"And Miles to Go Before I Sleep," Robert Frost
Miles Davis, older now, tired, worn, perhaps all worn out
Listening to Miles in the morning for the third straight day, I am bewitched. The man himself, aside from his playing, arranging, and music writing, is most interesting.
Son of a dentist in East St. Louis (Missouri), he was precocious in a number of ways, the horn being only one of them. He remembers being called, "Nigger, nigger," and chased down the street by white boys at an early age. He played in his high school band and, just afterwards, in a make-up group that jammed evenings.
Girls were always easy for the handsome, brooding Miles, and his first serious one was Irene Birth, described as a pretty, light-skinned, slender girl two years older than he at 18. She bore his first three children, and he later married her.
Clark Terry—a fine trumpet player himself—became Miles's friend and mentor. He played in Eddie Randle's band, then moved to NYC and studied at Julliard, but jammed so much at night that he was remembered as a poor student. He played with Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Sonny Stitts, Fats Navarro, and Howard McGee. The kid was among the best trumpet players of his time. He learned from the best of them.
And then he met Charlie Parker. The cross fertilization was vital and led to some of the best jazz ever played. Let Miles describe the relationship in the vernacular of 1950, which sounds little different from the street talk of today:
"The first two weeks with Bird was a mf, [editorial tasteful abbreviation inserted here] but it helped me grow real fast. I was 19 years old and playing with the baddest alto saxophone player in the history of music. This made me feel real good inside. I might have been scared as a mfr [ed again], but I was getting more confident too, even though I didn't know it at the time." [Liner notes.]
In 1945 the two recorded together for the first time. Of course it was Miles's first recorded session. It was on the Savoy label, and the group included Max Roach on drums and Bud Powell on piano. It was inspired music and has never been surpassed among small group ensembles.
Money was scarce, drugs handy, life fast and exciting. That life took its toll quickly. Miles was soon led into cocaine (by Trumpeter Hobart Dotson), then heroin (Sax Player Gene Ammons). And of course girls—pretty white girls—were usually available in numbers. It is hard for a man, especially a black man, to say no.
It was an important time for jazz historically, as the tired, deadly rhythms of swing and big band popular music were broken by a band of young hip innovators. The war was on ("W-W-Eye-Eye," for those who weren't alive then) and there were limits on travel, desegregation, and restrictions for military personnel. Bird became debilitated by alcohol and drugs. Miles had his own such problems.
In retrospect the problems are important only in terms of the music they produced. They are the price. The artist, the musician, exists only for what his art, his craft, will produce. It sounds harsh, but every cat knows this in his black or white heart.
And it is his life the cat knowingly sacrifices for his music.
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Miles Davis in concert
"And Miles to Go Before I Sleep," Robert Frost
I—the most stationary of beings—was surprised yesterday at the extent of my former travels. Let me explain.
I was listening at length to Miles again, and found that Disc 1 (Milestones) was greatly to my liking, consisting largely of Miles and Bird playing together. Bird (Charlie Parker) took many of the young under his huge wing, to the benefit of both. It is nice to have this great music brought together in one place, and not have to hunt for it in many diffused places. As I did in the past.
Disc 2 (Enter the Cool) was not as cool as advertised. Of course it is still good, though not so much to my liking (which may be esoteric and disputable).
Disc 3 (Boplicity) showed the subtle, literary, and complex workings of the Be-Bop mind, which I think was a bit twisted by heroin usage. Still great, though, and perhaps not in spite of drug use.
Disc 4 (Conception) is the one that teacaked my experience. I speak Proustianly. By now Miles had not only his own band, he has his own orchestra, though he often managed to break away and jam, which is what lies at the heart of jazz: individual improvisation, where musicians of similar great talents inspire each other to outdo themselves in a combination of competition and cooperation. The Bird/Miles alliance was one such event.
Suddenly, though, near the end of the final disc, there is this Chick Singer. She is good, and Miles plays muted (he was great at this) trumpet behind her, filling in the singer's pauses with those soft, exciting trills. I might not have known it was Miles except for the fact that it was his album.
The work was decidedly Miles, though there were a number of fine musicians it might also have been. Howard McGee, Buck Clayton, Diz, Roy Eldridge. I went to the liner notes. It was Sarah Vaughn. Of course. How smooth, how perfect the pitch, how great the sound and confidence. The concert was broadcast over that familiar medium, radio. On a Sunday night.
It was recorded at Birdland in May of 1950. Now, my father took me on a buying trip to NYC in June of the same year. We stayed at the Statler Hotel, a short walk from where Broadway merged with 7th Avenue and where Birdland was situated, downstairs, that is, in the basement.
My father went to bed early. I, a college student, 20 years old then, was restless and wanted to see with my own eyes and feet the great city. So I went out walking And drinking. The price of a drink was the price of admission. But you were expected to keep on drinking steadily. I obliged.
I knew, of course, who Sarah was. And I knew Birdland was where you might often find Diz. I played the trumpet myself, however poorly, and had progressed aesthetically past the point of untoward admiration for Harry James (aside from his wife). Miles was an unknown entity, just another horn is a phalanx of men who would sit in for an evening gig and a few bucks.
When Sarah was done singing, the closing cuts on the CD were those of a group jamming. I went back to my liner notes and read further: this was The Birdland All Stars. Okay, a made up name for a group that changed nightly. Art Blakely was on drums, J. J. Johnson on trombone, Brew Moore on sax (entirely lost down the NYC canyons of time), and Miles on horn. Of course.
The date? June 30, 1950. My God, I was probably there. If not that , one very close to it, when the Birdland All Stars were holding forth. Somebody was thoughtfully recording the whole session, either at Birdland or at the radio-transmission end of the circuit. It still is great improvisational jazz. I was a part of musical history.
Not really, of course, but so long as you think so, Most Stationary of Persons, you are. Fifty-three years ago last month. And knowing this adds to the enjoyment of those musical cuts. Time after lost time.
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Miles Davis as a Young Man
"And Miles to Go Before I Sleep," Dylan Thomas
We form our aesthetic when we are young, say, 16-22. This is particularly true with music. My parents were fond of Rudy Valley, Guy Lombardo, and when they were old, Joe Venuti (hot violin) and, ugh, Lawrence Welk.
Of course I could not stand them. My own tastes were formed during a similar period in my own life. As a kid I went to the Palomar Theater to see Louis Armstrong. Dixie Land and Swing were beginning to die and that dissonant, strange sound, Be-Bop, was being increasingly heard: Diz, Miles, Bird.
Naturally I wanted music of my own—my own time. And I lived on the West Coast, which soon had its own form of jazz—Progessive Jazz. It partook of Be-Bob, true, but it had its own stars and distinct musical sound. I embraced it. It was my own, music from my peculiar time. Brubeck, Mulligan, Baker. Of course there was much cross-fertilization from coast-to-coast.
It is that way forever, everywhere. I just watched a documentary video about some Pakistani cat who was breaking Muslim tradition by bringing his own form of rock and roll to his people. He was both despised and greatly admired. He was not ignored and, so far, he was not murdered, which is always a prospect.
I sent my son an email about my new musical find: the four volume reissue of Miles Davis by a British firm, Proper Records Ltd., of (dig this!) The Powerhouse, Cricket Lane, Beckenham, Kent, England. Their product is jazz not yet in the public domain but made available outside of U.S. copyright law domain. In short, it is pirated music, but differs from other people's product by being of advertisable high-quality reproduction.
I decided to take a chance and trust Dedalus Books and Records, who was promoting or perhaps remaindering it, along with its other books and CDs. I wasn't sorry.
There are other icons of my boyhood available and I will probably avail myself of them, for they seem a real bargain: Bird, Anita O'Day, Lester Young, maybe even Stan Kenton.
Here's the scam: four boxed CDs, with liner notes and a nice, long biography of the artist, in this case, Miles. Now, Miles produced records, and they were traditionally short-changed: a lot of short takes of about three minutes each and a record less than half-an-hour long. Sure, it was a ripoff, for you didn't know how little music you were getting for your young-man's dollar. (And, no, I am not getting paid for this promo. It is straight from the heart. A good product is its own advertisement.)
With Proper (and the title is ironic) you get about an hour and ten minutes to a disc. Four discs for twenty dollars averages out about five bucks a disc. That is less than a buck per hour. It is a lot of music, if it is any good. This is.
We've all heard cheap outtakes that weren't. They were recorded on wire at nightclubs from a table and your could hear glasses clinking and feet scuffling, laughing and murmuring. Not here, not so far.
And Miles—he is simply luscious!
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BlogStudio is having problems today and is hard to access. Traffic is down.
Rather than introduce part one of a new blog series today, we are postponing it until tomorrow. It is on Miles Davis and my memories of him, currently updated.
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Parade down a Seattle street, about then
There is not much true excitement in our daily life, and I say, "Hooray for that." What we want—most of us—is a life of quiet accomplishment. Desperation, excitement, well they can stay far off in the distance. Sometimes that distance is truly that. I mean, in the past.
One example comes to mind. It is true excitement, which must have the prospect of disaster to it.
I went in the Army, came back, went to graduate school at Berkeley for almost a year, then returned to Seattle. There had been some substantial changes in my absence and there was no handy published guide to what had taken place.
First thing I knew I was threading my old Chevy convertible through familiar downtown streets, on my way to one thing or another. I turned from a named cross street onto a numbered one that ran North to South. I had done that many times in the long-ago past.
I saw a car to my right headed toward me and thought nothing to it. Then I saw another car to my left, and it was headed in my direction, as well. And—the fool!—he had his horn blaring.
My wife saw the situation a nanosecond before I did. "It's a one-way street," she shouted.
They had changed most of the downtown streets in my long absence.
I slowed and looked to turn off Third Avenue at what I suppose was Pike. A car shot by me, the diver waving an angry fist at me. No, I don't think his middle finger was extended in colossal insult. I wasn't worth the driver's effort.
The street I turned onto was one-way, also, but it was one-way to my benefit. There were no cars headed directly at me. I pulled to the curb, in order to reconnoiter. I decided the clue was to look off to the side for signs that indicated with a great big arrow which way the coming cross street was pointed. All were one-way now, but it was not random.
Streets alternated their directions according to the master plan. And I was quick to perceive this, with some help from my wife.
That was excitement. Not enough to last me for a lifetime, perhaps, but maybe so.
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Amazon.com is planning to enhance its book search facility in a big way, bringing almost all non-fiction books under its umbrella.
It is called "Look Inside the Book II," and will supplement what it currently lists on its books-search page, which is a heck of a lot. If you know the title or author of a book, and keyboard it in to Amazon's book search page, it will give you a short menu of what is available under that name or author, or closely related subjects. It is quite comprehensive and outright amazing. See: "http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/131680_amazon21.html"
Almost ten years ago I published a book on flyfishing called Steelhead Water. Today, after seeing the article about Amazon's new outreach facility, I decided to look up my old book, which still happens to be in print. And there it was.
Under "Look Inside the Book" a number of sample pages comes up in spreadsheet manner—the cover, back cover, title page, and half a dozen or more typical pages, starting with the beginning of the book. (Of course Amazon provides this information on every book in print, many that are out of print, and a few that are not printed yet. Much of this material is automatically derived from Bolker's Books In Print.
In the future the listings will be virtually unlimited and will compete with Goggle's massive and comprehensive search machine. It is clear that Amazon is going to go head-to-head with Google. since both services are free, there seems to me nothing to fear and everything to gain.
As a writer, I'm glad to see my book made known and available. Readers can get the gist of what's inside from what Amazon generously (and dictatorially) provides. I don't mind in the least. I am grateful.
I'm still having sales, though not a lot. It's nice to know that, as an author, I'm still alive. And other writers must feel the same way.
None of the sample pages or illustrations can be copied, as are so
many things on the web. The right mouse button doesn't bring up anything when you attempt to highlight and click on Copy, and I'm grateful (though I'd really like to have a black and white reproducible of that color slide my publisher cruelly cropped and scanned that is on the back cover). But nobody else can have it, either, and that is how copyright protection is supposed to work. You may sample and taste, but not steal or appropriate.
I presume Amazon will continue this sound process in its new venture.
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Our riverfront property is for sale and has been for a couple of years. It is mid-bank on the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, outside of Arlington, Washington. It is a beautiful place—150 feet of stream bank, with an acre and a half of land total. Fishing year round, with fly-only in summer. A famous steelhead stream. I've published three books about this place, and other nearby streams.
People seem to be afraid of rivers. They are too dynamic. People fear flooding and loss. In nearly 30 years that we've owned it, it has never come within four true vertical feet of flooding. But people still have this fanantic fear.
Yesterday we drove up on a hot afternoon and I cut whatever grass lay in the shade with my weed whacker. We've had no rain in weeks, but in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains there is dew and condensation that keeps the trees and shrubs green. All the same, the grass is brown in many places, tall and lush in others, so the cutting was difficult.
The river is running a bit clay-colored, even though there has been no rain to activate the slide at Steelhead Haven. This is bad news. All the same, neighbors and children and dogs were all out in force yesterday, running through the shallows and trying to cool off. It is hard to do, when there is no available pocket of water more than three feet deep. But still you can scrunch down and let the water lap your chin. And the river is much cooler than the heated air.
Two bedrooms, kitchen, living room, bath with tub and shower. Deck 48 feet long, with near-absolute privacy, for those who like to nude sunbathe. Across the river, nothing but old riprap and tall trees, which is county-owned and can never be built on.
Price? Only $119,950. Email me, if you're interested.
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