Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for 1,000 backers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

808

Dark Magus: The Jekyll And Hyde Life Of Miles Davis

R.J. DeLuke By

Sign in to view read count
There are stories of warmth and normalcy, and those that aren't so pleasant...His son acknowledges all this with honesty and objectivity but doesn't add much to what we already know
Dark Magus: The Jekyll And Hyde Life Of Miles Davis
Gregory Davis
Hardcover; 224 pages
ISBN: 0879308753
Backbeat Books
2006

The pitch for this new book about Miles Davis, written by his eldest son, makes bold promises. Reading Gregory Davis on his iconic father will, we are told, shine previously unshed light on Miles Davis the man—and even the working musician, since the author traveled with the trumpeter at times. Gregory Davis himself states it is "the best version of my father that the reader will ever get.

The claims do not hold up. Dark Magus: The Jekyll And Hyde Life Of Miles Davis, written with Les Sussman, tells us little that is new about Davis' life—as complex a life, led by as complex an individual, as there can surely have ever been. Those familiar with Davis know the beauty of his work and know that he was capable of beauty in his personal life as well. There were times of chaos and tumult too, and both sides are depicted in Gregory Davis' account. The problem is that many of the stories—good and bad—have been told elsewhere, and among the new ones told here, most are not particularly engaging or enlightening.

The author raises eyebrows from the outset by claiming that no other book about his father has been written from the "inside —ignoring Chris Murphy's road journal-type offering (Miles To Go: The Lost Years, 2002) and the writings of Eric Nisenson, who was often at the trumpeter's home, including during his 1975-80 self-imposed seclusion. True, only John Szwed's So What: The Life Of Miles Davis (2002) deals in any depth with the relationship between father and son (Szwed interviewed Gregory Davis, something he much appreciates). But among all the writings on Davis, from essays to biographies by Ian Carr and Szwed, the autobiography, and Paul Tingen's book dealing with the electric years (Miles Beyond, 2001), there is already a full picture out there.

The book is a quick read. It touches on various stages of Davis' life, including before the author was born. These stories come from his mother, Davis' first wife, Irene Cawthon, and people like Clark Terry, and even Davis' father, Miles Dewey Davis Jr. (to whom the book is dedicated). That's actually a good approach, in light of the fact that Gregory Davis is not a journalist, and that so much is out there in other books. Taking stories, remembrances and comments and placing them in the context of Davis' life seems a good path to take. But one of the things the book suffers from is poor editing. Stories are hodge podge, all over the map at times. There is also a lot of avoidable repetition. Disappointingly, there aren't many stories about life on the road—there are no illuminating accounts of the musicians in the band or Gregory Davis' impressions of them as people, or previously unrecorded events of interest.

Among the stories, the one about bandleader Billy Eckstine wooing young Davis is interesting and usually glossed over in other accounts. Interesting too are the remembrances of Davis as a strong creative player in his pre-bebop days in St. Louis. Pieces dealing with Charlie Parker add to the puzzle and claim, without much supporting evidence, that Parker was responsible for Davis acquiring a heroin habit.

The sections about the relationship between Davis and his children, especially his eldest son (the other children are glossed over) have merit. For those who want to go there, this is fresh stuff, put out there without sugar topping. Davis could be a good father, and a neglectful one. He could be very difficult, as when teaching his son to play the trumpet, but he could be proud and supportive, as he was of his accomplishments as an amateur boxer. Stories are there, short in form, but interesting in the cumulative. The book also shows that the author was a longtime supporter of his father, often when he was much needed—during times of ill health, and times when Davis could have gotten into trouble with drug dealers had it not been for the bodyguard-like presence of his son. Some of these stories are revealing and worth reading.

There are stories of warmth and normalcy, and those that aren't so pleasant: the drug use, the women and the dark times. His son acknowledges all this with honesty and objectivity but doesn't add much to what we already know. Many of the stories contain repetitious elements. Some are overstated. There are references to a man claimed as a fourth, illegitimate son, and suggestions that there may be many more. But the supporting evidence is far from conclusive. And while that part of the book which deals with the battles among Davis' offspring over his will tells much that has not been heard before, it's all about Davis' descendants, not Davis himself.


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Listening For The Secret: The Grateful Dead And The Politics Of Improvisation Book Reviews Listening For The Secret: The Grateful Dead And The...
by Ian Patterson
Published: December 10, 2017
Read All That's Jazz Book Reviews All That's Jazz
by Phil Barnes
Published: December 6, 2017
Read Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine Book Reviews Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and...
by Doug Collette
Published: November 18, 2017
Read Claude Ranger: Canadian Jazz Legend Book Reviews Claude Ranger: Canadian Jazz Legend
by David A. Orthmann
Published: November 15, 2017
Read Softly, With Feeling Book Reviews Softly, With Feeling
by Richard J Salvucci
Published: October 24, 2017
Read Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In And Out Of Jazz Book Reviews Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In And Out Of Jazz
by Mark Corroto
Published: September 13, 2017
Read "Softly, With Feeling" Book Reviews Softly, With Feeling
by Richard J Salvucci
Published: October 24, 2017
Read "Go Slow: The Life of Julie London" Book Reviews Go Slow: The Life of Julie London
by Richard J Salvucci
Published: June 30, 2017
Read "David Bowie: Behind the Curtain" Book Reviews David Bowie: Behind the Curtain
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: August 20, 2017
Read "The Blues: Why It Still Hurts So Good" Book Reviews The Blues: Why It Still Hurts So Good
by Doug Collette
Published: February 20, 2017

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!