February 2017 Issue
Robert Irving III Trio
With Special Guest vocalist
Chris Murrell (17-years with Count Basie Orchestra)
Winter’s Jazz Club
465 McClurg Court
Chicago Illinois 60611
Performance times are 8, 9:30 & 11pm
Tickets still available at: www.WintersJazzClub.com
“You can perceive the beauty and ingenuity of Irving’s music whenever he places his fingertips on the keyboard, his voicing and chord constructions as surprising as they are expressive.”
~Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune~
Pianist/composer arranger, Robert Irving III and vocalist Chris Murrell toured together as teenagers in a highly jazz influenced contemporary gospel group in North Carolina. As Irving went on to collaborate with the legendary Miles Davis for nine-years, Murrell became the featured vocalist for the Count Basie Orchestra from 1986-2004 garnering a Grammy Award and a subsequent additional nomination. The last time Irving and Murrell shared the same stage was in 1997 at the America Haus in Hamberg, Germany which is documented on the recording, “Full Circle” on Negal Heyer Records-Germany. Although they have performed together at family and private events over the years, Irving says, “Our engagement at Winter’s Jazz Club certainly has the potential of becoming our Full Circle-2 (alluding to a possible recording).”
That full circle has widened: Marlene Rosenberg has a history of working with great vocalists including Joe Williams who remained a special guest of the Count Basie Orchestra.
When performing with the Basie Orchestra, Joe Williams always invited Chris Murrell to share the stage and subsequently passed the torch to him in quite a literal sense. Irving adds to this, “All these connections expand that full circle especially when acknowledging that much of the music on my critically acclaimed CD, New Momentum was developed while collaborating with Marlene Rosenberg in a trio setting.”
Drummer, Ernie Adams (formerly with the Ramsey Lewis and Al Di Meola groups) and Rosenberg are both featured on the New Momentum recording. Irving says, “Ernie Adams is a consummate technician on drums who also has a intrinsic sense of groove esthetics despite the complexity of the music. For this, he is in high demand internationally.” The trio plans to revisit some of the highlights of that recording during their performance at Winter’s Jazz Club.
It is completely befitting and quite fortuitous that these accomplished leaders come together for this rare special night of music creation. Irving and company plan to celebrate the close of Black History Month with Irving’s arrangements of compositions by Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis; and this just to warm things up before Chris Murrell takes to the stage as he transverses Latin, modern jazz swing, new blues and surprise gems from the American popular songbook all reinterpreted through potent prism of this consummate collaborative collective.
For those who have never experienced the golden signature sound of Murrell, legendary jazz vocalist, Tony Bennett says, “Chris Murrell” is one of my favorite singers.” Howard Reich recently wrote of the piano of Robert Irving III, “The beauty of sound enriched by his harmonies and startling quality of his tone clusters, Irving’s practically orchestral approach to the keyboard surely was enriched by his tenure with Davis.” Legendary drummer Ed Thigpen wrote of Marlene Rosenberg, “What makes Marlene special is her strength and depth of understanding of music. In a world of clones, she has managed to emerge as her own person with her own sound and feel…her time feel is steady and she swings like mad.”
The officially statement of this rare and exciting collective is, “We promise to swing the truth, the whole truth and nothing, but the truth.” In the era of fake news in which we now find ourselves, the veracity of this statement is more than credible, nevertheless, the only way to know empirically is to be a witness:
Reserve your witness chair now at www.WintersJazzClub.com
Sonic Portraits Jazz Celebrates
“Robert Irving III-In His Own Words”
The Featured Cover Artist/Interview
in the Nov-Dec 2016 Issue of
Chicago Jazz Magazine
You can read the first page of this four page, in-depth interview at: http://www.chicagojazz.com/robert-irving-iii-interview
You may also request a copy at email@example.com
IN CONCERT REVIEWS
Robert Irving III Generations rare fall event!
Saturday November 12, 2016
To The Bridge – Off The Pews Fall Concert
Hyde Park Union Church
5600 S. Woodlawn
Robert Irving III Generations broke a long performance hiatus with a rare Fall season appearance at an exciting Inter-generational concert featuring the sounds of vocalists: Jade Maze, Kopano Muhammad, and Ifeanyi Coleman, jazz piano master, Willie Pickens, 13-year old piano prodigy , Joshua Mhoon (a no-show because his successful America’s Got Talent audition and taping), Trinity United Church of Christ – Mime Ministry, Rev. Dr. Vertie Powers and more. Generations performed music from their critically acclaimed debut album, Our Space In Time and also accompanied phenomenal 15 year old vocalist Mae Ya (who sang a stunning medley of Nature Boy, Killing Me Softly and My Funny Valentine). The band performed as a quintet featuring Robert Irving III-piano, Lolo Irving-alto sax, Rajiv Halim-soprano sax/flute, Christian Dillingham-acoustic bass and Charles Heath IV- drums. They were joined by Irving’s brother, Michael Irving (in town from Virginia Beach) on trumpet and lead vocals for the finale Wake Up Everybody with the full cast of performers.
The event was produced by the not-for-profit organization Off The Pews was created to engage in action with a focus on reducing violence. The goal is implementing and evaluating strategies that include intergenerational, interdenominational, and intercultural aspects of the community.For more info visit OFF THE PEWS.
Sponsors: The Chicago Metropolitan Association (Off the Pews) of the Illinois Conference of United Church of Christ, The Sacred Jazz Institute and Hyde Park Union Church.
Made possible by contributions from The National UCC Church and Community Renewal Society.
French Saxophonist’s Creation:
ROMANTIC CLASSICAL/JAZZ FUSION
LOLO IRVING : “No Limit”
The debut CD on the Sonic Portraits Jazz Imprint
06/08/2016 Radio Add Date /Street Date
Paris, France native alto saxophonist, Lolo Irving (formerly known as Laurence d’Estival Irving) excitedly announces her self-produced creation of Romantic Classical/Jazz Fusion entitled, “No Limit” on the Chicago based Sonic Portraits Jazz label imprint. The project launched with a special VIP media release event attended by 165 guest on June 18, 2016. The event was a unique private listening party featuring the Joel Hall Dancers and the world premiere of Lolo Irving’s first music video from the album.
Before relocating to Chicago in 2013, Ms. Irving taught music in the suburbs of Paris and produced master’s classes/documentaries with, most notably, **Archie Shepp and Robert Irving III, nine year collaborator with Miles Davis. She and Irving had met in 1995 during a master’s class with David Murray near Paris. They wedded in 2012 and together, founded the band Robert Irving III Generations, which, in November 2015, released it’s now critically acclaimed CD, “Our Space in Time”. Howard Reich wrote in the Chicago Tribune of Lolo Irving, “(She) became a key figure in the band… no denying the force and fervor of Ms. Irving’s alto saxophone,” and her “imploring solos.”
As a teenager, a young Lolo Irving heard, almost daily, the music from the album “Decoy” by Miles Davis (produced by Robert Irving III) and vinyl recordings of classical composer Erik Satie. This inspired her to learn the saxophone and eventually to undertake classical orchestration studies at Schola Cantorum where composers Erik Satie and Cole Porter had been students. She continued to earn a Master’s Degree in Musicology from the prestigious Sorbonne University in Paris. While she is proud of these accomplishments, Lolo Irving feels even more fortunate to have been mentored by two of her heroes; saxophonists, Archie Shepp and David Murray in her native Paris, France; and, likewise, to have toured with George Clinton and perform with Fred Wesley & Pee Wee Ellis and Roy Ayers. Ms. Irving attributes the Romantic Classical/Jazz Fusion mix of the “No Limit” project as being a natural progression of her early exposure to reggae, soul, pop and electronic music juxtaposed with her later studies of Jazz and Classical music at the University of Havana in Cuba (the native country of her maternal grand father). She recalls, “In Cuba we were taught to practice with Parker and Prokofiev on the same music stand, literally going back and forth between the two genres, marrying skill with sensitivity and spontaneity.”
This marriage has been consummated on her new album, “No Limit” with Ms. Irving’s adaptations of thematic threads from Romantic Period classical compositions by Scriabin, Brahms, Satie, Bellini, Albinoni and Chopin along side of works from contemporary composers, Duke Ellington, Bob Marley and Bjork. The ostensibly disparate blend of genres is unified by the horn of Lolo Irving of whom Howard Mandel wrote in Downbeat Magazine, “Ms. Irving’s fervent wail packs punches.” SPJ has also reissued Ms. Irving’s 2008 CD, “Divine” as a digital only release.
Check out Rahsaan Clark Morris’ review of Lolo Irving CD, music video and media release event at the Promontory on the “Featured Artists” Page!
Get The New Album NO LIMIT on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/no-…
Amazon Music: https://www.amazon.com/No-Limit-Lolo-…
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/search?…
CD Baby: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/loloirving
More music by Lolo Irving:
Also Recently released on SPJ is the prior masterpiece by Lolo Irving, “Divine” (Remastered)
available as a digital download only at: iTunes
IN CONCERT REVIEWS
Saturday July 9, 2016
LIGHT HOUSE JAZZ FESTIVAL
Michigan City, Indiana
Robert Irving III Generations featuring Corey Wilkes on Trumpet
Celebrated the 90th Birthday of Miles Davis
SMOOTH JAZZ PIANIST: ALEX BUGNON
SOUL CELLIST: SHANA TUCKER
VOCALISTS: MIMI JONE & TAMMY MCANNS
LAKE EFFECT JAZZ BIG BAND
“90 MILES AHEAD”
The Official Chicago Celebration on Miles Davis’ 90th Birthday!
Celebration Of The 90th Birthday of Miles Davis
Robert Irving III Generations -Featuring Marques Carroll
Happened on May 27, 2016 9 pm
At the Green Mill
4802 N Broadway St,
Chicago, IL 60640
If he had lived, Miles Davis would be 90-years old on May 26, 2016. This year also marks the 25th anniversary of his departure on September 28, 1991. Robert Irving III Generations actually formed in 2014 as a Miles Davis tribute band and later evolved into a vehicle for the interpretation of Irving’s compositions. The group has continued to infuse their performances with rare gems from the the Davis songbook, although, mostly without trumpet. The Green Mill performance featured Marques Carroll on trumpet. Carroll’s history parallels that of Miles Davis in that he grew up in St. Louis and was mentored by trumpet legend, Clark Terry.
Robert Irving III, nine-year collaborator with Miles Davis has made this birthday commemoration, nearly, an annual event in Chicago. The first of this series, produced by Stuart Mann, happened on Monday May 26, 2008 at the new location of the, then, Velvet Lounge. This performance featured Walter Henderson on trumpet with Junius Paul on bass, Charles Heath on drums, Scott Williamson on guitar and Miles alum, percussionist, Dede Sampaio. The tradition continued in 2009 and 2010 with various personnel changes that included, Geoff Bradfield on saxophones, Perry Wilson on drums, Larry Gray on bass with Walter Henderson being the constant. The Velvet series ended with the death of owner, saxophonist Fred Anderson on June 24, 2010.
There was no Miles birthday commemoration in 2011, but the following year, Charles “Rick” Heath IV picked up the baton presenting the event at the ETA Theater (as part of his “Jazzin On The South-side” Wednesday series). This year Irving brought in Wallace Roney on trumpet and Philippe Vieux (who worked with Eddie Palmieri & Horace Silver). In 2012, it was Miles alum, Gary Bartz on alto sax with Corey Wilkes on trumpet. The ETA closed for remodeling the next year a Heath moved the event to a temporary location called Global Girls Inc 8151 S. South Chicago. The band featured Barrett Harmon on trumpet with Lolo Irving on alto sax with Irvin Pierce on tenor sax, Emma Dayhuff on bass, Bob Davis on guitar and Charles Rick Heath IV on drums. This performance on May 28, 2014 branded as “It’s About That Time” evolved into the group Robert Irving III Generations. When Harmon damaged his lip, Irving decided to add another saxophonist, Rajiv Halim and Scott Hesse eventually joined the group on guitar.
Although 2015 saw no Miles birthday concert presented by Irving, this, nevertheless, proved to be a very eventful year for the group Robert Irving III Generations with over 17-performances at venues around the Chicagoland area, three festivals and the release of a new CD entitled, “Our Space In Time”, which has now garnered critical acclaimed.
The Green Mill performance was, technically, the seventh Miles Davis birthday commemoration event by Irving in nine-years. Irving says, “This year’s event at the historic Green Mill was exciting because it’s our first performance at a north side venue (other than S.P.A.C.E in Evanston). The fact that this coincides with Miles’ 90th birthday and the release of the Don Cheadle film, “Miles Ahead” is also fortuitous.
The complete lineup for this performance included Robert Irving III on piano and Marques Carroll on trumpet along with band co-founder, Lolo Irving on alto sax, Irvin Pierce on tenor sax, Scott Hesse on guitar, Emma Dayhuff on bass and Clif Wallace on drums. The music was all Miles and some Miles inspired repertoire from the group Generations.
The concert was attended the legendary philosopher, Dr. Cornell West who told some great Miles Davis John Coltrane stories during the break.
On Friday April 22nd, Earth Day 2016 five earthlings made heavenly music. Celebrating with out-of-this-world new jazz tunes and arrangements are exciting 17-year young jazz vocalist, Shakale Davis performing in concert with one of his mentors, legendary pianist, Robert Irving III, at the Venue located at 2903 Arthington on Chicago’s Westside. Charles “Rick” Heath IV joined them on drums along with three background vocalists who brought the lush harmonies of Shakale Davis to life on his three original compositions. “Chicago has historically been a cradle of great jazz vocalists including, Johnny Hartman, Dinah Washington and Nat King Cole,” Irving asserts, “Shakale Davis brings hope for the continuation of this tradition into the next generation.
Davis is a frequent performer at the Jazz Links Jam Session at the Chicago Cultural Center sponsored by the Jazz Institute of Chicago every 2nd Wednesday from 5:30 till 7:30. He has also served on the organization’s student council. Irving has worked with the program since 2007 and says of Davis, “More and more of my mentorship has extended beyond the jam session setting to include both private lessons and artistic support of student endeavors and in the case of Shakale, I’ve always been impressed by the quality of his vocal styling and choice of repertoire, but now I’ve come to respect his incredible work ethic in the development of his craft and now his stunning talent as a composer… It is no surprise that he has been accepted with scholarships, by both Berklee College of Music and Roosevelt University for Jazz Studies.”
Davis will debuted three stunning original songs composed specifically for this performance with the audience demand a reprise at the end of two. The Free to the Public concert raised funds to support Shakale’s trip to a summer jazz camp and upcoming debut recording project. You can still donate by contacting Shakale on his FaceBook page!
If you missed the Radio-Conversation get it now FREE at iTunes!
Friday April 15, 2016 at 12 noon on Vocolo.org and 91.1 FM
Rebroadcasted Sunday at 3 pm on WBEZ 91.5 FM
Robert Irving III and saxophonist Rajiv Halim appeared as mentor and mentee on the Barber Shop Show hosted by Richard Steele on Saturday April 16, 2016 at 9 am broadcasted on Vocalo (WBEW) 89.5 FM and 90.1 FM and Vocalo.org and rebroadcasted Sunday April 17, 2016 at 3 pm on WBEZ 91.5 FM in Chicago streaming at WBEZ.org. They engaged in conversation about Jazz Appreciation Month, the history and future of Jazz in Chicago! Steele also played music from the Robert Irving III Generations CD “Our Space In Time”. Listen now by downloading the Free podcast on iTunes.
Celebration of the 90th Birthday of Miles Davis
Live in Batesville, Arkansas
With Robert Irving III and his Quintet
The Robert Irving III Quintet performed a special concert in homage to the 90th birthday of the legendary jazz trumpeter, Miles Davis on Friday, April 1, 2016, 7:30 pm at Lyon College-Brown Chapel 2300 Highland Rd. Batesville, Arkansas 72501. Trumpeter, Walter Henderson was featured along with fellow prominent Little Rock based all-stars, saxophonist, Matt Dickson and Jamaal Lee on drums, joined by special guest bassist, Emma Dayhuff from New York City. Mr. Irving will also conducted a master’s class at Lyon College on that afternoon and students from the class performed along with Irving’s wife Lolo Irving on alto saxophone.
Trumpeter, Walter Henderson has toured internationally with Irving’s Chicago based groups. Irving observes, “Walter is an astute emissary of the Miles Davis school of cool.” Henderson has worked with a Who’s Who of notable artists including Redd Foxx, Richard Boone, The Four Tops, Jack McDuff, Buddy Guy, Little Anthony, Frankie Avalon, Dick Clark and Lou Christie.
Tenor saxophonist, Matt Dickson is a popular and versatile native Arkansan whose mentors and collaborators include drummer Alvin Fielder, bassist Bill Huntington of Ellis Marsalis fame, Opera soprano, Janice Yoes, New Orleans guitarist Ted Ludwig, pianist, Tom Cox, guitarist/composer and music educator James Greeson.
At age 31 Arkansas drummer, Jamaal Lee is a first call player transversing all styles with diverse artists including trumpet star, Rodney Block, American Idol winner, vocalist, Kris Allen, Cody Belew who advanced on the NBC’s The Voice, and the grooving Amasa Hines/Funkanites Band.
Bassist/vocalist, Emma Dayhuff, a native of Bozeman Montana, is also a recording engineer and producer of recordings for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Along with acoustic and electric bass, her mostly wordless vocals function as an 8th musician on the Robert Irving III Generations critically acclaimed CD “Our Space In Time”. A graduate of Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Ms. Dayhuff was mentored by bass masters Eddie Gomez and Vincent Davis. She is a 2015 Chicago Luminarts Foundation Jazz Fellow.
This endowed free concert consisted of a wide retrospective of music from the various periods of Miles Davis’ illustrious career arranged by Robert Irving III, including a couple of Irving’s own compositions recorded and performed by Davis.
News Short Takes
Robert Irving III Generations CD #30 CMJ And & # 63 on Jazz Week
The CD entered the national top 40 College music jazz radio chart at #30. The Jazz Week Chart is a 200 entry chart and the CD entered at 297 on October 19, 2015 and hoovered at 87-88 four weeks jumping to #79 and then to #73 amid heavy Christmas airplay! The CD peaked at #63 on the Jazz Week Chart on January 11, 2016 and remains on the top 100 chart as of March 28, 2016.
Click on Charts for Close-up View
SPJ Has Arrived
Sonic Portraits Jazz is here as an online place for you to hangout and sample great new music, view vintage and new video on SPJ TV and read jazz news & interviews right here on the monthly SPJ Magazine. And, of course, you can shop while you bop at the SPJ Store perhaps become a part of our fan based support of special Dream Projects as a Contributor, a Partner or a Sponsor. Just visit our Support Page for more information.
Bassist Frank Russell-Back In The Laboratory
The recording studio is to musicians as the laboratory is to a scientist. The result are, arguably, the same; inventions that make life better. Bassist, Frank Russell is currently in the “lab” mixing strains of music innovations in test tubes with trumpet statesman, Wallace Roney and composer, arranger/keyboardist, Robert Irving III. The project entitled, “Influences” pays homage to all the great electric bass players in jazz from Stanley Clark and Jaco Pastorius to Darryl Jones and Marcus Miller. The Darryl Jones tribute is actual the title tune from the Miles Davis Decoy album composed and produced by Robert Irving III. Another tune from that album appeared on Frank Russell’s Circle Without End CD on the Sonic Portraits Jazz label (2011) and receive extensive international airplay. Russell has hopes that history will repeat itself. He could be right as his 2016 release falls on the 90th birthday commemoration of Miles Davis and the 25th anniversary of his departure in 1991. Irving is also did an arrangement of the tune Tutu as Russell pays tribute to bassist, Marcus Miller. Watch out for our interview with Frank Russell in our on of our upcoming issues.
Excerpts from “Harmonic Possibilities” the Memoir by Robert Irving III
The following is a reprint of excerpts from New York Universities Institute of African-American Affairs publication Black Renaissance Noire Magazine. The excerpts were published in Fall 2013 issue. The memoir is still a work in progress with a projected completion of 2nd quarter 2016. From Chapter 12 “The First Miles”
Skin, Eyes, Ears, Nose and Throat
It was early October 1979. The black stretch-limousine arrived at Miles Davis’ distinctive four-story brownstone building located at 312 West 77th Street near West End Ave. The West bank of the Hudson River flowed just two blocks away. The drive didn’t seem all that far from the Sheridan Center Hotel. It would have been a nice walk. I thanked the driver for opening the door for me as he nodded toward the short-railed gate, through which I entered and rang the bell. No sign of activity inside. I decided to wait at least one minute before ringing again. After what seemed to be a long two minutes, I wondered whether the limo driver had pointed me to the correct building. I reassured myself that it ‘felt’ like the right place. Besides, I didn’t want Miles to deem me impatient, so I waited another minute. Convinced now that he didn’t hear the bell, I cautiously gave it another quick push. Just at that same moment, his immediate response somewhat startled me.
“Who is it?” “Miles, its Bobby… Bobby Irving.” The door popped open. Miles looked at me with almost joyful surprise. “Bobby!?” He imparted a brisk godfather kiss on each of my cheeks in congruence with that familiar gravelly voice that associated him with Marlon Brando’s depiction of Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather. Miles possessed that same voice of confidence and authority, along with a large serving of coy coolness smoothed out—even more— with a sprinkle of soulful jazz. “Damn Bobby, you’re short like me! Shit, you know, on the phone you sounded six-feet tall man… come on in. Man, look at you!” His cat-like manner felt as silky as the black pants and tank top he wore underneath a red smoking jacket trimmed in black velvet. “That’s funny Miles, cause I’ve seen photos of you, and you seemed larger than life too!” The couple of black and white photos I’d seen of Miles didn’t convey the true essence of his striking features. His generously meloninated skin would certainly blend in with a moonless night in the forest, making him invisible. The shamelessly inquiring gaze of his gazelle eyes would, however, betray his presence. You couldn’t bullshit those eyes. If you tried you’d only be fooling yourself. A prosecutor with his eyes would lay one bare, eliciting the whole truth. I likewise noted the peculiarity of his nose in juxtaposition to his ebony hue. It was almost the nose of Michael Jackson’s dreams. His deep skin tone, mysterious penetrating eyes, finely sculptured nose and cool raspy voice, were the physical characteristics that made him such a distinctive looking human being. But I soon learned that his ears— that is to say, his superior ability to listen and hear beyond the obvious, provided the integral key to his musical genius.
The First Hang on the Second Floor
The first floor of Miles’ home featured stucco ceilings and walls with dark wood beams. Two stacks of Heineken beer cases decorated the otherwise unfurnished space on the brown stone floor. Empty green bottles shared slots along side of their virgin counterparts, exuding the perfumed evidence of a recent beer party, possibly attended only by the host. Miles told me, “The maid is off today.” I shrugged off his stealthy explanation as a spectator with no voice suspecting this as being the normal state of his abode. I’d seen much worse, and besides many would climb down into a manhole to hang out with Miles Davis. “This is where we’ll rehearse. You can let George Butler’s secretary, Genevieve know what kind of gear you need. Make sure you get a Farfisa organ for me. Anyway, we can deal with that shit later. Come on let’s go upstairs.”
Like an inviting outstretched arm a narrow staircase reached down against the far wall. I followed him to the top of the stairs, which faced a large kitchen and center counter. The extra large red semi-circular sofa in the living room to the left stylishly enlivened the decor. There was a medium-sized television on the left side—volume down—with silent talking heads. A 22-caliber pistol on the couch pointed towards the brown spinet piano across the room. I thought, “I better watch what I say and play.” Maybe I had seen The Godfather movie too many times. “What’s your shoe size Bobby?” Pre-fitting for cement boots crossed my, now overly active mind. “Shh, quiet!” I told it. “Seven and a half for most shoes… eight though, for some gym shoes.” “Shit, I wear size 7… gotta get mine custom made. Man… I could give you some real nice shoes. Hey, why don’t you try on a pair, just in case?” He seemed to know my taste for black suede. The European flare gave them sex appeal. I forced one onto my right foot: “Hmm… oh man, they’re just a little bit too tight… real nice kicks though. I really appreciate you thinking about these for me.” Now, like a child, eager to find toys to play with, his eyes inquired in each direction, determined to locate something of value to give me. He quickly disappeared into the back room and reemerged with a heavy straw safari hat with a three-inch black and red-feathered band. He extended it out with both arms. “Here Bobby… now, you don’t have to take this unless you really like it.” I put it on and found a mirror. “It fits just right… it’s very nice… really unique. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Miles smiled: “Let’s see. Yeah man, that’s you. Looks much better on you than me.” “Wow thanks! Where is it from?” “From Panama, if I’m not mistaken.” “Hmm… cool… I love it!” “Can I get you something to drink?” “Yeah that sounds good… uh, what do you have?” “Well, as you already know—the first choice is Heineken of course…. I drink it room temperature, but I think I got some cold in the fridge. Let’s see, there’s, aah, black tea, and tomato juice… I could do a Bloody Mary. There’s apple juice and water.” “Miles, I love Heineken, but it may be a little bit too early for alcohol for me. So maybe I’ll just have some apple juice for now.” Noon wasn’t too early for him; so he joined me with his preferred Dutch brew, sipping from the green bottle. We sat on the couch, he to my left. Miles picked up the gun from the seat and fondled it.
“Don’t mind this Bobby. Just my little toy… Had a break-in, thought I’d get some insurance, you know what I mean?” “No problem, I got yah.” He opened the chamber and I could see there was only one bullet inside. He toyed with it, sliding the bullet out and in. I watched him close and spin the chamber around so that it would take five clicks of the trigger before firing. “Sometimes I like to fuck with people… pretend like I’m playing Russian roulette, but you see, I always know where the bullet is.” “That sounds dangerous Miles… you gotta be careful with that… I mean, you get distracted and forget, you don’t get another chance.” “I don’t take no chances Bobby, I like breathing too much.” “Haha… OK then.” I felt somewhat reassured, but not completely convinced of his safety. I later heard about him shooting the TV screen after the New York Giants lost a big football game. Miles laid the revolver down onto the sofa arm. I felt a sense of relief; now becoming aware of the tension the firearm created.
“So where is your family from Bobby?” “Well, my dad’s family is from Mississippi, near Jackson, and my mother’s family is from North Carolina. In fact, I spent about eight-years there after she passed away in 1967… you know—the last two years of high school and a couple years of college. We were about 45 minutes west of Greensboro near the Virginia border in a town called Eden; like the garden. It’s located along the Dan River that flows down from Danville Virginia. Good water source, so Miller Brewing Company opened a large bottling plant there.” “Hmm… near Greensboro?” “Yes.” “Now that’s a town I know about, Betty’s back-up band was from down there.” “You’re ex-wife?” “Yeah… and, you know, Trane and Monk came from down there too.” “Yeah, that’s right. Your ex-wife’s band, Funk House and my group, Yamama were two of the top bands in the region at the time.” “No shit Bobby?” Yeah we were friendly rivals you know. I remember they were always flying out to work with the ‘great Betty Davis’ in the mid to late ‘70s.”
The thought occurred to me that, even from that time, only one-degree of separation had partitioned Miles and I. Today, I marveled at the strangeness of this destiny as one, which I didn’t ask for, nor could have imagined. My limited knowledge of the vast scope of Miles’ career didn’t allow me to fully appreciate the privilege of being in the presence of jazz royalty. This actually gave me the advantage of not being star-struck by his iconic stature. Miles recalled, “I remember the drummer from that group…uh, what was his name?” “Nicky Neal.” “That’s right Nicky Neal… man, he’s a hell of a drummer… I mean, all those guys can play, but he’s a motherfucker! What are they doing now?” “As far as I know they’re still playing, but maybe not as the same group.”
“So Bobby, how’d you learn to play and compose the way you do?” “It’s kind of a long story… but um, I’ll try to give you the short version.” “Its OK Bobby, take your time… I cancelled my appointment with the President.” “Haha… well, in 1965 when I was about 12-years old, we had to move out of our big house that my dad rented in Hyde Park. The house and land got sold and so we moved into the Robert Taylor Homes. A nice name for the projects, but actually they weren’t so bad then. Anyhow, what seemed to be a negative move was fortunate for me. My new school, Beethoven Elementary School, had a glee club that also did some theater productions. Its funny, the school song was based on Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. So this was my first formal exposure to a classical music composer.” “That’s good Bobby… it’s important to have an appreciation of classical. Its like a gold mine, with certain composers, you know, like Ravel, Schoenberg and some things of Rachmaninoff, I mean, he and so many of those Russian composers were a motherfucker when it came to harmony… counterpoint, you know, implied harmony.” “Wow I’m not aware of all of them, but I definitely wanna check’um out. I’ll have to write down the names.” “I’ll give’um to you later, I just wanted to say that Bobby, but go on.”
“Well, the first song I remember singing in glee club was ‘Put On A Happy Face’ from the musical Bye Bye Birdie. I started to become more aware of the variety of different music styles. Just across the street from our apartment was Omega Baptist Church, where my mother liked to go on some Sundays. Jessie Dixon, the famous gospel singer played the Hammond organ there.” “Oh yeah…” “His contemporary style turned me on to keyboards and so I begged my dad for an organ and he got me a little Emenee toy pipe organ. It sounded more like an accordion with a two-octave range. The first melody I taught myself to play was the most familiar song I knew, The Star Spangled Banner. Eventually I figured out the bass part to add to the melody. I guess this began my theoretical sense of how the bass tones defined chords, without really knowing how to explain what I was doing. So, I began to pay more close attention to organ players and soon discovered Jimmy Smith. He completely blew my mind… But, his technique was way over my head at that time. “Oh yeah Bobby… shit, they must have made the Hammond organ just for Jimmy.”
“Once, my grandmother, on my mother’s side, took us to this old dingy church where the minister, Elder Bacon, played a heavy-handed bluesy piano style. I tried to copy him, but I couldn’t figure out what he was doing. Then there was St. Paul Church of God in Christ around the corner… they had two musicians, Samuel Hawkins, an older gentleman who played organ and piano in a more traditional southern style, and Stevie Harrison, in his early twenties, who sounded exactly like Jimmy Smith. I asked him to show me some riffs. He wasn’t much help because, you know, what he did was like breathing to him. And he didn’t have the language to explain it so I could understand. He’d say, ‘Like hey, just do this and this…’ His fingers moved in patterns I could see but it was too fast to hold on to. Anyway, Mr. Hawkins saw my interest and invited me to come join the Robert Taylor Park District Drum and Bugle Corps. He was the director. Most kids wanted to play drums, but beating on something with a stick didn’t turn me on.” “You know Bobby, that’s because you were already turned out on melody and harmony. But its still the rhythm that makes the melody swing.” “Hmm, I guess maybe I was turned on by melody and harmony… plus I thought, what if I got stuck with a big bass drum? So I chose the bugle even though I later found out it was limited to a few notes in the key of B-flat, as you know. Besides, if I’d chosen drums, I wouldn’t be here with you today considering your nephew, Vince plays drums.” “Well, that just wasn’t your destiny Bobby.” “Yeah… I guess not… So that summer I marched in the annual Bud Billiken Day Parade.” “I played in marching band too Bobby… you know those John Phillip Sousa licks like be-ba-bo-dop, ba-bo-dop, be-bo-dop, (singing in descending triad patterns). “Whoah man… I remember those licks… huh!” “I still quote that shit in some of my solos.” “Wow… all this stuff is so interrelated!” “That’s right Bobby, you can get ideas from anything in life… sounds in the street… Rhythms from construction sites… some of my favorites.” “Oh my god… I never would have thought of that… That’s amazing.” “Well, people hear shit, but it goes right by cause they don’t really listen… (and) take it in. It’s just noise to them. But for us it’s a motif… you dig?” “Yeah… for sure.”I thought about this in relationship to the term, Rhythm & Blues and how the former is the engine that drives the later. When we have the blues, it’s rhythm in the form of sound and physical movement, that has he power to shake us out of states of fear, anxiety and depression. It seems to breakup the stuck patterns and allow them to reset closer to a natural peaceful state.
“So the drum and bugle corps huh…” Miles prompted. “Oh yeah, so with prior experience on a brass instrument, in sixth and seventh grades they recruited me into the concert band at the Dusable Upper-Grade Center. This was the feeder program for Dusable, the high school, where Captain Walter Dyett taught folks like Dinah Washington, Johnny Hartman, Nat King Cole, Eddie Harris and the West Coast, uhh, trumpet player, Oscar Brashear and so on.” “Oh yeah… I know. Johnny Griffin and Jug (referring to saxophonist Gene Ammons) came outta there too.” “Oh Yeah, that’s right… so they started me off on French-horn; well actually it was mellophone, the one that’s spherical shaped like a French-horn with trumpet valves.” “Mellophone, in the key of –F too?” “Yep” “Small bore mouthpiece, tight embouchure … high pressure.” “Oh yeah… so you know about that, huh?” “Yeah it’s a bitch… the trumpet is bad enough. French-horn embouchure is so tight you can’t take a day off or your lip is fucking shot.” “Well, I didn’t stay on it that long, cause they switched me to coronet then baritone horn and finally valve trombone.” “OK Bobby, I see what they did… starting you with the hardest instrument… smaller mouthpiece first and going down to the large. The embouchure for each new horn is more and more relaxed. It would’ve been hard to go the other direction. You had a smart teacher Bobby.” “Hmm I didn’t realize that, but you’re exactly right… So, later in 1967, my dad bought a house in the Chatham neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. Actually it’s located near where Vince and Randy live (although I didn’t know them back then). My mother never got to see the new house. Now when I got to Hirsch High School, slide-trombone became my main instrument. Sometimes they had me play baritone horn or sub on tuba… actually, it was the big sousaphone.” “Haha… Bobby now I can’t imagine you on a big-ass tuba.” “People used to say the trombone was as big as me. Tuba was big, but at least it sat on a stand. Pretty easy to produce a tone on though, you know with that big mouthpiece. My band teacher, Mr. George Hunter would pick up any instrument, woodwind or brass and play your part if you got it wrong. Baritone sax and flute were his main instruments. He stressed that all horn players learn piano as a way to visualize the layout of chords when you improvise on your own axe.” “ Yep…same thing Dizzy (Gillespie) told me… Miles you wanna master the trumpet— play piano. Now he can play some piano too.” “Wow Dizzy on piano?” “You never heard Diz on piano Bobby? Oh yeah… he’s on some early stuff with Bird?” “No but, I want to check that out…
So, Mr. Hunter spent a lot of time with me after class teaching me basic piano theory and giving me stuff to work on. I got the big picture real fast. I’d skip Social Studies classes and lock myself in the private piano practice room when the band room was free. I worked out chord progressions and practiced jazz tunes every day. I began to see the shape of the scales and chords as a family of notes in relationship to other extended families and so on. Mr. Hunter also had a big band called The Moonlighters. He was surprised at my rapid progress and would let me go set up music stands and sit in on a couple of numbers on their gigs. It turns out that some of the members of Earth Wind and Fire’s horn section came from his big band along with Red Holt and Eldee Young. I only stayed there for two-years cause after my mother passed away we relocated to North Carolina. By that time I could play anything I heard in any key. That’s the kind of training I received in Chicago. Later I studied arranging privately and the writing just came naturally. I decided to study business in college since I already played music professionally.”
Rendition Or Audition?
“Bobby why don’t you go play something on the piano… Hasn’t been tuned lately, but it’s not too bad.” Miles didn’t know me as a pianist. On the recordings he’d heard, I played synthesizer keyboards, clavinet and a little Fender Rhodes electric piano. Did the Prince (of Darkness) summon me to his palace for an interview and audition? He did make it sound more like a casual invitation, yet I couldn’t help but think he would size me up in comparison to jazz piano giants like Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett. “Sure… is there anything in particular you’d like me to play?” “Just play you… whatever you feel comfortable playing.” I sat at the piano, adjusted the bench and looked down at the keys as if they might inform me on what to do. The white keys looked back at me like smiling teeth, as if to say: “We’s not a player-piano boy, so you better be a piano player! Now! Or else!” However, Miles’ words made me feel a little less self-conscious. So I trusted my intuition and allowed that familiar, inviting feel of the smooth piano keys to arouse my fingers, initiating tactile tingling, awakening my inner muse. My fingers became aware and somehow knew what to do without the help of my brain, which could often get in the way. My five phalanges left and right listened, instead, to my heart, enabling me to float on the keys uninhibited. I freely transversed blues, gospel and jazzy idiomatic styles. Feeling intrinsically grounded, I immersed myself in these pianistic expressions until the music felt as if it flowed through me from the source.
Miles must have known that he was hearing a veritable summary of everything I knew about harmony and linear technique at the time. I suspected that he recognized the church experience mixed into my jazz playing. Maybe it was a plus, because a lot of great jazz pianists don’t play gospel and thus lack the vocabulary to synergize the two genres. But what if he didn’t drink his jazz margarita mixed with gospel tinged frills and phrases? Is that why he kept the gun nearby, to shoot the piano player? I continued to muse on the keys without looking up to see his reaction as I secretly awaited the verdict of what, ostensibly was my big audition. Miles spoke the verdict as my decrescendo dipped down to a trickle. “You know Bobby, you remind me of Monk the way you sit at the piano; your whole demeanor and some of your ideas too.”
I thought Miles’ comparative assessment of my pianistic demeanor was quite insightful considering that Theloneous Sphere Monk had also grown up in North Carolina (Rocky Mountain), and that his first tour, like mine, had been with a traveling evangelist. By comparing me to Monk, Miles shifted my self-image in a profound way. This gave me license—permission to travel off the familiar trails… to create new pathways and musical destinations outside the known universe. After all, that’s what Monk had done. Miles had also assigned me a respectable stylistic address, located just next door to Sphere. I thought, “Hmm, maybe Monk figuratively resided just “down the street” from Herbie and Chick.”
Miles rose from his plush comfort on the sofa and came over to the piano as if he were on an extremely important mission. “Bobby, check this out.” I stood to yield the piano bench to him. “No, it’s OK Bobby stay there.” He reached over my shoulders to touch the keys, giving me a clear viewpoint of his smooth midnight-hued hands on the slightly worn black and white ivory. His ease, fluency and depth on the keyboard surprised me, since I didn’t know him to be a pianist. What he played fused my mind like musical fireworks with unexpected colors and directions. With my understanding of music theory, I could clearly see the exact shapes his fingers painted on the keys. I gasped, totally fascinated and feeling extremely fortunate to have this front row seat. He played polychords, superimposing chords on top of other unrelated chords. He arrived several times at common tones on top— lingering while moving the rest of the chord groups down chromatically (in half steps); this while maintaining static pedal-tones in the left hand bass. The sound created tension and release unlike anything I had ever heard in my entire life. At that moment, like magic, the sky grew brighter through the large windowpanes to the left, as if the sun had also heard. Miles had facilitated my miraculous rebirth into a higher musical order.
Miles became the doctor who diagnosed a musical deficiency in me. The MD gave me the antidote—vitamin “see”—an instantaneous chordal-cure. It was more like he saw my potential and facilitated the evolution that took me to the next progression. The experience epitomized the aphorism, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” For me this life-changing event ranked right up there with giving sight to the blind. What seemingly started as an audition transformed into an advanced master’s class— the first of many. It was like a light bulb turning on in my head in terms of harmonic possibilities. Miles’ advanced harmonic approach continued to profoundly affect my work as a pianist, and to radically inform my approach to composition and arranging. Those conceptual lessons sprout new growth, expansion and evolution to this day. But more than this, his concepts, when free-associated with other areas, reached far beyond music to change how I viewed life itself. For example:
It came to mind that the implications of harmonic tension and release could be related to interpersonal relationship dynamics. Imagine being in a waiting room, and in walks someone you’ve never seen before. You immediately pick up bad vibes. Your vibration is like the note G and they are a G flat, chromatically juxtaposed, an enharmonic minor 2nd apart. Most of us would recognize this tension in the example of the first two notes of the piano ditty, Chop Sticks (F and G). This is a major second. So imagine if the bottom note were to go up a half-step (F-G go to F sharp-G) or if the top note went down a half step (F-G goes to F-G flat). For some people, this is like chalk scraping on a black board. It might be considered cruel and unusual punishment to force someone to listen to this minor 2nd interval nonstop for ten minutes. This is the interval heard a lot in the movie Psycho (for a good reason). Now imagine someone you met once before walks into the room represented by the note B flat just above your G. The energy and vibe of this third person releases the tension, making you feel safe and more at ease. This has to do with the harmonic interval, or amount of space between the two notes. This release is heard in the chord formed by the three notes. Finally, the mother of the one with bad vibes enters the room, represented by the grounding bass tone of A-flat, and now the four-note chord takes on a shape and sound that actually feels very hopeful. Persons living together in harmony resemble the opening notes of the Sesame Street theme song— a major triad. Harmonic possibilities are limitless, and can be applied to any area of life.
After our master class, Miles left me to unwrap countless musical morsels like Christmas presents. I continued to sit at the piano exploring the concepts for almost an hour. Miles went back to the sofa and nodded, smiling with approval, often saying to me, “Yeah… that’s right… you see that?” He realized that I really got it, empirically… and fast. As the giver of those gifts, he expressed delight at my adeptness in the assimilation of his brief but impressionable lesson. He seemed happy to play the role of mentor for such an eager student. Miles certainly observed the immensity of my gratitude and excitement about the new creative wings he imparted; wings I now deployed taking flight far beyond previous boundaries and limitations. This set a foundation that established and solidified our nine-year collaboration. On this day and during most of our time to follow, we related as convivial major third intervals… like the first three notes of the Sesame Street theme song… no dissonance… only harmony.
Cooking In The Key of C-Sharp
Next I learned the other reason Miles asked me to come over early. I had no idea that we would collaborate on another project that day, completely unrelated to music. Or I should say, at the time, I thought it was unrelated. Miles said to me, “So Bobby, I hear you cook a mean dirty-rice with smelts.” “Wow Miles… how did you know about that?” “Vince and Randy told me all about you in the kitchen. So what do you need to cook your dish?” “Well, I start with brown rice and while the rice is boiling, I sauté the onions, garlic, mushrooms, celery, green and red bell pepper. Then I add some diced carrots, broccoli and corn. After that, I put the cooked rice on top and mix it all in. And I season it with soy sauce and a little cayenne pepper.” “What kind of oil do you use?” “Olive oil or sometimes peanut oil.” “That’s good… What about the smelts… how (do) you prepare them?” “Oh yeah, I clean’um, remove the bone, open’um up and marinate them in balsamic vinegar. Then I batter’um in cornmeal, add oil on top and bake them on a cookie sheet. Sometimes I’ll add some garlic and onion on top. After they’re done, I squeeze some lime and add a little cayenne too. They come out like they’ve been fried.”
Whenever the band rehearsed at Randy’s basement in Chicago, the group would buy the groceries so that I could cook, what became, my signature meal. I smiled, surprised that Miles knew about my passion for cooking. “Damn that sounds good Bobby… I’ll show you my little secret trick that’ll make the fish melt in your mouth.” “Wow, I can’t wait!” “Here’s a hundred dollar bill. I’ll call the limo driver to take you to the grocery store. Get whatever you need. Uh, let me think about what I need from the store too.” Miles rifled through the cabinets, refrigerator and freezer, removing frozen shellfish to thaw out. “OK you want write this down so you don’t forget? Here’s some paper and pencil… so, you can get me some peanut oil, fennel seed, garlic cloves, cayenne pepper, lemons and shallots. That should do it… and you can keep the change.” “Cool Miles.”
At the grocery store, I was disappointed to learn that smelts were a mid-western lake fish and not so popular or available in New York. Instead I bought some perch and catfish. When I came back with the items Miles lamented: “Man you got all these nice fresh vegetables and then you get canned corn? Come on, what’s the matter with you Bobby?” “There was no corn on the cob there, but at least it’s Green Giant corn.” “Yeah… yeah, OK,” Miles concurred. That goes to show our perceptual bias due to heavy marketing of that brand at the time… “In the valley of the jolly… ‘Ho-ho-ho Green Giant” being the all too familiar jingle for their TV commercial. Anything on television had to be better, right? Besides, at home, corn was the only canned item I used, so if there were fresh corn I would have overlooked it, but never again. “Here are the pots and skillets in this cabinet next to the stove,” Miles explained pointing to the door. “I’m gonna need the big one though, for the bouillabaisse.” Until that moment, I didn’t know that Miles had planned to cook with me.
He reached into the upper left cabinet for a fifth of Jack Daniels whiskey. Since it was late in the afternoon, I figured he was escalating up from a beer buzz to a hard liquor blam. He pulled out a large glass bowl, opened the fifth, and poured in the entire contents. I thought: “OK he’s going to make a whisky punch with fruit and ice… Hmm, this is bound to be interesting.” Next Miles rinsed and patted the fish dry with napkins, and one by one dipped the fillets in the liquor, turning them to saturate both sides, and finally letting them sit to marinate. “This is my secret recipe Bobby. You can’t tell nobody about this… it’s gotta be our secret. But just wait until you taste it!” I told him, “Man I’m… I’m speechless. I mean I never, ever could have imagined anything like this. How long does it need to marinate?” “Oh an hour or so… oh yeah, let me put some fennel seed in there to tweak the flavor. Go ahead… fire up that skillet Bobby.” I didn’t understand why we needed the skillet hot when the fish wouldn’t be cooked for at least another hour. Miles broke open a few bulbs of garlic, swiftly halved the cloves with a butcher knife, tossing them into the skillet without removing the skins. This alone, for me, kindled thoughts of a wild, funky jazz-rock tune like some of the music from Bitches Brew re-entitled, “Fried Garlic Skins.” He then added a half-bottle of the peanut oil. He warmed all this up for about a minute, then told me: “You can turn it off now. See now, I’ll add a little cayenne pepper in there. Let the flavors seep into the oil. Hot oil helps to break down the flavors of the garlic and cayenne. When the fish is done marinating it should be just right.” “Damn Miles, you’re like a gourmet food master chemist!” “Well, I like good food and so, I have an idea… try it out… sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t… Just like improvising on the bandstand. But if it works… then—oh shit, it’s on!” Wow, like cooking with jazz!” “That’s right Bobby.”
Miles completely blew me away with his gourmet-cooking prowess. My grandma Muh had set high standards as my prototype of the consummate cook. But Miles raised the bar with his astounding, unique and unorthodox culinary techniques. I now knew that Miles’ creative freedom in the kitchen reflected his ability to cook on his horn… and vice versa. “I boiled the brown rice and chopped veggies for my dirty rice. He asked if he could use some of the vegetables for his bouillabaisse. I donated some onions, garlic, red bell pepper and celery for his simmering gourmet pot, into which he poured some white wine. He did an occasional taste test and made adjustments accordingly with various spices and additional wine. “You ever try bouillabaisse Bobby?” “Unfortunately I can only eat shell-fish if served by paramedics.” “Haha… you’re funny. Well, I guess there’ll be more for us. So you’re allergic, huh?” “Yeah.” “That’s too bad. I love lobster and shrimp. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t eat them any more. You born with an allergy?” “No… it began a couple of years after my mother passed away. Prior to this, I loved most shellfish, although oysters were never my oyster.” I explained to him, “At the age of 13, I worked with a crew of kids that sold subscriptions for the Chicago American newspaper. It paid a lot more than a paper route. Anyway, after we got paid for a day’s work I used to go and buy some fried shrimp from this great seafood joint in the neighborhood. I came home one evening, shrimp in hand, to find an ambulance parked in front of our building. I went up on one elevator as the paramedics took my mother down on the other one. So fortunately, I didn’t actually see her on the stretcher. It was the first time we knew she had a brain tumor. I think I must have internalized the pain of that while eating the shrimp that night. Within a couple of years after she passed, I developed an allergic reaction.” “Must have been pretty rough Bobby.” “Yeah.” “Wow… but you figured out connections to your allergy. Man life can be a bitch. But you know, the mind is a motherfucker, to create something like an allergy from a sad experience.” “Yeah I know. I guess my body stopped allowing me that pleasure; somehow I had to make up for her getting sick.” “Your dad… he’s still living though… right?” “Yeah he’s in Chicago… remarried. So now I have three new step-brothers.” “Does he play an instrument?” “Yep, the radio… mostly blues. But several of his cousins play gospel music— organ and one-played drums with Eddie Harris, Charles Earling and Sonny Stitt… lots of ministers/musicians on both sides. I have older cousins in North Carolina that are really great players, too. My mother’s mother, Marie Finney and her brother, my Uncle Bill, also played blues banjo together when they were young. That’s the closest direct link to musicians in my lineage.” “ So Bobby, what’s your cousin’s name that played drums with Eddie Harris and Sonny Stitt?” “Arthur Louis Cross.” “OK, I don’t think I know him… but a lot of great players came out of Chicago.” Miles put in the last of the ingredients. He then phoned Vince at the hotel and told him to bring guitarist/vocalist Randy Hall and bassist Felton Crews.
Awakening of The Slumbering Host
By the time the troops arrived, the sky had begun to darken. Most of them had their instruments in hand and were unprepared when a chill descended with the setting sun. The problem is that the limo dropped them off and left without waiting for them to go inside. Having fallen asleep on the couch, I dreamt of ringing bells and incessant knocking on a door. When I finally stumbled out of my dreamscape to realize that those sounds were real, I jumped up to reorient myself. Where is Miles? Did the police get a report about his gun and had now arrived with a search warrant? I went downstairs and saw the deadlock bolt on the door. “Where is the key?” Hmm… I ran back upstairs and knocked on the closed door of Miles’ private bedroom. After a minute or so he surfaced appearing more disoriented than I.” “Miles, there’s somebody at the door!” Without a word, he returned to the bedroom and rematerialized with the gun in hand. I panicked as he lumbered down the stairs like the godfather—packing-heat (the then current euphemism used to describe gun toting). As an insurance agent in North Carolina, I had once owned a firearm similar to Miles’ pistol. I considered myself fortunate in never having had to use it for self-defense. I hoped that the same would be true for Miles, especially during my visit. I imagined a happy ending, but then second-guessed it as wishful thinking. I could hear him down there asking repeatedly, “Who is it? Who? —I said who is it! Who?” He didn’t seem to hear or understand the response clearly. It could be that he was still half asleep. Just then, I remembered the group was coming over. About that time Vince said, “Uncle Miles, its Buffalo.” “Oh shit, Buffalo… why the fuck didn’t you just say so?” I exhaled as Miles released the lock and invited them in. The energy suddenly shifted from fearful to fun. It was our first knowledge of that nickname for Vince. Led by the hilarious wit of bassist Felton Crews, the band relentlessly teased him as they came upstairs. They assumed the delineation to be in reference to his Buffalo-sized head or that of the fish by that name. Although the name related to his father’s affiliation with a Buffalo soldier military fraternity, no explanation could stem the comedic assault that rippled all of us with laughter. Defenseless, Vince simply smiled and took names.
Vince introduced everyone and Miles gave each the Godfather kiss. Upstairs, Miles and I warmed up the food for them. He coated the marinated fish with a light combination of flour and cornmeal, and pan-fried it in the flavor-infused peanut oil. He began to slowly wake up as he personally served everyone. He waited with eager anticipation to see each person’s expression upon tasting the fish ala Jack and the bouillabaisse. One by one, bursts of “wow,” “whoah,” “fucking incredible,” and “oh my god” piqued his ears, and reconfirmed his extraordinary artistry as a gourmet chef. “Come on, taste this Bobby,” Miles said, hand-feeding me my first bite of the highly intoxicated perch. “Oh my goodness Miles… this is so, so good! Incredible! I can taste the subtle balance of all the flavors.” Miles looked at me, nodded and winked, reaffirming the sanctity of our secret. It was safe with me… that is, for one day. Randy insisted on knowing how Miles had prepared the exceptionally delicious fish and I couldn’t wait to tell all. He too, found it hard to believe. Miles’ generosity as a host equaled that of my most hospitable relatives in North Carolina. Of course, the crew felt at home with my dirty rice. At the time, I still had not consciously connected my family lineage of cooks and restaurateurs with my own talents in the kitchen. But, in retrospect, it makes perfect sense that my first collaboration with Miles would be on music you can taste.
The Man With No Horn
Over the next few days we ordered the musical equipment needed to set up a workshop space alongside the stack of Heineken beer cases that stood like a pyramidal sculpture on the ground floor of Miles Davis’ upper Manhattan brownstone building. Studio Instrument Rentals delivered my requested Fender Rhodes electric piano, a Horner clavinet and a Mini-Moog synthesizer along with drums and four guitar amps. Miles seemed to be beyond nirvana with the new portable Farfisa organ they set up for him in the far left hand corner of the room. In, fact, he appeared to be perpetually high on the transformation of this Spanish stucco portion of his living space into an electronic musician’s haven. Our youthful energy seemed to animate him. We were all about half his age. In fact I was born in ’53, which happened to be Miles’ current age. This meant that I was almost 27, the same age Miles was on the day I was born. For me this felt like a strange numerological alignment joining our life paths and destiny. He seemed to treat us with the same nurturing that his early mentors, Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Eckstein imparted to him as a young man. I know this because Miles beamed with a boyish sparkle on his face while sharing frequent stories of the good times with them. Today Miles extended his usual hospitality saying, “Fellas, there’s the Cuban/Chinese restaurant, La Caridad 78 is just two blocks away, so if you get hungry I can call in an order… and of course, there’s plenty of cold beer.” “Cool Miles… me’n Randy brought some Perrier water and fruit juices to make homemade spritzers,” I added. “No shit? Man that sounds good, I wanna taste one of them!” Judy, Miles’ attractive young housekeeper (who obviously doubled as his occasional concubine) assisted us in putting our beverages into the refrigerator.
Once we finally got set up and started working on music, Miles pretty much followed our lead as we jammed on the repertoire of our Chicago based group. This consisted mostly of music composed by myself or by Randy Hall, or by he and I together. I can’t say that there was very much innovation or new creation initially. However, the infusion of polychords by Miles on the organ felt intrusive at first then strangely inventive, pushing the compositions—and our ears— into new places that fostered many musical aha moments. His dissonant chordal approach altered our soundscapes with new harmonic tension and release. This fueled the frenzy of our patting feet and bobbing, 1979 Jheri curled, heads. I noticed that Miles’ organ playing sounded vastly less sophisticated than his complex acoustic piano technique I had observed on our first day alone together. But I knew that the sound of the organ itself dictated a more limited approach without a sustain pedal and due to the absence of natural overtones indigenous to the piano. Still, I could tell that he played with high sensitivity; listening and interactively responding to everything he heard. Of course I knew his “outside chords” were related to what he had shown me on the piano, but I felt a sense of reticence when it came to integrating his technique into my own playing within this particular context. I felt obligated to stick to the script and maintain the stylistic nuances we’d established in Chicago. I feared that the others would think I was just imitating Miles. Besides, Miles was already playing the role of himself. So, his private instruction would remain my personal treasure to unpack in the months to come… and to eventually make my own.
For eight to ten hours a day, rivers of sound flowed throughout that room with complete freedom of musical expression. Randy slid in with flying guitar phrases punctuated by dynamic decibels driven by the solid drum rhythms of Vince (Miles’ nephew). I contributed harmonies and ascending and descending keyboard licks playing off the confident angular bass lines laid down by Felton Crews. All this coalesced with Miles’ stabbing chord clusters and seemingly formless forays into other worlds. His organ splashes acted like a vivid over-painting that redefined the point of focus on top of our more homogeneous background colors of Chicago-styled funk-fusion. We began to establish an enthusiastic work ethic, ending each long day feeling more productive and anticipating what else was possible tomorrow. We were completely hyped to be playing with the greatest jazz trumpet innovator to ever live. Yet, somehow we didn’t think it was so odd that he never picked up his horn. In fact, his trumpet never even emerged from the case. No one thought to ask, “Miles, when are we gonna hear your trumpet?” Almost two months went by before I would finally, at the insistence of his producer Teo Macero, ask Miles that question. He and Teo had a famous love hate relationship that prevented Teo from asking Miles the question himself without being told to, “Go fuck off!”
After the first five-day workweek, Miles gave us the weekend off. Maybe, in retrospect, he was actually giving himself the weekend off. In any case, he invited Randy and I to come by the following evening for a special fish dish to be prepared by his neighbor Jack, who was a schoolteacher. Miles knew that Randy and I were fellow food prep enthusiasts and Jack had a unique recipe to share. Besides this, Randy and I were the principle collaborators and Miles indicated that he wanted to talk shop about our compositional and arranging methodologies. Since the weather was so nice on that Saturday evening, Randy and I decided to walk over from the Sheraton Center hotel. We decided on the route from 52nd and 7th Avenue over to the more eclectic 8th Ave north up towards Columbus Circle where 8th turns diagonally, merging into Broadway. I liked walking by the open-air fruit and vegetable markets that spilled outside of convenience stores and delicatessens. We winced at the occasional smells of garbage oozing from dumpsters located in the front of some buildings. This concrete jungle obviously had a shortage of alleyways. These were all things we’d never seen in Chicago. The same was true of the contemporary casual clothing vendors with outdoor displays where we stopped to look at some sunglasses. “These are as cool as the one’s Miles wears,” I told Randy while sporting a nice silver framed pair in the mirror. “Let’s see? Yeah Bobby they’re a motherfucker, but I think this black frame would look better on you,” he urged. I tried them on and had to agree: “OK I’ll take these. How much? Hmm, just five dollars, wow… cool.” Randy joked, “I can hear Miles now when he peeps you in those, he’s gonna say fuck you Bobby.” “Yeah man you got that right… Haha.” We both knew Miles to be a fashion fiend so we made it a point to dress to impress. Although Randy could have easily been mistaken for El Debarge, he never relied solely on his handsome looks. If he wore jeans they would be contrasted with a stylish jacket. I too strived to maintain a ten on the cool clothing meter as Miles always noticed and would comment. During the walk up we anticipated passing by a couple electronic shops where we could compare prices for the new Sony Walkman cassette tape players released earlier that year. At 59th Street halfway around the circle counterclockwise, we briefly enjoyed the green relief provided by the southwest periphery of Central Park. We resisted its allure, sauntering past Lincoln Center and then continuing almost 20 blocks up the progressively more upscale Broadway. We eventually hit 77th Street and walked over through the more quiet affluent residential area just past West End Avenue to arrive at Miles’ brownstone just before dusk.
I rang the bell and we soon heard Judy’s Australian accent inquiring, “Who is it?” “It’s Randy and Bobby,” we said respectively. Curiously, she didn’t open the door, but instead asked,” What do you guys want?” Surprised by her question, I explained, “Miles invited us for fish dinner with Jack.” She seemed completely confused as we heard her hollering back up to Miles,” It’s Bobby and Randy.” “Who?” Miles asked again in the background with that gravely voice of the God Father. Judy had now cracked the door open and told to us, “Look guys, I think Miles forgot about your dinner plans. He’s pretty high right now and not in his right mind… so this may not be a good time. Why don’t you call back later and see how he’s feeling.” This was the first time I had heard anything about Miles getting high. We looked at each other with the question in our eyes, “high on what?” If she had said he was drunk, we’d know it was the Heineken or Jack Daniels. I thought, “hmm … I’ve never smelled marijuana here and heroin would have made him more mellow. His apparent agitation and paranoia about who was there indicated some kind of speedy drug.” I then realized that maybe I had been a little naïve about things. I knew that Miles had not recorded music in seven years, but had no idea of his lifestyle or activities during that reclusive period. Was it drugs that had won out over his horn? I had heard fragmented stories of his two victories over heroin addiction when he was younger, but had not seen any evidence of abuse so far during our time with him. One of my older cousin’s had overdosed on cocaine when I was 16-years old, so I knew a little bit about its hyper-vigilant effect and suspected this to be Miles’ current demon. So, I said to Judy, “Look, Miles did invite us, or else we wouldn’t be here… so if he wants to cancel dinner, why don’t we let him make that decision himself.” She grimaced as Miles again screamed from the recessed ledge at the top of that long and narrow staircase, “Judy, I said who the fuck is it you talkin to?”
Before she could answer him, we heard a loud thud followed by the ominous sound of wooden stairs brutally meeting body parts not meant to tread upon them. Each slow motion flicker indelibly emblazoned fractal frames into my subconscious as Miles’ downward tumble… down to an unimaginable end. It happened so fast that the only possible response was wide eyes and open mouths as gravity made him a human avalanche. In a surreal finale, his body violently hit the short wall at the bottom, bouncing off to land— eerily unconscious. The deafening silence was broken only by our horrified gasps. Miles lied in stillness with blood on his head and his right hand still clasping his trusted 22-caliber pistol. I envisioned blue and red flashing lights preceded by a symphony of waning sirens. The corralling with yellow hazard tape, a flurry of peering TV cameras and quizzical news reporters would follow this. I pictured a flash of the New York Times headline: “The Legendary Miles Davis Dies From A Fatal Fall.” I fast-forwarded to the sound of a smoky trumpet playing, “I’m So Blue Without You” at the funeral. I wondered if the detectives would they find his stash of drugs? And, would a police investigation turn the blame on us or maybe even frame us as the infamous young Chicago drug suppliers? Whatever the outcome, the fact remained, that if we had not been there, this tragedy would not have happened. A dark cloud of shame, despair and fear descended on me. Somehow though, I snapped out of this momentary state of remorse and shock carefully climbing over his body to run upstairs towards the telephone to call 911. Judy knew what I was about to do and stopped me in my tracks urging, “No don’t emergency… I’m a nurse. This has happened before… I think he’ll be OK.”
Her somewhat nonchalant tone telegraphed a relaxed reassurance and a small sense of hope as she squeezed past me to go up for ice and a cold wet towel. Despite this I whispered to Randy, “Man I’m afraid if he wakes up, he might panic and start shooting like crazy.” Randy said, “ Shit yeah, she did say he was out of his mind… what should we do?” I was already in good position on his right side, so with great care I removed the gun from his lifeless grip, checked the chamber and stepped over him to hide the firearm out of sight next to his organ in the corner. Judy returned and applied the cold compress to the bruised spot on the left side of his forehead. I whispered to her about my relocation of the gun, nodding in the direction of where I stashed it. She continued to check his pulse and monitor his barely detectable shallow breathing. The sands of time crept slowly down the hourglass of my traumatized mind. While waiting for that brief eternity, I processed a thousand implications encapsulated with meanings and reasons why… all compressed into those precious protracted moments of silence. Judy seemed to know just when to softly ask, “Miles… can you hear me?” There was no reply. Finally, Miles began moaning in pain, eventually shielding his eyes from the brightness of the dim 40watt light. “What happened?” he mumbled. Judy told him, “You fell… again… down the stairs.” “Oh shit,” he replied with an apologetic tone followed by a long exasperated sigh.
Fortunately, he didn’t seem to remember any of the gory details. In fact, he soon began to sound very lucid asking, “So how long have I been out down here?” Judy guessed, “I don’t know maybe ten minutes.” I think the fall must have sobered him up, although an anti-drug proponent might prefer to frame it as, “it knocked some sense into him.” “You had us worried Miles,” Randy told him. “Yeah I’m glad you’re OK Miles,” I added. “Bobby… Randy? Where you guys come from?” “Remember… you invited us over for the special fish dish… you know, with your next door neighbor Jack,” I reminded him. “Damn that’s right… OK help me up.” We helped him back to his feet and he walked upstairs on his own. I was surprised and amazed at his resilience considering his 53-year-old body and the severity of the fall. “Maybe it was all those years he had trained as a boxer,” I thought. Certainly a boxer would instinctively know how to take a beating and, quite literally, roll with the punches. It was the perfect fall of a stunt man. I thought about myself trying to ride my new red Christmas tricycle down the front porch stairs at age five. It had been disastrous as I still have the cut mark below my right thumb as a reminder. Miles’ feat was not one I would dare try at home. About 10 minutes later, after getting resettled and back on track, he searched through scraps of paper in a small book to find Jack’s phone number and dialed it. “Hmm no answer… Shit I really wanted you guys to taste his fish dish. Let’s see… we could order some fish from the Cuban/Chinese joint, but naw— that wouldn’t be the same. Judy is there any fish in the freezer?” I suspected that he never actually spoke to Jack in the first place. “We don’t want you to go through all that trouble Miles,” Randy asserted. Judy said there was nothing as we continued to discuss alternatives for dinner. Miles seemed to have a great epiphany, suddenly cocking his head to the right, his index finger meeting his temple. He apparently strained to remember something that remained illusive. We kept silent as he now stroked his chin while slowly looking around the room. Finally he pointedly asked, “…Judy where’s my gun?” He tended to toy with the gun most of the time like it was a yoyo or the then popular Rubik’s Cube. She calmly replied, “I haven’t seen it… where is the last place you had it?” Randy and I looked at each with “I dun no” expressions worthy of Academy awards. I squirmed in my seat as Miles continued to press, and so Judy felt obliged to go “look for” and return the gun to him. As soon as he had the gun back in his hands, he opened the chamber to find it empty. “Where’s my bullet?” he now asked, looking completely bewildered. “Maybe you shot a turkey for our dinner.” Randy joked. Miles wasn’t very humored. “Judy did you move my bullet?” “No Miles I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Randy and I soon decided that it might be easier to eat back at the hotel. Miles apologized for not being able to pull the special meal together and promised to make it happen another day. We gave him a hug and said goodnight. Judy walked us downstairs to unlock the deadbolt lock with the key. On the way out I reached into my right jacket pocket and handed her the small bullet. She and I exchanged an all-knowing glance. She read my muted smirk suppressed with tightened lips. Our commensurate nods acknowledged that she would be responsible for creating the explanation for the bullet… or not. We departed. Glancing back at the closing door and seeing the doorbell again triggered an instant flashback of the entire drama. There would be many subsequent mental replays. “Wanna grab a cab back?” I asked Randy as we left the scene of what could have been a story with a very different ending. “Yeah man… it might be quicker if we walk back over to Broadway.” We walked in reflective silence. Inside the cab Randy, said, “Man who would believe the shit we just saw?” “Yeah man I know… like a fucking movie.” “Yeah, no shit,” he agreed. The scenes of this movie flashed in stark contrast to the one that replayed the innocent childhood memories of my first trip to New York. For many years the story remained untold except among our close circle of friends and family. I reflected on the fact that there was not just one story, but four different stories, each from a different perspective. There’d be Judy’s story that would be completely different from what Miles’ recollection of that evening would have been. There was also Jack, whom we would never meet. Where was he while Miles rang his phone? Had Miles actually spoken to him before and what was unique about his special fish recipe? Although Randy and I probably shared similar versions of the event, my personal memories made this the chapter segment of my own very personal experience while visiting the “man with the gun.” On that evening, I held a sense of hope that if Miles could survive that fall, he would one-day stand back up to reassume his title as, The Man With the Horn.
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