Miles. The autobiography – Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe (versión original en inglés)

Miles. The autobiography – Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe Jorge Luis Borges Libros Kalish

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Universally acclaimed as a musical genius, Miles Davis was one of the most important and influential musicians in the world. Here, Miles speaks out about his extraordinary life.
Miles: The Autobiography, like Miles himself, holds nothing back. He speaks frankly and openly about his drug problem and how he overcame it. He condemns the racism he encountered in the music business and in American society generally. And he discusses the women in his life. But above all, Miles talks about music and musicians, including the legends he has played with over the years: Bird, Dizzy, Monk, Trane, Mingus, and many others.
The man who gave us some of the most exciting music of the twentieth century here gives us a compelling and fascinating autobiography, featuring a concise discography and thirty-two pages of photographs.
Miles Davis was a musical genius and innovated trumpet stylist who profoundly influenced modern jazz and popular music. He was intimate with such legendary jazz figures as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, and Charlie Mingus. In his own words — and with no puches pulled — he tells here of the people and forces which shaped his life and music.
JUILLARD DROPOUT MAKES GOOD
GARY GIDDENS
In his celebrated essay on Tolstoy, Isaiah Berlin invoked the maxim of a Greek poet: ”The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” He hypothesized that the Russian novelist could not easily be categorized as pluralist fox or monist hedgehog, because though he was by nature the former, he ”believed in being” the latter. The jazz trumpeter, composer, bandleader and now autobiographer Miles Davis also eludes facile categorization by repeatedly innovating, exhausting and transforming the parameters of his musical style. But if I can borrow Berlin’s analogy, Mr. Davis seems to me the obverse of Tolstoy – a born hedgehog who believes in being a fox.
Foxlike, Mr. Davis has altered the context of his music to reflect the influence of manifold traditions and fashions – hot and cool, bop and funk, academic and street-corner, blues and rock. His innovations in each idiom were so persuasive that four generations of musicians followed his lead. Yet by the nature of his gift, Mr. Davis is also a hedgehog who knows one big thing: that individuality may subvert context but context ought never to vitiate individuality. As Mr. Davis’s father – an outspoken dentist, landowner, gentleman farmer and sheriff – advised him when he dropped out of the Juilliard School to play jazz, ”You want to be your own man, have your own sound.” Mr. Davis’s sound is the unmistakable constant in his music, the true measure of his disposition, the ultimate payoff of an extremely personal approach to the trumpet. Whether echoing Charlie Parker’s circuitous improvisations, soloing over Gil Evans’s lush arrangements, leading his brilliant quintets or negotiating the bump and grind of 80’s funk, Mr. Davis’s siren call – plaintive, vulnerable, slashing – abides as one of the most seductive in the music of this century.
Yet Mr. Davis has never been just a musician; like Bernstein or Sinatra, he is a national phenomenon, one whose personal charisma has brought him to the attention of a wider public than his art ever could. Several wags noted that Mr. Davis hit a new peak in recognition when he was recently the subject of a scurrilous rumor in one of the supermarket tabloids. But even 30 years ago his records could be found in collections otherwise bereft of modern jazz. The subtitle of his book (”The Autobiography”) may suggest a Hollywood spinoff rather than a literary event, but Mr. Davis delivers the goods, at least most of them. Written with Quincy Troupe, a distinguished poet and editor, ”Miles” is profusely detailed, exceedingly candid and eminently readable – by any criterion a major addition to the literature of jazz.
In the absence of an explanation of their working methods, I assume ”Miles” is an as-told-to – a peculiar genre in which the collaborator orders the facts without interpreting them. Mr. Troupe has elicited a wealth of psychological details that render Mr. Davis an entirely convincing, if rather narcissistic, narrator. He emerges as admirable and enraging, a mass of contradictions, some of them lying cheek by jowl on the same page. The basic story is well known – beginning with how the child of a prosperous Midwestern black family came to New York in 1944 at the age of 18 to study at Juilliard as a ”smokescreen” for searching out Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, the leaders of the modern jazz movement. When a Juilliard instructor told his class that blacks played the blues because they were poor, Mr. Davis retorted, ”I’m from East St. Louis and my father is rich . . . and I play the blues.” He found more valuable mentors at the jam sessions at Minton’s, a nightclub where ”the cream of the crop of Harlem’s black society” listened to the incubation of a new music (”In those days you didn’t get too big to be sitting in”). So though he continued to examine the scores of Stravinsky, Berg and Prokofiev and studied with members of the New York Philharmonic, Mr. Davis delivered himself into the hands of his own masters, ”Professors Diz and Bird,” as well as Freddie Webster, Thelonious Monk, Coleman Hawkins and others. ”If they smiled when you finished playing, then that meant that your playing was good.”
Mr. Davis’s portrayal of Parker is the most complicated in the book, expressed in violent mood swings between veneration for the saxophonist’s genius and generosity (”Among the masters he was the master,” ”He treated me like his son”) and contempt for his abuse of himself and everyone else – his fatal ”greed” for stimulants of every description, which ended his life at 34. Mr. Davis’s claim that ”Bird didn’t teach me much as far as music goes” is a touch of bravado contradicted by his own evidence. Semi-confident and impatient, he put himself on a dangerous deadline: ”I had in my head that if I didn’t make it as a musician by the time I was twenty-four, I was going to do something else . . . medicine.” At the age of 24, in 1950, he completed the sessions that would usher in the cool jazz movement and triumphed professionally and personally (he fell in love with the French actress Juliette Greco) during a tour of Paris. It was too much too soon: having resisted drugs throughout his tenure with Parker, he now returned to the United States and spent four years feeding ”the monster” of heroin addiction.
From 1955 to 1959, Mr. Davis led one of the classic groups in American music, pioneered the long-playing album as a medium for sustained work rather than as a compilation of random pieces, and introduced a blend of pain and ecstasy into the language of the trumpet and of jazz, greatly enlarging its audience. He embodied a new presence in American culture. ”All of a sudden, everybody seemed to want anger, coolness, hipness, and real clean, mean sophistication. Now the ‘rebel’ was in. . . . Not to mention that I was young and good looking and dressed well, too.”
Mr. Davis organized his second great quintet in the mid-60’s, but by then jazz had taken a new turn and many felt he had become passe, a complacent peacock. In fact, he created some of his most durable, original and influential music in that period, but the criticism and the slow record sales hurt. When he recorded ”Bitches Brew” in 1969, he stunned his admirers by instigating a fusion between jazz and rock. Although his music has changed as many times in the past 20 years as in the preceding two decades and produced several gems (from the incomparable jazz-rock of ”Jack Johnson” to the agitated variations of ”We Want Miles”), his detractors continue to see the entire phase as a compromise with the marketplace. His huge popular success, blighted by illness, a car wreck, a return to drug addiction (cocaine this time) and the realization that ”I didn’t have anything else to say musically,” imploded into a six-year retirement, a period of total seclusion. He has enjoyed many triumphs since his return in 1981, but the quality of his bands has declined.
Mr. Davis does not pretend that those bands in any way rival the experience of playing with Parker and Gillespie or with John Coltrane and Philly Joe Jones (he says repeatedly that those were the musical highlights of his life) or the collaborations with Gil Evans, which, interestingly enough, he did not fully appreciate until long after they were completed. Yet in attempting to justify his current situation he becomes incoherent, first blaming white critics – he forgets LeRoi Jones – for promoting the avant-garde, then blaming them for disparaging it. (Mr. Davis himself has always put it down.) What remains unviolated in his current bands is the supernal beauty of his trumpet. If the fox has become adrift in the kind of adulation measured by the Grammys (which Mr. Davis disdains and covets), the hedgehog has remained true to his sights.
”Miles,” like its subject, is far from perfect. There are errors in the names of people and compositions, annoying repetitions and misstatements, including a couple of howlers: Mr. Davis cannot mean that the 1920’s tenor saxophone innovator Bud Freeman used to play like the be-bopper Sonny Stitt (Von Freeman maybe?) or that Columbia Records paid him a guaranteed $300,000 per annum in the mid-50’s. Inconsistencies and odd lapses in voice (as when Mr. Davis occasionally refers to Louis Armstrong, whom he called Pops, as Satchmo) suggest the collision of subject and editor. Nor is Mr. Davis’s candor always pleasant – his naming names of famous addicts, living and dead, borders on informing, and his contempt for women (notwithstanding the expected ”I love women”) is chilling: he admits to pimping to support his habit and of undermining the dancing career of his wife, Frances Taylor, out of jealousy; he sees Billy Eckstine slapping a woman around, admires him for it and habitually does the same himself; he constantly harangues one of Charlie Parker’s wives for being ”ugly.” Readers will be astonished to learn that as of 1946, Mr. Davis ”still didn’t even know how to curse.” He learned, he learned. His constant use of profanity becomes blurrily tedious.
More distressing in a book of this kind is the insufficient analysis of his music. As a critic, Mr. Davis is remarkably conventional, holding to a line that is fairly standard in contemporary jazz criticism. I welcome his affirmation as well as his perspective (he is unfailingly right in evaluating his own music), but I had hoped in vain to learn why Parker played tenor rather than alto saxophone on both of the sessions he made under Mr. Davis’s leadership; how the continuity between selections on ”Miles Ahead” and the extended-theme arrangement of ”Nefertiti” came about; why an old vocal by Bob Dorough that Mr. Davis disliked wound up on Mr. Davis’s album ”Sorcerer”; why he permitted the release of poor albums spliced from concert leftovers; what Gil Evans’s contribution was to ”Filles de Kilimanjaro”; and how the uniquely gothic 30-minute keyboard memorial to Duke Ellington, ”He Loved Him Madly,” was conceived – to mention but a few puzzles in the Davis discography.
Mr. Davis provides razor-sharp if almost invariably unflattering and self-serving portraits of Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, Cannonball Adderley, Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter and other musicians. On the other hand, Gil Evans, his ”best friend” and foremost collaborator, is oddly elusive; the young, wild Sonny Rollins he depicts is one-dimensional and totally at odds with everything else we know about him; and Bill Evans is treated casually to the point of superciliousness (”a great little piano player”). He jumps to his own defense to assert, reasonably enough, that he and not Charlie Parker or Bill Evans wrote certain misattributed pieces, but he neglects entirely those many instances in which he stands accused of claiming the tunes of others. As to the book’s presentation, it has many fine photographs, though a few are insufficiently captioned; it has a comprehensively conceived but incomplete index; it lacks even a rudimentary discography or list of works.
Some such quibbles are more annoying than others, but they are quibbles merely. ”Miles” is an extraordinarily colorful narrative and will be much quoted on all sides of the continuing Miles Davis controversy. ‘I JUST LIKE MUSIC’
In Miles Davis’s opinion, none of the books written about him have been any good – for a very simple reason: ”I didn’t write them.”
Although he professes not to have read any of those other books, he is confident that his previous biographers didn’t get it right. ”All these writers say ‘Miles said this’ and ‘Miles did that’ and it’s all lies,” he said in a telephone interview from his home in Malibu, Calif. ”They don’t know.”
Mr. Davis said he wrote ”Miles: The Autobiography” because it was time to set the record straight – and especially to make it clear what is most important in his life: ”I’m no kind of freak. I just like music.”
His temporary transition from musician to writer was relatively smooth, he said. Helping to make it that way was Quincy Troupe, whom he said he chose as a collaborator because ”I like the way he writes, he’s black and he’s from St. Louis.” (Mr. Davis was born in nearby East St. Louis, Ill.) Far from being fazed by the experience of telling his life story, Mr. Davis said, ”I could do another book on different things that I’ve done.”
He grudgingly admitted that many people think his life has been as inherently dramatic – even cinematic – as that of the saxophonist Charlie Parker, one of his first employers and mentors, who was the subject of the recent feature film ”Bird.” And he acknowledged that some people have broached the subject of making a film out of his book. But, he added with the mixture of bravado and terseness that has always characterized both his music and his persona, ”I don’t go around thinking about stuff like that.” PETER KEEPNEWS
Prologue
Miles Davis
Listen. The greatest feeling I ever had in my life—with my clothes on—was when I first heard Diz and Bird together in St. Louis, Missouri, back in 1944.1 was eighteen years old and had just gradu­ated from Lincoln High School. It was just across the Mississippi River in East St. Louis, Illinois.
When I heard Diz and Bird in B’s band, I said, “What? What is this!?” Man, that shit was so terrible it was scary. I mean, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, Buddy Anderson, Gene Ammons. Lucky Thompson, and Art Blakey all together in one band and not to mention B: Billy Eckstine himself. It was a motherfucker. Man, that shit was all up in my body. Music all up in my body, and that’s what I wanted to hear. The way that band was playing music—that was all I wanted to hear. It was something. And me up there playing with them.
I had already heard about Diz and Bird, was already into their music—especially Dizzy’s, with me being a trumpet player and all. But I was also into Bird. See, I had one record of Dizzy’s called “Woody ‘n You” and a record of Jay McShann’s with Bird on it called “Hootie Blues.” That’s where I first heard Diz and Bird, and I couldn’t believe what they were playing. They were so terrible. Besides them I had one record of Coleman Hawkins, one record of Lester Young, and one of Duke Ellington with Jimmy Blanton on bass that was a motherfucker, too. That was it. Those were all the recordsI had. Dizzy was my idol then. I used to try to play every solo Diz played on that one album I had by him. But I liked dark Terry, Buck Clayton, Harold Baker, Harry James, Bobby Hackett, and Roy Eldridge a lot, too. Roy was my idol on trumpet later. But in 1944 it was Diz.
Billy Eckstine’s band had come to St. Louis to play at a place called the Plantation Club, which was owned by some white gangsters. St. Louis was a big gangster town back then. When they told B that he had to go around to the back door like all the other black folks, he just ignored the motherfuckers and brought the whole band through the front door. Anyway, B didn’t take no shit off nobody. He would cuss and knock a motherfucker out at the drop of a hat. That’s right. Forget about the playboy look and air he had about himself. B was tough. So was Benny Carter. They both would drop anybody they thought was disrespecting them in a minute. But as tough as Benny was—and he was—B was tougher. So these gangsters right there on the spot fired B and brought in George Hudson, who had dark Terry in his band. Then B took his band across town to Jordan Chambers’ Riviera Club, an all-black club in St. Louis, located on Delmar and Taylor—in a black part of St. Louis. Jordan Chambers, who was the most powerful black politician back in them days in St. Louis, just told B to bring the band on over.
So when word got around that they were going to play the Riviera rather than the Plantation, I just picked up my trumpet and went on over to see if I could catch something, maybe sit in with the band. So me and a friend of mine named Bobby Danzig, who was also a trum­pet player, got to the Riviera and went on in to try and catch the rehearsals. See, I already had a reputation around St. Louis for being able to play by that time, so the guards knew me and let me and Bobby on in. The first thing I see when I got inside was this man running up to me, asking if I was a trumpet player. I said, “Yeah, I’m a trumpet player.” Then, he asked if I got a union card. I said, “Yeah, I got a union card, too.” So the guy said, “Come on, we need a trumpet player. Our trumpet got sick.” This guy takes me up on the bandstand and puts the music in front of me. I could read music, but I had trouble reading what he put in front of me because I was listening to what everybody else was playing.
That guy who ran up to me was Dizzy. I didn’t recognize him at first. But soon as he started playing, I knew who he was. And like I said, I couldn’t even read the music—don’t even talk about playing —for listening to Bird and Diz.
But shit, I wasn’t alone in listening to them like that, because the whole band would just like have an orgasm every time Diz or Bird played—especially Bird. I mean Bird was unbelievable. Sarah Vaughan was there also, and she’s a motherfucker too. Then and now. Sarah sounding like Bird and Diz and them two playing every­thing! I mean they would look at Sarah like she was just another horn. You know what I mean? She’d be singing “You Are My First Love” and Bird would be soloing. Man, I wish everybody could have heard that shit!
Back then Bird would play solos for eight bars. But the things he used to do in them eight bars was something else. He would just leave everybody else in the dust with his playing. Talk about me forgetting to play, I remember sometimes the other musicians would forget to come in on time because they was listening to Bird so much. They’d be standing up there on the stage with their mouths wide open. Goddamn, Bird was playing some shit back then.
When Dizzy would play the same thing would happen. And also when Buddy Anderson would play. He had that thing, that style that was close to the style that I liked. So I heard all that shit back in 1944 all at once. Goddamn, them motherfuckers was terrible. Talk about cooking! And you know how they were playing for them black folks at the Riviera. Because black people in St. Louis love their music, but they want their music right. So you know what they were doing at the Riviera. You know they were getting all the way down.
B’s band changed my life. I decided right then and there that I had to leave St. Louis and live in New York City where all these bad musicians were.
As much as I loved Bird back then, if it hadn’t been for Dizzy I wouldn’t be where I am today. I tell him that all the time and he just laughs. Because when I first came to New York he took me every­where with him. Diz was funny back in those days. He’s still funny now. But back then he was something else. Like, he’d be sticking his tongue out at women on the streets and shit—at white women. I mean, I’m from St. Louis and he’s doing that to a white person, a white woman. I said to myself, “Diz must be crazy.” But he wasn’t, you know? Not really. Different, but not crazy.
The first time in my life I went on an elevator was with Diz. He took me up on this elevator on Broadway somewhere in midtown Manhattan. He used to love to ride elevators and make fun at every­one, act crazy, scare white people to death. Man, he was something. I’d go over to his house, and Lorraine, his wife, wouldn’t let nobodystay there too long but me. She would offer me dinner all the time. Sometimes I’d eat and sometimes I wouldn’t. I’ve always been funny about what and where I eat. Anyway, Lorraine used to put up these signs that said, “Don’t Sit Here!” And then she’d be saying to Diz, “What you doing with all them motherfuckers in my house? Get them out of here and I mean right now!” So I would get up to leave, too, and she’d say, “Not you, Miles, you can stay, but all the rest of them motherfuckers got to go.” I don’t know what it was she liked about me, but she did.
It seems people loved Dizzy so much they used to just want to be with him, you know? But no matter who was around, Dizzy always took me every place he went. He would say, “Come on, go with me, Miles.” And we’d go down to his booking office, or someplace else, or like I said, maybe ride in elevators, just for the hell of it. He’d do all kinds of funny shit.
Like his favorite thing was to go by where they first started broad­casting the “Today” show, when Dave Garroway was the host. It was in a studio on the street level, so people could watch the show from the sidewalk, looking through this big plate glass window. Dizzy would go up to the window while the show was on the air—they shot it live, you know—and stick out his tongue and make faces at the chimpanzee on the show. Man, he would fuck with that chimpanzee, J. Fred Muggs, so much, he would drive him crazy. The chimpanzee would be screaming, jumping up and down and showing his teeth, and everybody on the show would be wondering what the fuck got into him. Every time that chimpanzee laid eyes on Dizzy, he’d go crazy. But Dizzy was also very, very beautiful and I loved him and still do today.
Anyway, I’ve come close to matching the feeling of that night in 1944 in music, when I first heard Diz and Bird, but I’ve never quite got there. I’ve gotten close, but not all the way there. I’m always looking for it, listening and feeling for it, though, trying to always feel it in and through the music I play every day. I still remember when I was just a kid, still wet behind the ears, hanging out with all these great musicians, my idols even until this day. Sucking in everything. Man, it was something.
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