XXI. IV. XXIII
Miles & Tony MAGIC: A Throwback
by John Kuster
It was a bright sunny day in L.A. Isn't it always? My friend Charlie Brown and I were cruising down the highway listening to our favourite jazz station KBCA. Now Charlie Brown wasn't his real name. It was Carlos Brown and he was part Mexican like the overwhelming majority of my friends on the eastside of L.A. We called him 'Charlie' as we thought it was funny! Charlie and I also dated 2 sisters, Tencha and Tina. Charlie was a tall brown skinned fellow with the best moustache in our high school. The importance of this anecdote shall will be apparent...
The show we were listening to was The Debonair Rick's Affair with Rick Holmes, our favourite DJ. On commercial break he announced that Miles Davis would soon be playing some dates in the area and one at a club I think was called the Sands. From that moment on it became our mission to go see our idol, Miles Davis.
I was a trumpet player and I first got turned on to 'Kind of Blue' by a music teacher about 4
years prior to this. I had to go to this show. Big problem. I was just 17 years old and you had to be 21 to get into a club in those days. Charlie Brown was our ticket when we needed to buy beer as he was tall and had the 'favoured' moustache. So we hatched our plan.
On the lucky day, we drove down to the club for the early show. I had a very fuzzy blond moustache that was hard to see. To fix this, I took some black shoe polish with me and in the car mirror I painted my moustache with the shoe polish. We then went to stand in line for the show. I distinctly remember feeling more than a little uncomfortable standing around all the dominating black guys. It's not that we were prejudiced, it's just that the races in L.A. didn't really stray out of their neighbourhood plus the 'Watts riots' were only a couple of years back. So Charlie and I were standing there trying to look all bold and bad!
The line started moving and I shoved Charlie in front of me tucking in behind him. As we came to the doorman, I tried not to make eye contact. To my utter amazement we got through the door and were seated at a table by the hostess. That was the last we saw of any staff at our table. They brought drinks all around us but never once approached us the rest of the evening. And that was just fine with us.
Soon the band filed onstage. They paid no attention to the patrons. Got their instruments and tuned up. It's been over 55 years so I don't remember all of the tunes they played although I remember at least one tune from the album "Orbit" I also remember "All Blues" and "So What" because I could play them on my horn.....somewhat that is.
Besides 'All there Blues' and 'So What' they played a fast paced kinetic version of 'Agitation'. Soon followed by 'Gingerbread Boy', 'Round Midnight' and 'Footprints'. One of the things about the performance of these tunes was how different they were from the records I had heard.
'Agitation' for instance was fast paced and kinetic. Tony Williams was furiously pushing the whole piece. At one point, he was playing softly under the piece and then he would make sounds like a violent thunderstorm. He would be quietly running machine gun hits on his snare and then blast out all over his kit.
'Round Midnight' was started by Miles quietly, almost whispering the opening lines of Monk's tune. His horn sounded almost mournful as he stated the theme. Herbie Hancock followed with a painfully spare take. On his composition 'Footprints' Wayne Shorter opened the piece with Miles joining him almost immediately as they stated the main theme in lockstep.This was my first exposure to modal music. Each member took the tune's theme in a seemingly unrelated direction. It was not at all like the 'record' that I was familiar with. Also played was 'Stella by Starlight'. I had a lot of big takeaways from this show. A couple that stand out in my mind is one, how the musicians would take a tune apart and after throwing it back and forth to each other would bring it back down to the original theme.
The other thing that stood out was the non-verbal communication between the players. It seemed telepathic, like mind reading where one or the other was going to go. Miles mostly kept his gaze down, sometimes walking over to Herbie's piano and then restlessly moving across the small stage to Wayne or standing facing Tony. I could catch him sometimes moving his eyes up at one of the band members I guess signalling and gesturing that he wanted him to jump in. There were clear moments of improvisation. Miles would do Be Bap Dap and Herbie would repeat that phrase Be Bap Dap and they would play with that, throwing it back and forth.
There is an incident that still stands out in my memory. There was a guy sitting not too far from the small stage who probably had a few too many who kept saying 'Go Baby! Blow your horn. Yeah baby, that's it, blow your horn'. In the middle of one of his solos, Miles jerked down his horn and not saying a word proceeded to give this guy the death look with his partly bulging eyes. He just stared and glared at this guy. Everyone at first sat in stunned silence. After what felt like a whole minute and this guy slowly slumping in his chair. It was then that the audience started clapping, I guess in support. Miles, without taking his eyes off this guy, slowly raised his horn back to his mouth and took up right where he left off.
Apart from Miles of course, the one musician who really caught my attention was Tony Williams. His drumming was churning in and out with volume and intensity. I had never seen anything like it. If Miles was the driver of this group then Tony was the engine. We had done it! We had seen Miles' 2nd Great Quintet.
After the show we went and picked up the two sisters and drove to our famous make out spot, Coyote Drive. Dark and quiet. We spent some time making out and it came time to get the girls back home. As Tina started to fix her makeup in the rear view mirror she loudly exclaimed, what the hell is all this black crap on my face? Holy Cow, I had forgotten all about the black shoe polish on my moustache! We had a good laugh about it later on...
(THE AUTHOR IS A JAZZ AFICIONADO).