Miles and Me
University of California Press
It is perfectly apparent that that our planet is scarcely more than a kindergarten. Only a handful of children ever graduate from this metaphorical playground, where little girls get their hair pulled, and little boys refuse to let others play "because it's my ball," so there. Attitude starts early, in other words, and a guy of fifty is unlikely to be able to shed some of the stuff he believed in when he was five. The hugely talented, moreover, probably feel confirmed of their attitude, and "I gotta be me" becomes their credo.
Mr. Davis emerges as less than sympathetic in Quincy Troupe's book. Mr. Davis hated to be approached by strangers, he would have done well in the country of my birth where there was a time when a Brit. wouldn't dream of speaking to someone without a proper introduction (wonder who actually got the ball rolling?). But what do you do with such a talented kid who fills the playground with glorious sound? I would have offered him a toffee. And if he had snatched at all of my toffees, I would have bloodied his nose. I would have then turned haughtily on my tiny heel and walked away, and never told little Master Davis when I had purchased one of his recordings certainly not, I wouldn't have given him the satisfaction.
Sigh! How horrible we all are to each other. One or two of our chums sometimes think of how dismal it must be to be American, and to be a Negro America, utterly appalling. The woman (my wife) is small and bundled into a compact conglomeration of righteousness and sense of fair play. The sort of woman who insists that one should help people whenever possible. "Well," she would say, "he plays the trumpet quite nicely, and I suppose it can't be easy over there, being, you know, dark and everything, and there are those dreadful persons with sheets over their heads, but then it can't be easy being a Kurd or a lady married to one of those Talibans, either. But he doesn't have to be rude, does he!" To which I would reply "No dear, you are right, as always." Then one would note the difference. She would never say "Of course I'm right." She is too much of a lady. Besides, she works in a kindergarten.
So, Quincy, my old playground chum, your book tells much about the man that we always suspected. That bit where Mr. Davis couldn't fathom a woman claiming to know more about art than he did seemed to be the sum total of what your chum was all about as a person.
It is no secret that to transcend the brutality of racism, an American Negro of talent, and otherwise, is almost required to be hip. Troupe acquired his hipness along the lines of the Mr. Davis variety, and eventually got close to the man himself.
As a personal memoir this is about as good as it gets. Troupe relates sequentially, entering deeply into each phase of his friendship with Mr. Davis, beginning early with hero worship. The writing is sparse and to the point, continuously capturing the nuance and atmosphere surrounding the author's subject. The Mr. Davis charisma is made effortlessly plain by Troup's obvious talent for relating a story. One is able to read this book and have the world go away, always the mark of good writing, and, like yours truly, most readers will go through the book in a single read.
At the end I turned to the racks and started playing Miles, music. Mr. Davis is a little edgy on "Walkin'" and it is Lucky Thompson who fluidly smooches away the brittleness, and the trumpeter then reenters with more of that liquid gold he was to become famous for. But you're right, Quincy, "Bags' Groove" is still one of the best your man ever performed on, he has such a wonderful sound. But catch again that solo from Monk, it brings on an inexpressible merriment, bubbling up inside you know, the way Art Tatum can so delight that you chuckle right along with him. Maybe there is hope for us yet.
All of those who love Jazz and know what it can give them will want to read this book. Quincy Troupe makes it worthwhile.
by Lawrence Brazier
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