You feel him, the way you feel a cold draft when someone suddenly opens a door.
This article first appeared at All About Jazz on December 2006.
The men's room at Birdland was, like the rest of the club, pretty much about economies of scale. A pair of urinals too close together. One cramped toilet stall. One gray-jacketed, tired old attendant who maybe could feel the vibrations through the walls when Philly Joe was playing "Two Bass Hit." But there was no way of telling if he cared about the music or the people playing it.
The Miles Davis Sextetthe Kind of Blue ensemblewas on break. I'd just finished up at the urinal and was patiently submitting to the perfunctory brush down by the attendant when Miles comes in. He's wearing one of his made-to-order "'Round Midnight blue Ivy League suits, the shoulders cut extra high, the lapels trimmed close and in perfect proportion to Mile's compact frame. He had on a button-down white shirt that made you think you'd never seen a really white shirt beforeand a dark blue tie with white polka dots and an off-white silk pocket handkerchief. Yeah, like the outfit on the album cover.
I lingered, washing and re-washing my hands, combing my hair, basking in the presence of my musical hero for as long as possible. I felt privileged just to be this close to him (and believe me, you feel him, the way you feel a cold draft when someone suddenly opens a door). I'm procrastinating, re-combing my hair. Miles finishes, zips up and comes to the sink. There is a palpable coolness in the air surrounding him. I almost expected a thin frost to appear on the mirror.
The attendant, a stout older black guy with his hair plastered down, begins whisking Miles off, starting at the perfectly tailored shoulders. Miles looking hard into the mirror with those eyes, freezes in mid-primp at the first touch of the whiskbroom on his million-dollar suit. He looks at the man just trying to do his job as if he were slathering him with the toilet water. It's the Miles Davis stare that has been known to drive grown men into the ground like tent pegs. And then the unmistakable, painfully rasping voice. The one we've caught glimpses of on the tail ends of recordings... the voice like gravel rubbed into a raw wound: "Git the fuck away from me, motherfucker. " Miles growled. " I'm not playin' layin' down out there.
The attendant seemed to whither, to shrink away from Miles as if he'd touched some kind of poisonous plant. Miles turned and walked out, leaving a cold spot where he'd just stood.
Thank God! I thought to myself. Thank God his music is so God-damned irresistibly beautiful.