Dark Magus: The Jekyll And Hyde Life Of Miles Davis Gregory Davis Hardcover; 224 pages ISBN: 0879308753 Backbeat Books 2006
What separates the latest book on jazz legend Miles Davis is that it is written by Gregory Davis, his oldest son. More of a set of observances and anecdotes than a chronological biography, the book presents a bittersweet, but inconsistent portrait of a genius.
Those looking for information on musical innovations won't find too much here. This book is more about a man trying to come to terms with his father and a family life that could be described as less than ideal. The first half of the book provides the reader with insight into Miles' childhood and his early years in New York, chasing after Charlie Parker. The latter part of the book deals with the death of Miles and all the family squabbling that came after it. That's where things get ugly. Various stories of drug runs, abuse towards women and family feuds abound. Still, the love that Gregory has for his father comes through; there is no way to be completely objective, but he tries.
However, the book suffers from so many spelling mistakes and other inconsistencies that it becomes distracting. On one page, we read about Miles' last girlfriend, Jo Gelbard, testifying on Gregory's behalf when his father's will was probated. In the next paragraph, we're told, "All I know is that she did not testify in my favor as far as probating the will was concerned." Huh? On page 115 we're told that Miles "didn't want to be another Satchmo," which could be construed as an insult to Louis Armstrong. On the very next page, we learn that "another performer that Miles especially loved was Louis Armstrong." He then goes on to praise Armstrong for three paragraphs. The book would have benefited from better proofreading and editing. That being said, Dark Magus, although uneven, presents a side of a musical giant that few were privy to beyond his immediate family.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.