Al Auger writes: Let a local jazz DJ lay a Miles Davis sound on the airwaves and I’ll remember the many dimensions of a man few people ever saw. Davis, who died Sept. 28, 1991, lived a meteoric career that defined him as taciturn, humorless, anti-social and totally immersed in his music. Never speaking to his audience, no song title announcements and no acknowledgements of sidemen (though there was always respect and admiration and he always hired the best).
When not playing — and often when playing — during a set, Davis would simply walk away, turning his back on the audience. These and many other idiosyncrasies kept the myths and legends of Davis growing and enlarging.
His autobiography, which came out just after his death, did nothing to deny or soften this perception. Filled with an inordinate sense of self, larded with hubris and anger, it was an unfortunate last word from a man that changed the world of music.
Such, I discovered, was not always the case — earlier on, at least — in off-stage relationships, long before his debilitating illnesses, the fateful marriage to Cicely Tyson and his unfortunate experiments with fusion and the avant garde. This man of so much perceived darkness was also a human being with corners of light and humor that surfaced, if only now and then, with the wry sense of a child.
Back in the early 1960s, Davis was playing a week at the now-defunct Black Hawk club in San Francisco. At the time, I was writing motorsports columns for Bay Area newspapers and I remembered that Davis was a certified Ferrari buff, owning two at the time. I called the manager of the club requesting an interview, explaining my angle.
“Well,” he chuckled, “you know his personality. But, if you want to come by, I’ll tell his manager you’re coming and you can always hope.”
That night found me sitting at the bar as Davis closed out his first set, my palms a bit damp and mouth dry: Will he, or won’t he? The stage lights dimmed and, wow, here he comes … (read more)