-Monk, Bird, Coltrane, Fats Navarro, Freddie Webster, Bud Powell, Red Garland, Jimi Hendrix, Clifford Brown, and many, many others. But he talked about his old drummer, Philly Joe Jones, the most, shaking his head and chuckling to himself every time he mentioned Philly Joe's name. Miles didn't laugh; he kind of chuckled, sometimes emitting a raspy, throaty shak-ing. It was clear that Miles had loved Philly Joe, and that day it was also clear that Miles had loved James Baldwin deeply.
That conversation was one of the rare times I heard Miles talk about death. That day I realized that Miles had lost many great friends; that with the exception of Dizzy Gillespie (who would die soon after Miles), Max Roach, dark Terry, and a few others, Miles was almost the last of the beboppers.
Miles believed in the spirit, in life after death, and the last time I saw him-at his new Central Park West address, in the summer of 1991-he was talking about death. Maybe he knew that his time was coming, felt it in his body, or maybe his doc-tors had told him he didn't have long. Miles talked about how he missed his father, Gil, and Coltrane. With his raspy voice and knowing chuckle he said that he would see them all soon enough and that he and Gil and Trane would play some great music again, together.
Miles Davis has been dead for almost a decade now and not a day goes
by that I don't miss him and his galvanizing presence. To-day his
five-story-high, black-and-white photographic image is on view on the sides of
buildings all across
Such individuality of spirit can be trying in a country like ours, especially if you are, like Miles Davis, a proud black man who in-
sists on taking risks, doing things his own way, and standing up for his beliefs. Beyond being a risk-taker. Miles was a truly great band leader whose ability to spot great talent launched many distinguished careers. Musicians like Cannonball Adderley, Ron Carter, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Kenny Garrett, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Joe Zawinul, and many others all got their first important exposure work-ing with Miles.
environments that he created for himself and other musicians set up such
fertile conditions that everyone who worked inside these innovative scenes
flourished. Consider the record-ing environments he set up for Kind of Blue,
Miles was also a great composer and he left us some masterful compositions on Kind of Blue, On the Comer, Bitches Brew, Filles de Kilimanjaro, and many other memorable albums. In his own music, he was a voodoo-hoodoo-shaman-man, a witch-doctor-medicine-man-of-roots-music of the highest order. In his most in-novative periods, especially after Kind of Blue, both his musical theory and his sound were more African than European. He was
vilified for this, for moving into a music rooted in group dynam-ics, such as rock and zouk, rather than staying with Western-ori-ented jazz, which depends more on individual inspiration and improvisation.
Today, it is a
truism that the
Miles was a great instrumentalist. He had a great melodic, lyri-cal, and rhythmic approach to playing the trumpet. His beauti-ful "running" trumpet style has had a lasting impact on younger players. Listening to Miles play, I was always conscious-way before I met him-of being in the presence of a great poet, one who constructed great metaphors through the medium of sound. His sound was very close to that of a human voice. It was a myste-rious voice that made roe dream. And it wasn't just his tone that was so masterful. Miles' sense of time was phenomenal. Max Roach, the great drummer, said that Miles' "basic quarter note, his time was [always] there: that's why Miles was so profound, be-
cause he worked at that." And there was always an edginess about the way he played, a scary intensity and moodiness, something unpredictable. He kept us on our toes.
For at least
thirty-five years. Miles Davis was the dominant force in jazz. He just kept
listening, playing, and moving toward his own vision. He was an artist whose
greatest wish was that he never become, in his own
words, "a museum piece under glass." His focus was always on the
present and the future, never on the past. In this sense, he was the
quintessential American "
Some critics put down his later music as meaningless or triv-ial. They say that his many musical changes were driven by com-mercial reasons rather than artistic ones. But the great majority of music lovers cherished his willingness to go out there on that risky, experimental edge. Ralph Gleason got to the core of this when he wrote: "The greatest single thing about Miles Davis is that he does not stand still. He is forever being born. And like all his other artistic kin, as he changes, leaves behind one style or mode and enters another, he gains new adherents and loses old ones.. . . Miss him at your loss. He is amazing."
He was also amazing as a role model of black pride and
defiance. Miles was what I call an "unreconstructed black man." One who is, to put it simply, someone who doesn't "take shit off no one." Paul Robeson was such a man, as were Malcolm X, Nat Turner, Robert Johnson, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Huey P. Newton, Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Toure), and Tupac Shakur, to name just a few who have passed. Unreconstructed black men with us today include Muhammad Ah, Prince, Chuck Berry, Amiri Baraka, and Ishmael Reed.
Unreconstructed black men don't have the manners of their reconstructed "Negro" brethren, who are always trying to put a "civilized" face on their blackness, especially in the company of white folks. Unreconstructed black men will have none of this; they will not play the farcical game they consider beneath them. They get a hard time, therefore, from white people and other "people of color," including black people, many of whom feel threatened by them.
Unreconstructed black men don't submit to power games. "Ne-gro" servants do, and gladly if money is involved. Those "Negro" servants who play along are the ones who get along and receive most, if not all, of the white power structure's patronage. Those who don't play along receive no breaks, and the power structure is always looking for ways to break them. Not because they aren't good Americans, but because they won't kiss ass. Miles Davis re-fused to play this game and, although he garnered much success in this country, he frequently paid for being an unreconstructed black man.
Unreconstructed black men go their own way and will go to
the mat any time they are challenged. This "unreconstructedness" can cause strange personality quirks that manifest in a highly per-sonalized and self-centered way of looking at and evaluating things. Miles had many of these quirks. Everything in the world revolved around him and the way he looked at it. No compro-mises: "Either you do it my way or fuck you." I'm not praising this attitude; I'm simply saying that that's the way he was.
In the end, it was very difficult, if not impossible, for Miles ever to see himself as wrong in any situation, because he was focused on what he wanted. That's why he could never say he was wrong, or sorry. Was this a side effect of genius and forty years of success? Of being proven right most times regarding the artistic decisions he made? Maybe. I can't answer that question. What I do know is that it would have been very hard not to be affected by the amount of fame, money, and power Miles acquired over the span of his long career.
Miles had an intuitive grasp of what was right or wrong when it came to blacks, whites, and race relations in this country. This understanding came from the influence of his father-who was a wealthy dentist, a "race man," and one of Miles' biggest sup-porters-and from his own experiences with racism. Still, ironi-cally, he was deeply insecure about being so dark. Like many dark-skinned blacks he preferred lighter-skinned women to darker ones. "I don't want no woman blacker than me," he used to like to tell me, though it would have been difficult to find such a woman, because there weren't many women darker than he was. It was ironic on another level, too, because many women loved him pre-
cisely because of his smooth black skin, and men of all races en-vied him because of it. The fact that Miles was one of the very first dark-skinned superstar sex symbols in the entertainment in-dustry makes his insecurity over his skin tone even more ironic.
More troublesome was his sexist attitude toward women, which I found deplorable, though I must say here that I never saw him beat or even slap a woman. But his basic attitude was obvious in the language he used when addressing women: "Bitch this" and "Bitch that." His attitude left much to be desired, though in the the last years of his life he found a peaceful serenity and mutual respect in his relationship with Jo Gelbard. I never saw him mis-treat her or heard him call or refer to her as a "bitch." Jo seemed to smoothe out his rough edges, and that was good. Maybe she was changing him. I don't know. It appeared so. What I do know is that it was good to see him treat her with the respect that she deserved.
Miles was a sometimes strange, really odd, aloof, seemingly ar-rogant man, whose contradictions and faults were many, but whose gruff, blunt, even hostile exterior hid from public view a funny and caring person; this was the Miles those who truly knew him loved. I knew all sides of him and I can tell you that his car-ing and funny side manifested itself in some of his relationships as well as in his art and music.
When we look at the accomplishments of Miles Dewey Davis III over the forty-five-year span of his musical career, we see that he did creative and innovative work in almost all the genres of pop-
ular American music-from roadhouse funk all the way to hip-hop. Miles was one of the great artists of the twentieth century, but the music critics and other arbiters of American cultural taste, out of racism and envy, still try to marginalize him, to deny the true measure of his incredible achievement.
Jazz, as a musical
genre, is always relegated to the back of the bus in
Like that of
Malcolm X, Miles Davis' unsmiling,
"unrecon-structed black" male demeanor remains threatening to many whites
and to those middle-class blacks who control institutional largesse outside of
the record business-notably at universities, colleges, and Lincoln Center's
Jazz Program. In my opinion, this is the chief reason that Miles has been
denied his true place in American musical history, in contrast with Louis
Armstrong and Duke Ellington, for example, both of whom present that smil-ing,
genial, well-mannered, nonthreatening black male image that is digestible and
commercially viable. Institutions like
record companies rely on sales. Miles Davis has always done well at the cash register, and he will continue to do so.
Despite the complexity and narrow audience appeal of Euro-pean classical music, television programmers do not shy away from promoting it during prime time, in large part because Eu-ropean classical music has its own well-heeled, deep-pocketed ad-vocacy groups, many of whom are positioned in high places in both broadcast and print media. These advocates view promot-ing this music as protecting and publicizing their own European ancestral roots.
To their credit, the people who run Lincoln Center's Jazz Pro-gram view their role with jazz-which they call America's clas-sical music-in the same way. They, too, view themselves as pro-tecting American ancestral roots, but through the promotion of jazz-though it is mostly jazz dating from the mid-1960s on back, what some might call "mainstream" or "straight-ahead" jazz. Avant garde jazz has been, until now, unwelcome here. Yet, with the possible exception of the work of Wynton Marsalis, who plays both American classical and European classical forms of music, even "mainstream" and "straight-ahead" jazz find almost no space on American television airwaves because they don't have the rich and well-positioned advocates in that medium pushing the art form.
Like the music of Mozart and Beethoven, the music of Miles Davis is brilliant, challenging, innovative, fusionistic, and futur-istic; it has grandeur and majesty and is orchestral in its sweep. Miles' music should be required listening for all students of
American music in high school, undergraduate, and graduate lev-els of musical education, but it isn't.
These educational programs are run by academics who have different agendas. Who gets taught often depends on whom the teachers like and who they think is deserving (far too often, their friends). These academics, always suspicious of Miles' technical prowess on the trumpet, often say Miles is unable to play fast and in the higher registers of the instrument. Have they listened to Four and More, Miles Ahead, and the many other albums on which he played high and fast after the late 1950S?
Or, citing his
many innovations-such as fusing funk, rock, pop, hip-hop, rap, European
classicism, and world beat trends with his music, utilizing electrical
instrumentation in his own playing and group sound, and removing himself from
the "main-stream" purist path -
they shun, or at best downplay, his enormous achievements in their classrooms.
Similar objections to Miles' un-orthodox ways have been made by those, led by
Wynton Marsalis, who run the Jazz Program at
As we've already seen, it's no secret that the two great trumpeters didn't see "eye to eye" about what constituted great music and even had problems getting along with each other during the last years of Miles' life. At first, during Wynton's first years on the music scene, they got along just fine, with Miles even serving as an early mentor to Wynton before other, more conservative, mentors came along-Stanley Crouch, Albert Murray, and the late Ralph Ellison. Still, these two trumpet titans are fundamentally different in their musical visions. Wynton's vision seems to carry him back-
ward to recover the great jazz-and European classical-music of the past. That's OK. But Miles was steadily trying to move into the future-which is OK also-where jazz has always attempted to go. The fact that their visions clashed is not the problem; the problem is that Wynton has allowed their personal differences to color his judgment of what is or isn't truly great music.
Whatever one's personal musical aesthetic, the fact remains that Miles Davis' impact on and legacy to American and world mu-sic are indisputable. Whether Wynton (a great musican and ed-ucator in his own right), Stanley Crouch (who detests Miles' mu-sic after his second "great quintet" period), Albert Murray, or the late Ralph Ellison personally don't like Miles or his music is not, I repeat, not, the point. The point is that his music must be played and memorialized at American institutions because, in the final analysis, Miles Davis has made a great musical contribution to our culture, and it is in the interest of the listening public and fu-ture generations of jazz lovers that his aesthetic enemies cast aside their narrow agendas and allow the band of great, young musi-cians that Wynton has assembled at Lincoln Center to play the music of Miles Davis.
There are still those who will never understand that African Amer-icans
don't have to grovel, grin, or kiss white
who changed American music in important ways because of his openness to so many musical idioms. Within Miles' flexible, evolv-ing artistic vision, we might find a kind of cultural blueprint that could serve our best interests and point to a more harmonious fu-ture. After all, that's what great artists do: they provide us with a perspective that enables us to better understand ourselves and our roles in this rapidly changing world.
Miles Davis has
often been justly compared to Pablo Picasso. But most of these comparisons are
What I'm saying is that Miles Davis was just as important to
the cultural well-being of the
Miles Davis was one of the most remarkable creative artists to grace this globe during the entire twentieth century. He changed the course of modern music six or even seven times-an un-precedented feat. For more than forty years, he was our musical Pied Piper, always leading us to the edge of the precipice-the limits of our ability to hear and understand what his music was saying. He led us, sometimes protesting, years into the future. It's uncanny how on the mark he was. Listen to the music of this week's commercials or next year's movie soundtracks. His musi-cal vision is ubiquitous and the sounds that he pioneered are heard everywhere.
Great art has mystery and magic, an attitude, a stance. A rea-son for being beyond entertainment or decoration, though both of those may also be present. Great artists move the collective spirit by transforming whomever they touch on a deep personal level.
Miles Davis was such an artist and he touched, lived with, and permanently transformed the spirits of many of us.
Miles Davis' music and spirit also live on in the creative ex-pression of the countless musicians, visual artists, dancers, and writers who were influenced by his example and carry forth his vision.
Miles once told me, "When I think about the ones who are dead it makes me so mad, so I try not to think about it. But their spirits are walking around in me, so they're still here and passing it on to others. It's some spiritual shit and part of what I am today is them. It's all in me, the things I learned to do from them. Mu-sic is about the spirit and the spiritual, and about feeling. I be-lieve their music is still around somewhere, you know. The shit that we played together has to be somewhere around in the air because we blew it there and that shit was magical, was spiritual."
It is still here with us. We whose lives were changed by Miles can still hear that unforgettable trumpet voice and still feel it go-ing straight into our hearts.
Adera, Maliaka, 39 African Americans. See Black
"Ain't That a Shame," 116 Akagi, Kei, 89 Album covers, 52, 93-94,140,
145,153. See also Record
albums Alcoholism, 147 Ali, Muhammad, 167 "All Blues," 41
Allen, Woody, 150
Allison, Jay, 82
Amandla (Davis), 58, 74, 90, io8, 154-55,163
Amnesty International concert (1986, Meadowlands Stadium), 65-66
Anderson, Leonard, 12
Malone Parade (
Armani fashion, 88
Armstrong, Louis, 1, 6, 94,170
Arnold, Fred, 12
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messen-gers, 123
Ashford and Simpson, 102
Avery Fisher Hall (
Avery Fisher Hall (continued) concert at, 23,150-51; 1989 concert at, 87-90
"Back Seat Betty," 152
"Bags Groove," 119-21
Bags Groove (
Baker, Harold "Shorty," 5
Baldwin, James, 77; death of, 160-61
Baraka, Amiri, 91,167
Barkin, Ellen, 73
Beethoven, 34, 44
Benassi E. Vaccari fashion, 88
Bender, Bob, 39
Big-band sound, 152,153,154-55
Big Fun (
Bill Haley and the Comets, 116
electric instrumentation in, 137, 141; jazz-rock fusion in, 141,142- 43; younger audiences of, 138
Black Americans: On the Comer for, 145; fish joints of, 111-12;
policemen's treatment of, 152-53;
self-identity issues for, 115-16,117;
skin color concerns of, 54-55;
"unreconstructed" black image of, 118,167-68. See also Black musicians
Black marching bands, 4-6
Blackmon, Larry, 58
Black musicians: forward-moving tradition of, 44; marching bands of, 4-6; racist treatment of, 32-34,116-17,170,171-72,174-75
Blades, Ruben, 65
Blanchard, Terrence, 6
Blue Devils, 30-31
"Blue 'n' Boogie," 119
Blues, 44,142. See also Rock
Bolden, Buddy, 5
Bono (U2 pop star), 65
Boone, Pat, 116
Bowie, Lester, 5
Brathwaite, Freddie (Fab Five Freddie), 74-75
Brown, Clifford, 161
Brown, Dorothy Smith Troupe (Troupe's mother), 114,115
Brown, James, 44, 55, 81, 132,136; influence of, on Miles, 145;
Miles' loyalty to, 105
Brown, Marie, 39
Buckmaster, Paul, 153
Bugle playing, 5. See also Trumpet playing
The Cadillacs, 113 Campbell, Percy, 12,123 Cannon, Steve, 148 Carmichael, Stokely, 167
145 Cesaire, Aime, 127
Chambers, Paul, 11,123
Circle in the Round
Cocaine use, 22,147
"Code M.D," 152
Coleman, Ornette, 150
Collins, Phil, 44
Coltrane, John, 1, 41, 81, 144,164;
death of, 135; Leonard Feather on, 139; in first quintet, 123; in Miles: The Autobiography, 93;
Miles' closeness to, 70,161; at Peacock Alley, 10-11; "sheets of sound" style of, 124,132; Troupe's esteem for, 132,133; and McCoy Tyner, 61, 63
Cooke, Sam, 113
Corea, Chick, 142
Cosby, Bill, 23, 32,103,150
Cosey, Pete, 148
Critics: on Bitches Brew, 139;
on electrical instrumentation, 139-40; on Kool Jazz concert of 1974,148-49; on Kool Jazz concert of 1989, 87; on The Man with a Horn, 151; on Miles: The Autobiography, 93; on Miles in second quintet, 134; on Miles' later music, 166; on On the Comer, 147; on Sketches of
Cruz, Emilio, 80 Cruz, Pat, 80
DaCosta, Sandra, 31, 41
Davis, Miles: AIDS rumors about, 76-78; annual birthday parties for, 103-4; and James Baldwin's death, 160-61; in Blue Devils band, 30-31; boxing heroes of, 31; busted outside Birdland, 128-29; careers launched by, 164; celebrities paying homage to, 65-67; in the dark years, 21-22,147; at Sammy Davis Jr.'s bedside, 95-96; death of, 157-60; and Gil Evans's death, 70;
and Jo Gelbard, 69,108-9,157, 169; health problems of, 41-42,
68-69, 76-77, 96-97, 100-101;
and John Hicks, at 1974 concert, 149-50; homeboys' relationship with, 2, 3-4; homosexual friends of, 77-78; interviews with, 23, 25,27-34, 39, 78-81, 83-85, 86;
in Knights of Malta, 76; Betty Mabry's marriage to, 135; Malibu home of, 42; Manhattan apart-ment of, 25-26; Wynton Marsalis's philosophy versus, 32-34, 87, 172-73; move from Colum-bia to Warner by, 32,153-54;
neighborhood sightings of, 9-10;
Davis, Miles (continued) nicknames for, 4,17; policemen's treatment of, 152-53; reaction of, to Miles, 91-92, 94; riding in Troupe's car, 35-37; and road manager candidate, 71-72; sports cars of, 42-43,48;
Steve Rowland detested by, 82-86; tirade of, over )o Gel-bard, 107-9; tirade of, over old jazz, 106-7; and Margaret Troupe, 97-101; and Porter Troupe, 45-49; and Troupe's dreadlocks, 27, 28-29; Troupe's first meeting with, 9,15-17;
Troupe's hero worship of, 121-22,127,133; at Tutu video party, 101-2; Cicely Tyson's marriage to, 23, 67-69; Vincent Wilburn fired by, 73. See also Davis, Miles, music of; Davis, Miles, personal traits of
Davis, Miles, music of: and band personnel problems, 50-52, 73;
big-band sound of, 152,153,154-55; in comeback period, 23,150-53; electrical amplification of, 136,137,139,141; in first quintet period, 122-25; forward move-ment of, 135-36,138-40, i66;
funk-jazz fusion in, 145,146-47;
group ensemble style of, 143, 146-47,164-65; inclusivity of, 125-27,135-36,165,173-74; in modal period, 124; move from old jazz in, 32,44, 87,106-7,
164-65,172-73; older versus younger audiences of, 137-38;
rock-jazz fusion in, 131-32,136, 141,142-43; "running" trumpet style of, 2,124,165-66; in second quintet period, 133-35,142;
unique sound of, 1-2; unrecog-nized contributions of, 170, 171-72,173,174-75. See also Performances; Record albums;
Recordings Davis, Miles, personal traits of:
apparel preferences, 15,17, 59, 66-67, 8o, 89,153; aversion to funerals, 160-61; childlike quality, 45; contradictory nature, 55-56; disciplined routine, 69;
disdain for the past, 41,44, io6-7; disdain for weakness, 30, 56, 64-65, 99; drug use, 22, 8i, 120, 121, 147, 149; eating habits, 55, 94-95; fear of public interviews, 78-79, 80-82; generosity, 40, 78;
gum-chewing habit, 17, 59; hair loss concerns, 28, 53-54; into head games, 59-64; hidden funny side, 42,169; imperial attitude, 14-15,17-18, 65-67, 168,174-75; loneliness/isolation, 44-45,101-3; love for horses, 49-50; loyalty to friends, 105-6;
musical tastes, 44, 55, 57-58, 74-76,137; musician's strut, 17;
nonapologetic, 109; painting avocation, 26-27, 55, 69, 98-99;
riveting eyes, 40; sexism, 91,169;
skin color concerns, 4, 53, 54-55, 168-69; spirituality, 70-71, 161, 176; unapproachable demeanor, 11-15,18-21; unpredictable be-havior, 41-42, 56-57, 78-79,106-9,149-50; "unreconstructed" black man image, 13-14, 93-94, 167-68
Davis, Sammy, Jr., 95-96
DeJonette, Jack, 150
The Dells, 113
Domino, Fats, 116
Donna Karan fashion, 88
Drug use, 22, 81, 120-21,147,149
Drum and bugle corps bands, 4-6
Duret, Evette, 9
Duret, Yvonne, 9
bands of, 4-6; Miles' homeboys
from, 2, 3-4 Eastwood, Clint, 150 Electric instrumentation, 134-35;
in Bitches Brew, 137,141; Ralph
Gleason on, 139; in In a Silent
Ellington, Duke, 1, 55,153,170 Ellison, Ralph, 155,172,173 Ensemble group sound, 164-65; of
Live-Evil, 143; of On the Comer,
European classical music, 126-27;
institutional promotion of, 170, 171; of Wynton Marsalis, 87,172;
Miles on, 33-34; older
audiences of, 137-38; of Sketches of
Evans, Bill, 68-69,151,164
Evans, Gil, 25, 70, 73-74, io6,129
Evers, Medgar, 131
Fab Five Freddie (Freddie
Brathwaite), 74-75 Faison, George, 77 Fashion shows: Kolshin Satoh,
66-67; at Miles' concerts, 88;
Miles' private, 101 "Fast Track," 152
Leonard, 134-35,139 Fenny, James, 77 Filles de Kilimanjaro (
164 First quintet/sextet (1956-1960),
Foley McCreary, Joseph, 52-53, 73, 89
Ford, Robben, 52
Fortune, Sonny, 148
Foster, Al, 93,148,151
Foster, Jodie, 73
and More (
Franco (Zarian guitarist), 155
"Freaky Deaky," 152
Funk, 131,138; with big-band sound, in Amandla, 154-55; fused with jazz, in On the Comer, 145,146-47; group ensemble sound of, 143
Peter, 65 Garcia Marquez, Gabriel, 127
69; at Miles' death, 157; Miles'
jealousy over, 107-9; Miles'
respect for, 169 Gere,
Richard, 102,150 Get Up with It (
Ginsberg, Allen, 91 Gleason, Ralph, 139-40, 166 Glover, Danny, 82 Go-go, 74
Goodman, Benny, 174 Gordon, Maya-Luz, 103-4 Gordon, Walter, 86 Gordy, Berry, 132 Graham, Rev. Billy, 34 Grammy Award, 74,151,152 Grateful Dead, 143 Grosvenor, Verta Mae, 94-95 Gucci fashion, 88 Gunn, Russell, 155 Guy, Jasmine, 103
Haley, Bill, 116
Hancock, Herbie, 93,134,164
Heath, Percy, 119
Hemphill, Jules, 151
Henderson, Michael, 148
Hendrix, Jimi, 132,136-37, 161, 174
Heroin use, 120-21
Hicks, John, 148,149-50 Hip-hop, 44, 74, 75; of On the
Comer, 146 Hirt, Al, 6
Dustin, 150 Hoizman, Adam, 50 Homeboys (
"If I Were a
"The Miles Davis Radio Project,"
83-85, 86; for
with Time magazine, 25; with Troupe for Spin, 23, 27-34, 39
"Intro M D 1," 152
Isham, Mark, 163
Issey Miyake fashion, 88
"It Gets Better," 152
Jack Johnson (
Jack-salmon fish sandwiches, 111, 112
Jackson, Michael, 55,130,174
Jackson, Muyungo, 89
Jagger, Mick, 150
Japanese tour (1981), 23,151
Jazz: black ownership of, 34; fused with funk, 145,146-47; fused with rock, 131-32,136,141,142-43;
institutional denigration of, 170, 171; Miles' disdain of old, 44, 106-7,164-65; Miles versus Marsalis on, 32-34, 87,172-73;
older audiences of, 137-38;
Troupe's first experiences with, 111-14,119-20
Jazz Track (
Johnson, Bumpy, 56
Johnson, Robert, 167
Jones, Darryl, 52, 53
Jones, Philly Joe, 11, 41, 70, 93,123, 161
Jones, Quincy, 76,103, 106,150
Juneteenth (Ellison), 155
Kaplan, Iris, 157
Kaplan, Lenny, 157
Kassav (West Indian band), 57-58, 155
John F., 131 Kennedy, Robert F., 131 Keppard, Freddie, 5 Kilgallen, Dorothy, 128 Kind
of Blue (
Martin Luther, Jr., 131 Kix Club (
Kool Jazz Festival (
in 1974,147-49; in 1981, 23, 150-51; in 1989, 87-90
Langlais, Rudy, 39
Larrain, Gilles, 93
Laveau, Marie (Voodoo Queen), 6
Lee, Spike, 101
Lincoln, Abbey, 151
135 Live Around the World (
Lloyd, Charles, 136 Louis, Joe, 31 Lucas, Reggie, 148
Mabry, Betty, 135
Madison, Levi, 5
Maitland, Leo, 22, 29; parties thrown by, 9,15,19
"Make a Difference" ads, 163
Malcolm X, 130,167,170
Mandel, Howard, 149
Mangione, Chuck, 32
150-51 Marching bands, 4-6 Marithe Girbaud fashion, 88 Marsalis, Branford, 150,155 Marsalis, Wynton, 6,150; institu-tional promotion of, 171; Miles' jazz philosophy versus, 31-34, 87, 172-73; 1989 Kool Jazz concert of, 88 Mati, Abdul, 140 Maupin, Benny, 142 McCoy, Corky, 145 McLaughlin, John, 142,164 McLean, Jackie, 118,134,150 McPhatter, Clyde, 113 Meadowlands Stadium, Amnesty International concert (1986), 65-66 Meltzer, Gordon, 71-72, 78 Michael (Miles' valet), 29, 35 Mikkelborg, Palle, 154 Miles, Jason, 50 Miles: The Autobiography (Troupe), 54; book tours for, 81-82; cover photo for, 93-94; critics on, 93;
response to, 91-92; public reaction to, 90-91 Miles Ahead (Davis), 172 Miles and Monk at
(Davis), 125 "The Miles Davis Radio Project," 82-86
"Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,"
Milestones (Davis), 123,125 Miller, Marcus, 50, 52, 58, 73,151 Mingus, Charlie, 68-69 Minton's jazz club (Harlem), 75 Modal music, 124,131 Monk, Thelonious, 1, 41, 70,123,
161; on "Bags Groove," 119; on
cover of Time, 25 Montreux Jazz Festival (1991), io6 Motown label, 132 Moyers, Bill, 91 Mozart, 44,175 Mtume, 93,148,151 Multiculturalism, 126-27,149,165 Murphy, Eddie, 32 Murray, Albert, 172,173 Mute, on ballads, 2,124 "My Funny Valentine," 144
Navarro, Fats, 161
Neruda, Pablo, 127
"New Blues," 88-89
O'Guin, Thomas and Margaret,
On the Comer (Davis), 143,144-47, 164 Osby, Greg, 155
Paige, Satchel, 44
Palazolla, Tom, 116
"Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," 132
Parker, Charlie "Bird," 41, 55, 70, 81, 93,94,113, 118,123, 161
Payton, Nicholas, 6
Peacock Alley (
Performances: 1956 at Peacock Alley, 10-11; 1958 at Sutherland Lounge, 123-25; 1974 Kool Jazz concert, 147-49; 1981 Kool Jazz concert, 23,150-51; 1981 Japanese tour, 151; 1986 Meadowlands con-cert, 65-66; 1989 Kool Jazz con-cert, 87-90; at Pointe-a-Pitre, 97
"Petits Machins" ("Little Stuff'),
"Pharaoh's Dance," 141 Picasso, Pablo, 55,127,174-75 The Platters, 113
series), 91 Presley, Elvis, 116
Prince, the artist formerly known
as,44, 55, 8i,103,104,167 Pryor, Richard, 32
Racism: Birdland incident of, 128-29; of California policemen, 152-53; Miles on, 32-34; and objec-tions to Miles' music, 170,171-72, 174-75; role of, in music indus-try, 33-34,116-17,170; and self-hatred, 54-55; Troupe's early experiences with, 114-16
Randle, Eddie (Troupe's cousin), 5, 30-31
Rap, .44, 74-76
Record albums: Amandia, 58, 74, 90, 108,154-55,163; Aura, 154;
Bags Groove, 119-21; Big Fun, 143; Bitches Brew, 129,137-43, 164; Circle in the Round, 143;
Cookin, 123; Decoy, 23,152,163;
doo-bop, 155; Filles de Kiliman-jaro, 135,164; Four and More, 172; Get Up with It, 143; In a Silent Way, 135-36,164; Jack Johnson, 143; Jazz Trunk, 125;
Kind of Blue, 125-26,137,164;
Live Around the World, 154,155;
Live-Evil, 143; The
Man with a Horn, 23,150-51; Miles
Ahead, 172; Miles and Monk at
Round , 123; Siesta,
Record albums (continued) 73-74; Sketches of Spain, 73, 74, 129-30,131; Star People, 23,152;
Steamin', 123; Tutu, 36, 50-52, 74,154,163; We Want Miles, 23, 151; Workin', 123; You're Under Arrest, 23, 24,152-53
Recordings: for Columbia Records, 23,153; computer programming of, 50-51; crossover success of, 129-30,131; by first quintet/sextet, 123; Grammy Awards for, 74,151, 152; improvisational environment for, 164; of 1980s comeback period, 23,150-53; by stock recording band, 143-44; for Warner Records, 36,154
Reed, Ishmael, 167
Rhythm and blues, 113,131,138. See also Rock
Rietveld, Benny, 89
Ritchie, Lionel, 103
Roach, Max, 81,150,161; on hip-hop and rap, 75; on Miles' basic quarter note, 165-66
Robeson, Paul, 117, 118,167
Robinson, Sugar Ray, 31
Rock: fused with jazz, 131-32,136, 141,142-43; group ensemble sound of, 143,165; younger audiences of, 138
Rollins, Sonny, 10-11,150-51
Rowland, Steve, 82-86
"Running" style: of black marching bands, 5; of Miles' solos, 2,124, 165-66;
Sanchez-Gordon, Teresa, 86,103-4
San Francisco Chronicle, 82
Santana, Carlos, 66,143,144
Schukat, Peter, 105, 106
Scofield, John, 52
Second quintet/sextet, 133-35,142
Shakur, Tupac, 167
Sheen, Bishop Fulton, 34
"Sheets of sound" style, 124,132
Sheila E., 151
Siesta (film), 73-74
Simon and Schuster, 39, 82
Skin color concerns, 4, 53, 54-55, 168-69
Sly and the Family Stone, 132,136
Smith, Leo, 163
Smith, Leona (Troupe's grand-mother), 114
Snipes, Wesley, 101
Solos: on Aura, 154; within group ensemble, 143; on In a Silent Way, 136; of modal period, 124
Sony ads, 163
"Spanish Key," 142
Spin interview, 23, 27-34, 39
fish joint in, 111-12; Miles' home-boys from, 2, 3-4; Peacock Alley in, 10-11; Troupe family's status in, 115
The Star, AIDS story in, 76-77
"Star People," 152
Star People (Davis), 23,152
Stern, Mike, 52,151
Sting, 52, 65,152
Sutherland Lounge (
Tate, Greg, 149
Terry, dark, 5,150,159, 161 "That's Right," 152 "Theme for Augustine; Wind;
Seduction; Kiss," 73 Thriller (Michael Jackson), 174 Time, 130; Miles' interview with, 25 "Time After Time," 152 Troupe, Albert (Troupe's uncle),
Troupe, Allen (Troupe's uncle), 114 Troupe, Donald (Troupe's cousin),
Troupe, Ernest (Troupe's distant cousin), 115
Troupe, James "Pal" (Troupe's uncle), 115, 118
Troupe, Margaret (Troupe's wife), 31, 94,108; at Kool Jazz concerts, 87-88, 90,151; Miles' respect for, 97-101; news of Miles' stroke from, 157-58; on Spin interview, 39; at Studio Museum interview, 79, 80; at Tutu video party, 102-3
Troupe, Marvin (Troupe's cousin),
11, 19, ll8-19, 120, 121
Troupe, Porter (Troupe's son),
Troupe, Quincy: acupuncture treatments for, 68; artistic/politi-cal transitions of, 125-27,130-31, 132-33; dreadlocks of, 27, 28-29;
driving Miles' Ferrari, 42-43;
early racism experiences of, 114-16; first jazz-listening ex-periences of, 111-14,119-20; in first meeting with Miles, 9,15-17; hearing Miles' performances, 10-15, 87-90,123-25,151; hero worship of Miles by, 121-22,127, 133; and John Hicks incident, 147-50; interviewing Miles, 23, 27-34, 39, 78-81; meeting Jimi Hendrix, 136-37; at Miles' birth-day parties, 103-4; Mifes book project of, 39-40, 81-82, 90-94;
"The Miles Davis Radio Project" of, 82-86; Miles' first dismissal of,
Troupe, Quincy (continued) 18-21; Miles playing head games with, 59-64; Miles' rage at, over Jo Gelbard, 107-9; Miles' rage at, over old jazz, 106-7; musical tastes of, 52-53, 57-58, 75-76, 132-33; nonuse of heroin by, 121;
Peabody Award to, 82; reacting to Miles' dying, 158-60; riding horses with Miles, 49-50; role models for, 117-18,127; and Steve Rowland incident, 82-86; Saab car of, 35-36; at Tutu video party, 101-3
Troupe, Quincy Brandon (Troupe's son), 75,105-6
Troupe, Timothy (Troupe's brother), 114,115
Troupe, Tymmie (Troupe's daughter), 75
Trouppe, Quincy (Troupe's father),
"running" style of, 2,124,165-66; in second quintet period, 134; for Porter Troupe, 47-48
Tunnel discotheque (
Turner, Nat, 167
"Tutti Fruity," 116
Tutu (Davis), 35,163; album cover of, 52; big-band sound of, 154;
Grammy Award for, 74; video
party, 101-2; without working band,50-52
Tutu, Bishop Desmond, 50,154 Tyner, McCoy, 60-63 Tyson, Cicely, 32, 33; Miles'
marriage to, 23, 67-69; and The
Star article, 77
Vanity Fair, 90
Veil Prophet Parade (
Versace, Gianni, 77
Versace fashion, 88
Village Voice, 39, 82
Expressions in American Art" (
Walcott, Derek, 127
Warhol, Andy, 66-67
Warner Records, 32, 36,154
Watrous, Peter, 87
Webster, Freddie, 161
Wellman, Ricky, 73, 74, 89,158
Want Miles (
"What It Is," 152
Wilburn, Dorothy (Miles' sister),
73, 83,157,158,159 Wilburn, Vincent (Miles'
nephew),73, 83 Williams, Tony, 77, 93,134,164 Wilson, Cassandra, 163
Wilson, Jackie, 113 Women: Miles' treatment of, 91,169;
skin color preference for, 54,
168 Workin' (
X, Malcolm, 130,167,170
Yetnikoff, Walter, 102 You're Under Arrest (Davis), 23, 24, 152-53
Zawinul, Joe, 141,142,164 Zouk, 57-58,165; of Amandla, 74, 155; and rap project, 75-76
Frontispiece. With the author at Miles's apartment, circa 1988: Copyright Jon Stevens.
With bassist Paul Chambers: Courtesy Euclid Records.
In his dressing room with Annie Ross, circa 1957: Copyright Lee Tanner / Photography. All rights reserved.
With Paul Chambers at the Apollo Theatre, 1960: Copyright Herb Snitzer.
At the Jazz Workshop in
In 1968: Copyright Lee Tanner / Photography. All rights reserved.
With Dizzy Gillespie: Photo by Frank Stewart.
At a photo shoot, 1981: Photo by Frank Stewart.
With Cicely Tyson, 1983: Photo by Risasi Zachariah Dais.
Clowning with photographer Judy Schiller, 1986: Photo by Judy Schiller.
In 1990: Copyright William Culhane Jr.
Jamming with Joseph Foley McCreary: Copyright Herb Snitzer.
Recording Kind of Blue, with (from left) John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, and Bill Evans, 1959: Photo by Don Hunstein.
Same session, with Paul Chambers on bass: Photo by Don Hunstein.
designer: Nola Burger
compositor: Integrated Composition Systems
text: 10.25/16 Electra
display: Univers, Grotesque Extra Condensed
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