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Interviews

Gregory Davis: Son of Miles

By Published: January 8, 2007

AAJ: When you went to clubs and stuff, what struck you about the music, or about Miles?

GD: When I first went to hear him play, I was a young guy. We took a propeller plane to Chicago. I was a kid of around eight years old or ten years old. I was airsick, We got to the joint called the Crown Pillar. Philly Joe [Jones], Red Garland, Paul Chambers, that classic band that he had. Coltrane was there. At the time I was playing drums. After they played he asked me to come on stage and sit in Philly Joe Jones drum seat and take a little solo. He said, 'This is my son. He's gonna play a little drums.'



The music impacted me—I shook all over when I heard that music. I was a child. This thing unnerved me. When I heard that band strike those chords, it really unnerved me. First of all, when we got off the plane I immediately went into the restroom and threw up. I was airsick. Then we had to rush to the joint because he was almost late. He set me right in front. These were great players. Everybody's a legend. Philly Joe Jones, Paul Chambers. They blew right in my face. It was like somebody hit me with a musical cannonball. It shook me all over. A chill came down my spine. I said, "What is this? I had never heard any music live.

AAJ: How about later when you were traveling with him as part of his road crew? Did it still have that kind of effect?

GD: He was just amazing. Every time that I heard him. I never heard him play a bad tune or a bad note. Even if he was sick and spitting up blood on stage. I had to carry him to the hospital in San Francisco. I knew he was sick, but he never missed a note. He'd stand on stage and turn it into something different. Everybody loved it. He was cursing on the stage, spitting up and everything, sick as a dog. Never missed a note. Amazing, amazing, amazing music always. Whatever condition. He never ceased to thrill.

AAJ: Any particular band members you got to know real well, or liked their music struck you when you were with them?

GD: Every single band that he had, if he was in front of that band, he made that band cook. Whatever band he was with, he brought the best out of them. So I can't say. I was with them with Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams and Herbie Hancock. We were in Chicago, I think the Jazz Showcase, and Wayne was playing a split horn. And Wayne said, "Greg, I like this horn because it has a different sound. And mind you, it was like a student horn. He was telling me that he wasn't playing his regular horn, but he wanted to play the horn because he heard something in this particular horn. That's how musicians are. He was stretching.



They were really exploring at that time, stretching the limits, and it made Miles explore more too. They were taking it out, and then bringing it back in. Taking it all the way outside the melody and then brining it back in. Using a lot of diminished chords. But if he was in front of that band, he would bring it back in. They would take it out, but he would sure enough bring 'em back in like you bring a horse back in line after he's been raring to go and racing.



Each band he had amazed me. I don't know why people say he sold out, or this or that, with fusion. He was always in the forefront of music. He was a social movement. He was like Bogart or Elvis, but even more than that. He changed the sound of the trumpet, the whole instrument. Before him, Satchmo did it. He was always in the forefront of music. Everybody appreciated him. Even the rock stars. As a matter of fact, that trophy is sitting in my house right now, that Rock and Roll Hall of Fame trophy.

AAJ: In that book, there's a picture of you at the awards ceremony, you and Cheryl [his sister] at the podium. It doesn't identify the others, but isn't that Erin [Davis, his half-brother] and your cousin Vincent [Wilburn, who spent time as a drummer in Miles' '80s bands]?

GD: Yeah.

AAJ: Is the other guy [far left] Miles IV?

GD: No, that was Paul, Cheryl's son.

AAJ: You talked about the cocaine use too. Do you think anyone could have stopped that? Or was he so strong-headed no one could do anything about it?

GD: He stopped heroin. Even to talk about it made him ill. The coke gave him a little more energy and a little more stamina to play, to work. It brought his body around to where his mind was, so to speak. His mind was always racing. If you got a sixty year-old body and a genius mind of sixteen, you need something that's going to bring that body along with that mind. Because you want to race and your body says, "Hold it. Wait a minute.



When he wasn't working, he was like a fish out of water. You can never get enough of cocaine. You always abuse it. It's a drug where you're always looking for that first rush. Over and over and over again. He had a lot of fun with it, with the women, with this and with that. But you abuse it and abuse it so much, things happen and things happen and you don't know yourself. He didn't know himself after a while. He became like a Mr. Hyde. That's what happens.



He was not raised that way. When you look at that picture of my mother and my father together, that's the Miles that wanted to come to New York City and be with Charlie Parker and wanted to explore horizons in music. You have to go back to that to get the pure Miles.



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