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I remember times we were on the road when I knew he was spitting up blood, coughing up phlegm and this and that. He never missed a note. It was amazing.
Just when we thought it might have been done sufficiently. John Szwed's excellent So What: The Life of Miles Davis (Simon & Schuster, 2002) stands alongside Ian Carr's Miles: The Definitive Biography (Harper & Collins, 1998) and, of course, Miles' own book with Quincy Troupe, Miles: The Autobiography (Simon & Schuster, 1989) as the best books on the music legend. Paul Tingen superbly captured the trumpeter's significance during his electric years with Miles Beyond, The Electric Explorations of Miles Davis 1967-91 (Billboard Books, 2001). Even more recently, a pair of books came along, not nearly as sharp as Tingen's, but each adding interesting perspective on the later years and controversial recordingsPhilip Freeman's Running the Voodoo Down: The Electric Music of Miles Davis (Backbeat, 2005) and George Cole's The Last Miles: The Music of Miles Davis 1980-1991 (University of Michigan Press, 2005).
We thought it was done... for a while. And now this. A book about The Man, written by none other than his eldest son, Gregory Davissomeone heretofore almost entirely unheard from on the subject. In fact, a man who some felt was unworthy himself, due to a checkered past of his own. Gregory Davis said he ruminated on Dark Magus: The Jekyll and Hyde Life of Miles Davis (Backbeat Books, 2006) for sixteen years before bringing it to fruition. It's his right. It's his father. The merits of the book won't be debated here, nor will the family squabbles that left he and his brother Miles Dewey Davis IV out of their archetypal father's will. They are also on bad terms with the Davis Estate that includes his sister Cheryl that claimed, in a short statement, that it find no validity in the book
Gregory Davis traveled with his father off and on. Lived with him. Saw good and bad. Saw tenderness and tantrums, cruelty and compassion. He saw the drugs come and go, as well as the women. And he recounts some of those tales in a style that is straightforward, just as Miles did. Some sound meaner in the book that they may really be, since in talking with Gregory, there appears no sense of animosity.
Miles got him into boxing, which led to an award-winning amateur career. Miles taught him, in stern and uncompromising fashion, the trumpet, which Gregory plays to this day, including being a bandleader in search of a new CD. In turn, Greg was his protector at times, occasionally using his pugilistic skills to keep menacing drug dealers in their place when his father (only 5 foot 6 and often in pain and bad health) could not. Protector in drug situations. It was a hot and cold relationship, as one would expect when it involves the mercurial Miles. But water does travel under the bridge and move on.
It should, anyway.
"Sketches of Pain one headliner apparently couldn't resist above a recent review of Gregory's book. But in speaking with him, he really doesn't project that pain. Surely he went through it, but young Davis had his own problems, including drugs and brushes with the law. Sometimes it was a two-way street as to who hurt whom between father and son. Gregory reveals some of the outrageousness of Miles behavior at times. But speak with him, and it appears to be a "what's the big deal? attitude. He is proud of "father he didn't call him Dad, as he aptly explains in his bookand feels he wasn't a failure as a father despite uncomfortable situations.
Is there an axe being ground? Are efforts to tour with a band and come out with a CD a deliberate capitalization on the book? One can't imagine Davis having an impact on the trumpet, especially at age 61, even remotely close to that which, say, Ravi Coltranea bitch of a playerhas on the saxophone. And yet capitalization and manipulation is such a part of any rock star's career, especially when it comes to CDs and tours, that it's a surprise when it doesn't happen. Was Rod Stewart's follow-up of a shit-filled standards album with yet another an attempt at capitalizing? That's really not important when it comes to the book, which offers another perspective on a musical legend. And this music that comes out will hopefully be judged of its own accord. And Davis is a decent guy. Approachable and open.
Gregory Davis spoke at length about Miles, music, drug use, the Miles legacy. The talk deliberately didn't try to hash through the problems among Miles' family. That's for them to figure out.
All About Jazz: What are you up to nowadays besides being an author?
Gregory Davis: Going to the gym regularly. Practicing the horn. We want to bring out a CD as fast as we can. We want the book and the CD to synergize each other. We're gonna hit 'em with a one-two punch if we can pull it off that way. Then probably a book tour. We're trying to set that up now. I've been talking to people on the phone all day about this and that. There are a lot of possibilities. All this promotional stuff. The promotional stuff has got to be set up right before anything else happens.
[In the past] I've recorded with people like Lester Bowie. I did a movie score years ago when I was traveling with my father, called God Is Not Dead. I did a B-flat blues in the movie score in Jimi Hendrix's studio, Electric Lady down in the West Village [NYC] years and years ago. This was when I first came to New York to help him out because he was going through so many changes and stuff. What I wanted to do was learn music at the same time that we were helping each other, father and son. I figured I'm interested in this horn, maybe my father, who is a great player, can show me something.
I wrote a suite and I've written a few songs also that I have copyrights on. They'll probably go on this new CD along with other new material.
I'm calling the band MDX. The X factor is "after Miles Davis.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.