Miles and Me
Univ of CA Press
After years of worship from afar, a young writer meets his idol at a party in a short matter-of-fact encounter that ends with the Black Prince sliding almost mysteriously out the door and into the night. A short time later he sees the icon on Broadway, around 81st Street. He calls out, hoping for a glimmer or recognition, only to have the sleek figure, clad all in black, including hat and shades, glide by without acknowledgment; nary a sideways glance.
Bruised, but not defeated, the young poet would have other brushes with the deity, and eventually strike a lasting relationship, the rudeness forgiven. Genius is like that. A genius sees things others don’t; hears sounds others can’t, Quincy Troupe explains in his latest book about his relationship with Miles Davis.
Troupe, the man who got to listen to miles of Miles, then provide us with “Miles, the Autobiography” in 1989, is back, revisiting the man he calls both an influence and idol, with “Miles and Me” released in March (University of California Press).
The book at first appears a curiosity, done perhaps to cash in on his link with the enigmatic one. The Prince of Darkness. The Chief. The Black Prince who carried a mystique, an aura, that few artists have ever carried. (Truly carried, not created by the media or publicity agents). Troupe had that ever-so-rare status of being in Miles’ inner circle. At least as “in” as most people got. That’s his advantage. But what’s he got to say this time?
While portions of the book tell stories that aren’t particularly compelling, other parts are engaging.
The book isn’t a must-read for jazz fans. But it’s a good read, and a quick one, for those who like the subject: the man who is not only one of the great musical leaders of the 20th, or any, century, but who set trends, and broke barriers in other ways, socially and stylistically.
”Miles and Me” doesn’t really tell us more about Miles than has the autobiography, numerous essays and other books, like “’Round About Midnight” by another of Miles’ close friends, Eric Nisenson. But it illustrates a special relationship between two artists, and in doing so is meaningful. It’s revealing in how one black man, growing up in a white-dominated world, viewed Miles; revealing in how the music of Miles influenced Troupe’s life, especially his writing. Many have admitted writing, painting, sculpting, etc., listening to Davis’ music. Troupe explains the effect in detail. It also provides some information about Miles’ life after the bio, in the last few years leading up to his death.
Some of the writing makes points about Miles’ significance, while showing his human faults and frailties. Some of the language has a rhythm, befitting a poet, and a visceral quality. Right from the book’s first word, Troupe describes the fabled sound of Miles’ horn in terms that are warmly lyrical; painting a portrait of the aural oasis that Miles could create. Always. Time after time.
Aside from a prologue and epilogue, the book is broken into only four chapters: “Meeting Miles,” “Up Close and Personal,” “Listening to Miles,” and “Saying Goodbye.”
Troupe’s descriptions of how people walked on eggshells around the trumpeter, and the fate of some who didn’t, are comical in a sense. That Miles could be gruff and mean, camouflaging a soft underbelly of a basically shy man, is not a revelation. But Troupe’s view from his particular seat in life’s theater is engaging.
Throughout, his take on Miles’ music, its effect on people and on society, is well thought out. Miles’ music “is brilliant, challenging, innovative, fusionistic, and futuristic; it has grandeur and majesty and is orchestral in its sweep,” says Troupe, and “should be required listening for all students of American music in high school, under graduate and graduate of musical levels of education, but it isn’t.” That opinion is far from revolutionary, but it is well stated, and a point that bears repeating.