Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Breaking Winds of Change: II or Miles and Friends

There is a Youtube site where I will get hammered if I dare say something negative about Miles Davis. Not by the moderator, who is one of the finest folks walking about, but by the online jazz loving community that doesn’t love anything negative being said about Miles Davis. So, somewhere in the electronic universe, here, wherever here is, I’m going to say the one negative thing about Miles that gives birth to all of the other negative things I say about Miles. So get your rocks ready.

Back in St. Louis, if you spent time with a certain group of finely aged musicians, you very well might run into someone who knew Miles way back when. Certainly you would meet someone who knew his family. So the Miles stories were just a little less mythological. The story tellers wouldn’t refer to Miles as some type of jazz god, but more like that little kid they had to correct or call his parents about. And for some, if he walked into the room in the middle of one of their stories, the storyteller, gray-haired but still strong enough, would have no compunction about stopping his story to get up and give Miles a good whoopin’. And Miles would take it, because, being the venerable teachers they were, they would explain to him exactly why he was about to receive the switch across his buttock so that he would understand the fairness of it all. These guys were like that. They didn’t have to ask for respect, you just knew to give it. You just knew not to interrupt. You knew that if you knew best behavior, use it.

Here’s the story. There was another trumpeter, possibly older than Miles, that Miles would care for. Whether it was from a war injury, a birth defect, this man needed the help, and Miles was more than obliging to give it. He would bring him to and from gigs, help him with groceries, drive him around to meet his basic needs. They were the best of friends. They would call each other on the phone and play lines to each other. One of the Venerables said, “It was Bebop then, and all these guys were playing so many notes, but when Bobby Danzig would begin his solo, the first three notes were so beautiful, everything that came before it, everyone else’s solos became meaningless, just float away like smoke.”

“You know,” they would say, “Miles’ daddy thought he was going to Julliard, he didn’t tell his father that he was skipping class to go play jazz. When he made it big, Miles, you know I never forgave him for not calling Bobby anymore. You know why, don’t you. Bobby could play better than Miles, and Miles wasn’t about to let that happen—that’s how Miles broke his new ground in jazz, copying the way Bobby used to play. Then the Venerable would allow his mind to drift back in time, remembering the sounds of Bobby Danzig, the echoes still as fresh as the original call. “Just beautiful,” he would say.

I never got a chance to hear Bobby Danzig, and that is because Miles didn’t want me to, or anyone else to, for that matter. When Cannonball heard Wes Montgomery he called Orrin Keepnews, John Coltrane called his friend McCoy Tyner—because, for all of the personal problems so many jazz musicians had, they had a way of fighting them off once they began playing. The Music had a way of giving them strength, their instruments were their swords. Miles—his ego defeated his music, and for so much of what he played, it was very difficult to separate his genuine music from his equally well developed con game, spending as much time suppressing jazz as playing it. What kind of a musician does that?

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