“If I was black for sixteen years and I turned white –I mean my insides and everything– shit, I’d commit suicide. ‘Cause whites have knowledge but no rhythm. Classical music was invented ’cause white people didn’t have no rhythm, and they could write it, and plan it and all. Once you have a taste of rhythm –say, for sixteen years– and someone say, ‘Do you want to be white, with all the trimmings?’ Shit no. Brooks Brothers suit is all right, but I’m talking about the feeling.”
That pretty much sums up what you’ll find in a book consisting entirely of interviews with Miles Davis.
Interviews with Miles work more as a test, a gauge of personality, for journalists than for Miles, who’s always, even over the 40-year span of these pieces, consistent: the journalists, however, seem to consistently and rapidly change (depending on the era/year) in terms of how they react to him.
Anecdotes galore: Miles made Mick Jagger wait outside his home for hours to meet them– then decided to send him away without ever seeing Jagger; Miles claims he gave Coltrane his first soprano sax (Coltrane himself, a much more reliable source, said it was left behind by another musician).
So, frankly, Miles is an asshole. But isn’t that one way genius gets heard? Like Metallica? Like their latest direction or not, they’ve always done what they wanted, as did Davis.
p47: “How much they paying you for an article on me?” For the first time, he looks me directly in the eye.
I tell him I don’t know. Things like that are always open, always speculation. Who knows, maybe the magazine won’t even publish it.
“Whatever you get, you give me half,” he says.
p 47: “Sometimes when I call him up,” [he] had continued, “I ask him what he’s doing. ‘Counting my money,’ he says. He’s got money coming in from everywhere. He got the rights to every single piece of music he’s ever written. Sometimes the checks that come in the mail stack up about a foot high.”
p49: “Well, put this in that article. I got the whole solution.” He pauses, pleased with himself.
“The solution to what, Miles,” I say, getting out a pen and the book.
“To all this Vietnam shit. What we gotta do is draft all the bitches under twenty-five and send them over there. All kinds of tough-looking white bitches, with all that clean, white skin and blonde hair and big tits. When these cats read in the paper that a hundred of them get killed by the Viet Cong, the whole thing will be over in a day.”
p52: “My lip’s hurting.”
“It looks split,” I offered. A bit of blood trickled down on his chin. He dabbed it with his handkerchief.
“It’s split, all right.”
“Are you going to put something on it?”
“Yeah, this trumpet, what else?” he said.
And the hits keep coming and coming and coming:
p 202: Musician [magazine]: What do you look for in a person to play with you?
Miles: His carriage… first. His carriage of the instrument. You can tell whether he plays or not by the way he carries the instrument, whether it means something to him or not. Then the way they talk and act. If they act too hip you know they can’t play shit.
Dig Miles’ wealth from being himself:
p 237: When he goes to Los Angeles to perform on the show, he stays at Beverly Hill’s sumptuous L’Ermitage Hotel. While there, he orders his white Ferrari air-lifted from New York to L.A., towed from the airport, and parked in front of the hotel. The Ferrari can’t be driven –it’s had a mechanical problem for some time– but it’s a stage prop that makes him feel good.
Miles’ early experiences culminating in his approach to improvisation:
p 243: When I was about fifteen, a drummer I was playing a number with at the Castle Ballroom in Saint Louis… we had a ten piece band, three trumpets, four saxophones, you know… and he asked me, “Little Davis, why don’t you play what you played last night?” I said, “What, what do you mean?” He said, “You don’t know what it is?” I said, “No, what is it?” He said, “You were playing something coming out of the middle of the tune, and play it again.” I said “I don’t know what I played.” He said, “If you don’t know what you’re playing, then you ain’t doing nothing.”
His approach to creation highlighting his general, uhm… irascibility:
p 260: “Some people, whatever is happening now, either they can’t handle it or they don’t want to know. They’ll be messed up on that bogus nostalgia thing. Nostalgia, shit! That’s a pitiful concept. Because it’s dead, it’s safe– that’s what that shit’s about! Hell, no one wanted to hear us when we were playin’ jazz. Those days with Bird, Dizz, ‘Trane– some were good, some were miserable… People didn’t like that stuff then. Hell, why you think we were playin’ clubs? No one wanted us on prime time TV. The music wasn’t getting across, you dig? Jazz is dead. Goddamm it. That’s it! Finito! It’s over and there is no point aping the shit.”
p 262: Time and again, the black man has fucked up. He starts out with his shit together, then he gets damn side-tracked by white folks, y’know, whisperin’ in his ear, “Hey son, you should do this. Clean it up. Tone it down. Get smart. Get jive. Get yourself a goddamn monkey-suit or somethin’.”
Anyway, it’s fun stuff. Get it, rent it, steal it… I dunno. Just read.