It's too bad "Miles," the autobiography of Miles
Davis, wasn't a compact disc. There's some good shit there
but...please excuse the four-letter word. Reading this book gets you
accustomed to being in their company. You would like to be able to
program only half the tracks.
This is a tough slim volume
disguised as a flabby 431-page, $22.95 tome. You keep wanting to tell
this master who fostered two generations and at least four musical
styles to "play not talk," as he once told an auditioning
"Miles," though written "with"
Quincy Troupe, does not lean on a ghost. It does not go begging for
the mass market and it is anything but one of those "I love
everybody and everybody loves me" puff jobs.
passages deserve to be collected into a pamphlet for required reading
in conservatories. There's material about racism in music that
everybody knows but few people come out and say. The progammable half
also contains some stranger than fiction information about colleagues
and stars and ex-wives and girlfriends. There's enough gossip and sex,
drugs and violence for one and all.
But you would expect
somebody called the "Prince of Silence" to choose his words
with more care. He calls it "no respect" when Ornette
Colemen first "tried to play trumpet and violin. ...He couldn't
play either one of those instruments. That was an insult to people
like me and Diz [Gillespie]. I certainly wouldn't walk up on stage and
try to play saxophone if I couldn't play." Whatever happened to
the benefit of the doubt?
"Miles" is riddled with
redundancy (we are told he learned phrasing from Frank Sinatra and
Orson Welles at least three times), unnecessary detail ("'Freddie
Freeloader' was a song named after this black guy I knew who was
always seeing what he could get from you for free") and crippled
prose ("my only connection with the outside world was mostly
through watching television"). All of it buried under a heavy
load of scatology.
Lenny Bruce taught us that there are no
dirty words, just dirty minds. But the tone here is sour; sheer
quantity offends. Irony, ambiguity and grace rarely enter the picture.
The relationship of spoken to written words is like that of live
improvisation to a recording. This reads like the first take of a
master who doesn't want to bother hanging around the studio. (Word was
out that he hasn't read his book and doesn't intend to).
would be easy to criticize the editing but you can understand a
collaborator not wanting to push the personality presented here too
hard. People are afraid of him, he admits, "because of my
reputation for bluntness and liking to be left alone."
firing his manager, David Franklin, after the latter negotiated a
seven-figure recording contract with Warner Brothers that gives the
recording company publishing rights (without explaining why he himself
signed it), the prince proves his mastery of revenge (which, as we
have been told by Archie Bunker, is the best way to get even): "That's
why you don't see my songs on my new albums: Warner Brothers would get
the rights to use those tunes, not me. So until we renegotiate that
point, you're going to always see someone else's tunes on my records."
the end of his relationship with his wife - the actress Cicely Tyson -
they had an argument and she "jumped up on my back and pulled my
hair weave right out of my head." He slapped her and "before
I knew it I slapped her again." He "punched out" his
road manager Jim Rose "upside the head" in a dispute over
money. Obviously, both deserved it.
He fired his nephew, the
drummer Vincent Wilburn, because he kept "dropping the time."
(Is that really essential public information?) Miles's sister and her
husband both called asking that he at least wait until after a concert
in Chicago, their home, so it would be less embarrassing for their
son. Miles refused: "Music don't have friends like that." He
admits to not being a "proper father, but that just wasn't my
He used every drug from the Golden Triangle to Medellin by way
of Cognac and Virginia (four packs a day). He stopped because he had a
stroke and anyway it was getting boring. Which rings true. There is,
thankfully, no moralizing. However, when he says that the only thing
wrong with cocaine is that you can get busted for it, this is
inconsistent at the very least. But he's even up-front about copping
out: "I have few regrets and little guilt. Those regrets I do
have I don't want to talk about."
So many people
disappointed him - Bird, Duke, Blakey. This insomniac seemed to spend
his time with his valet in his Central Park South apartment and Malibu
beach house, brooding and stroking his ego: "Some of the critics
were talking about how aloof I was, but that didn't bother me; I had
been this way all my life." He and John Coltrane did not get
along at first because "my silence and evil looks probably turned
The author looks in the mirror and says to
himself how handsome he is.
"Many people he's known
don't call any more," Quincy Troupe told Vanity Fair. "I saw
Max Roach and Sonny Rollins the other day. They said 'How's Miles?'
They used to all be like brothers. Miles still says 'Max is my
brother.' But they don't see each other."
Only music -
and Gil Evans - never let him down.
About the present vs the
past: "When I hear musicians today playing all those same licks
we used to play so long ago, I feel sad for them. I mean, it's like
going to bed with a real old person who even smells real old. Now, I'm
not putting down old people because I'm getting older myself. But I
got to be honest, and that's what it reminds me of. Most people my age
like old, stuffy furniture. I like bold colors and long, sleek spare