Monday, January 31, 2005

The Two Faces of Miles Davis

From my memoir, Early Plastic:
"It's not just the bitchy world of opera that has its divas: Shortly after jazz pianist Cecil Taylor and I met in the mid-sixties, I went to see him opening night of an engagement at the popular and long-running club, the Village Vanguard. In the middle of his first set, who should walk in---looking very unlike his later period Lectoid From Planet Ten self---but a natty, dapper and Saville Row-ed Miles Davis. All eyes left Cecil on stage and turned to focus as Miles and his still somewhat socially taboo, blonde date as the two made their way to one of the club's postage stamp-size tables. They sat down in front of the bandstand, downed one drink apiece, stayed for all of five minutes, then---when Miles gave the signal---split. I was there again the next night when, at nearly the same time, Davis came in once more, this time with a different, but equally stunning Aryan number, and proceeded to do exactly the same thing: five minutes, and gone! Cecil later told me that this jazz equivalent of a head-on clash between Godzilla and Rodan took place for several more nights running."

On the other hand. . .both times I met Davis, he was absolutely fine . . . albeit, admittedly, somewhat dour. The first time was with my old friend Jean Bach (Great Day in Harlem) one Sunday afternoon when Miles was splitting a bill there with Blossom Dearie (ah, the good old days). After his set, Davis came over to the table and Jean introduced us. All was fine until a fan approached and said:

"I've got a great idea, Miles. Why don't you do a concert at Carnegie Hall, record it, and release it titled it something like 'Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall.'"

"Okay, man," Miles said, waved the man away, then just shut down and glared off into space.

The problem was that Davis had done just that very thing, with the results being released only the week prior. No wonder he was such a world-renowned bringdown.

The next time I encountered Davis was a few years later. I looked up to see him seated next to me in customs. We had both just winged in from Paris. He had flown coach; I, first class. Um, come to think of it, 'twas the other way 'round. Of all things, I happened to be reading a book about Buddy Bolden, historically recognized as THE first jazz musician AND a trumpet player to boot. Who could fail but mediate upon the irony of same? Talk about yer synchronicity in everyday American life! I handed Miles the book, and said, "Here, this belongs to you." "Thanks, man," he replied, without so much as even looking at the title. I stood up and walked off.

There was some kind of hangup in customs. An hour later we were still there. From the steerage of coach immigration, where I now found myself, I gazed down and espied Miles devouring the contents of the book I had just given him. Not quite sure what the moral is here. Maybe I'm just rehearsing for a future David Letterman "Brush With Greatness" segment. On the other hand, that might be just a leeetle bit too hip for the house.

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