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Book Reviews

Miles and Me

By Published: March 8, 2004
Troupe also addresses how Miles was looked upon as arrogant by a white society. He calls Miles, and people like Malcolm X, “unreconstructed black men” who refused to bow and compromise; who wanted to pursue life on their own terms. Miles’ travails and triumphs made it easier for jazz musicians – black and white, but especially black – to go on after him. It also, says Troupe, was an example for all blacks. Troupe mentions the autobiography and how some people thought the language was too rough. Others thought Miles a bastard for revealing distasteful parts of his life, and being largely unapologetic. Miles “told the truth in our book, and I deeply respected him for not trying to whitewash his life. That took courage,” says Troupe.

Indeed.

The language of both books is real. It’s the language of Davis and the language of the streets, like it or not. It’s the language of George Carlin. Of Richard Pryor. Of most people I know. So many other jazz biographies and autobiographies are bland because they weren’t bold enough to be realistic.

And the troubled portions of Miles’ life? Drug addiction. Treatment of women. Foul temper and moods. Did that put people off? Or was it that Miles had the gall to say “This is it. So what?” (Read Art Pepper’s autobio, or Stan Getz’s bio. They were charming white musicians to the public. Great artists, both. But they make Miles seem like a choir boy in many ways. Getz was an addict almost his entire life and so brutal to the people he was supposed to love, including his kids, they feared for their lives, at times. Yet his music, Like Miles’, is some of the sweetest ever heard).

There are other poignant stories in “Miles and Me,” including astute depiction of the music in the 70s and 80s that those with closed minds hold in disdain. Particularly amusing is his account of Miles making an old man out of Wynton Marsalis when the two played on a double bill at Avery Fisher Hall in 1989. Marsalis played his traditional jazz (Miles called copies music created in the 50s and 60s, “tired” and “sad shit”), lecturing the audience between songs. Then Miles came out and blew them away with multiple rhythms, shifting tempos, showmanship and crackling solos, killing the audience. (“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,” Troupe recounts).

Another interesting tale deals with the last months of Miles’ life. The trumpeter was always paving the way to new styles and refusing to go back, but in 1991 returned to play the 30-year-old music from his classic collaborations with the great Gil Evans. A short time after that he played some of his other old music with some ex-bandmates in France. And a very short time later, on Sept. 28, 1991, he was gone. People have conjectured that perhaps Miles knew he was near the end. In fact, Miles had claimed have premonitions at times.

Troupe says when the idea of playing the Evans scores arose, he teased Miles’ “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,” the author writes. Miles cut him off curtly, chewed him out, and threw him out of his house. “It was the angriest I’d ever seen him,” says Troupe, whose two books have many angry moments.

The concert was triumphant, universally hailed. He died later that year.

Viewed in the larger sense, the book is as much about Troupe as Miles. Troupe is a noted poet and author in his own right, and for those who like his work, “Miles and Me” will gives insight into his thoughts, his likes, what affected him at key stages of his life. It may even move fans of Miles people to go seek out Troupe’s writing. The new book looks at Miles from a different angle. It’s not vital, not always engrossing, but an interesting piece to the legend.


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