Wednesday, May 26, 2010
“Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons,” said Buckminster Fuller. Perhaps. But for writers, technology has been here for a while, and I’m jumping into it -- finally -- in a blog. The blog, as the title suggests, is about America’s greatest art form -- jazz.
Not just jazz in general and jazz musicians that we all know and love. It will also feature at times the scene in the Albany-Saratoga region of New York State, which has a wealth of talent as well as many venues for these musicians to play. (We still need more, like everywhere else!)
New to this, I hope to see the page expand with more bells and whistles for the reader. I hope to grow with it. It will cover a lot of ground, but hopefully be informative and worthy of the public discourse.
The voice will not be that of my articles, but that of me. As such, it might ruffle or offend at times, but not for that sake. It’s just that honest is honest. So, fuck it.
Which brings me to the first general subject of my first entry: Miles Davis. Talk about honest. Honest in his dealings with folks and honest in his music. Uncompromising. Unapologetic.
Today -- May 26 -- would have been his 84th birthday. I celebrate it every year, calling it my Holy Day. Some thing that facetious, but I’ve gotten more inspiration from listening to Kind of Blue or Miles Smiles or Live at the Blackhawk ... Workin’ … Steamin’ … Relaxin’ … Cookin’ … than I ever did from any religion or authority.
(Photo: Taken by me at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in 1988)
While I had jazz music in my veins as a youngster, from family and some music I enjoyed that had horns in it, it was Cookin’ and Miles that reeled me in in high school. Starting with “My Funny Valentine” and the hauntingly beautiful sound of Miles, and moving into “Blues By Five,” where Trane joined in with Red, Philly Joe and P.C. to swing the blues like mad.
Miles music at every stage, including his electronic period of Bitches Brew fame to his funky period in the years before his death (Sept. 28, 1991), was a great adventurer. Full of energy and spirit and discovery. He was as true to art as anyone, even when some people ignorantly screamed that he was coasting. Moving yes, but putting out music that would stay current, not in a museum.
But most of us know that.
I have had the great thrill of interviewing many of the people who knew and worked with Miles. Chick, Herbie, Dave Holland, Jimmy Cobb, Marcus Miller, George Coleman, Joe Zawinul, Elvin Jones, Percy Heath, Robert Irving III, John Scofield, Sonny Rollins … many more. And many who knew him and/or were influenced by him. Let me shut up and give a smattering of what these people said about me personally to Miles Dewey Davis III.
CHICK COREA: “We all have great reverence for Miles, in that he was a trailblazer, carving new forms and new ways of communicating in order to stay contemporary and keep on communicating with new audiences. But retaining the high quality of music … He was an inspiration to us all. Look at all the musicians he spawned way before the 70s. Going back to the 50s, when he started making records. Then along came Coltrane, and my god! I always thought someone should make a documentary of the second half of 20th century music and have Miles be the center of that. He did spawn that.
DAVID WEISS (NYC trumpeter): “Miles doesn’t get enough credit for being a great trumpet player, and he was. But he didn’t last like that. He never stretched like that. If you listen to some of those tapes, he played with the same intensity. It’s unbelievable what Miles did.”
HUGH MASEKELA: “Miles Davis was a major hero to everybody because that was on the front page of every South African newspaper, even though it was an apartheid country. The guy stood up to the police outside Birdland and actually had a fist-fight … It was international news … We became very good friends. Miles was one of the first people who told me not to become a jazz musician. Because when I first came there, I was a bebopper. I was looking forward to maybe becoming a Messenger in Art Blakey’s band. Blakey and Dizzy and Miles, all of them said, ‘why don’t you put some of what you got from your country and mix it in. maybe we can learn something from you. Otherwise, it’s just going to be a statistic, like all of us.’”
JOHN SCOFIELD: “As a student of jazz it was fascinating to get his perspective on all the previous jazz that had gone before. And here was this guy with this high set of standards for what made good music. It was so much about what he liked, a lot from the bebop and swing era. So here we are playing Cyndi Lauper tunes and he was bringing his swing and his criterion to that music. He played his ass off every night, even when his horn wasn’t together. I think he had some physical problems and we didn’t play gigs sometimes for long periods of time. But he still played his ass off, even when his chops were down. It was all about the music.”
LENNY WHITE: “I had never had my name on an album before. Miles Davis was my hero. A lot of people don’t even got to meet their heroes. I got a chance to meet and play with my hero … This is an honest true story. We did that record (Bitches Brew) in August of 1969. In October, I woke up out of a dead sleep, sat straight up in my bed and said, ‘I recorded with Miles Davis.’ I couldn’t believe it. I was walking in a fog all that time. I actually did something that’s historic, that’s documented. It’s going to be around for people to hear for the rest of the world. That was really special to me. It didn’t hit me until a few months later.”
SONNY ROLLINS: “My relationship with Miles was very important for me. I always liked his wig. I always thought he was just a little bit different from the other great trumpet of that time, Fats Navarro. Miles always had a little different approach, sort of Lester Youngish approach in a way of speaking. He was a little bit more thoughtful, a little bit more nuanced. I always liked that about him.”
ROBERT IRVING III: “ … He had me go to the piano to play something for him. I don't remember exactly what I played; I think it was some sort of bluesy things. He was like a doctor who diagnosed a musical deficiency. He came around and he showed me these chord progressions that turned a light bulb on in my head in terms of harmonic possibilities. It changed me forever, in terms of my hearing the music and my approach; a lot of harmonic tension and release.”
As I like to say: Miles Bless us… Every one.
And visit the All About Jazz website every chance you get !!