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Robert Irving III: Gaining Momentum

By Published: August 21, 2007

"It turns out most of what I did as a producer was pretty much consult with him on arrangements and material, work out arrangements, rehearse the band and record the music without him even being there. He was delegating a lot of stuff to me because he didn't really like to go to the studio. He felt the studio was cold and he liked the responsiveness of an audience. Consequently, I would take the tapes back with the rough mixes every night and he would listen and, I would imagine, develop his own parts and rehearse by himself at home and then come in and overdub. That's the way a lot of that came together.

With You're Under Arrest, Miles was more active. Irving says it was originally conceptualized to be a ballad album, with Gil Evans arranging, ad many meetings with Davis, Evans and Irving proved fortunate. "There were a lot of meetings with Gil and consulting with Gil. I got to spend a lot of time and sort of be mentored by Gil Evans during that time, which is another valuable time.

But the original intent never came to be. Evans was occupied and perhaps not up to it at that point in his career. "I guess Miles just kind of knew that Gil's energy was just not up for that kind of project. Gil was doing his big band thing at Sweet Basil's and Seventh Avenue South. I would go and sit in with the big band, but it was clear that Gil wasn't going to put the time in for this kind of project, says Irving.

"Consequently it turned out Miles was contemplating a move from Columbia to Warner Bros. anyway, and he just wanted to get the project done. Plus we had a fall tour coming up. So we ended up using 'Time After Time' and 'Human Nature' and a couple more things that we did and interspersing those with some live performance tracks, which we went in and he actually played a second trumpet on some of that stuff. That became You're Under Arrest, which was, of course, his last Columbia project.

Irving was also building his own career, and in 1988 recorded his debut for Polygram/Verve Forecast, Midnight Dream. He was still touring the world with Miles—Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, New Zealand.

"And that year we were scheduled to do South America. It was September and we did The Pier in New York, and we were to do a date at the Wolftrap festival the following day, that Saturday. We got word that Miles was in the hospital. The gig was canceled; we were placed on hold in New York for a few days pending the prognosis. Then we were advised that it was over, that Miles was being told he needed to retire by his doctors. We were kept on retained for another month and that was it.

Miles Irving was asked to produce Terri Lyne Carrington's debut for Verve Forecast, Real Life Story (1989), that included sessions with Wayne Shorter, Grover Washington Jr., Diane Reeves, Patrice Rushen and Carlos Santana. "We had finished the recording and we were about to start a couple overdub sessions and mix in Los Angeles at Chick Corea's studio, Mad Hatter, when I got a call from Miles, actually from the road manager, that Miles was planning to do the fall tour. He was feeling better and he was going to go to Europe for a three-week tour. I couldn't get out of this mix thing. I was the producer. So it was a dilemma for me.

Producing work and promotional work was needed and Irving opted out of Miles' band after being musical director for about five years. "By that time the music had stopped becoming challenging and fun, says Irving," because Miles was into the more minimalist, sort of Prince-style groove things. It was becoming more restrictive. I just decided it was time for me to go out on my own. So that's what I did.

The Carrington CD was nominated for a Grammy. Those experiences launched the pianist deeper into jobs as a producer, which Irving welcomed. "But I found that either you're going to be a performer or a producer because they're both so time-consuming, energy-consuming. Either you're going to be out on the road or in the studio kind of digging it. I try to do a little bit of both. That fact that I didn't live in New York or L.A—being in Chicago was not a major center. So I ended up probably not producing as much as I would have if I'd lived on either coast.

As for Miles the mentor, Irving remained in touch, even up until his hospitalization in 1990. The one Davis did not return from.

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