Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Further brushes with jazz greatness

I’ve had several encounters with Miles Davis. Once on a flight back from Paris. Perfectly pleasant, with my laying on him a copy of a bio of the first jazz musician, trumpeter Buddy Bolden, that I’d just finished a few minutes earlier. Talk about your post-bop synchronicity!

Another time was of a Sunday afternoon in 1961 at the Village Vanguard where Davis was splitting the bill with Blossom Dearie. I was the guest of Jean (Great Day in Harlem) Bach. Davis sat with us between sets, and at one point a man approached him and gave out with the following piece of advice:

“Miles, you should do a concert at Carnegie Hall and then release the album and call it “Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall.” Duh! As chance and music history would have it, Davis had only recently done that very thing and the record that resulted from the performance had just been released. Gee, it must be tough to be famous especially when one has to suffer fools like this one. But, to paraphrase the immortal words of Oscar Brown, Jr., He (Miles) was cool: “Thanks, man,” he replied to the fan without even so much as looking up at him.

But my favorite Miles story is one extracted from my memoir, Early Plastic. An incident that I witnessed with my very own not quite baby blues (hell, they’re hazel). To wit:

Shortly after jazz pianist Cecil Taylor and I met in 1965, I went to see the opening night of an engagement of his at the popular and long-running Village Vanguard. In the middle of his first set, who should walk in---looking very unlike his late period Electoid From Planet Ten self of later years---but a natty, dapper and Saville Rowed Miles Davis. All eyes left Cecil on stage and turned to focus on 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 to his date, they 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!

Davis' obvious rancor probably stemmed from feeling that Cecil's improperly uncloseted homosexuality, unlike his own more discreet gay ways (including a rather torrid affair with a North American reggae singer), reflected badly on the macho image of jazz. Or maybe he just hated Cecil's off the charts AND walls musicality.
It's not just the bitchy world of opera that has its divas.

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