Putting in the Extra Miles Most Writers Seem to Knock off a Biography over a Couple of Wet Saturdays. Not Ian Carr. His Took 23 Years. by John L Walters
Walters, John L, The Independent (London, England)
On the wall of Ian Carr's London flat hangs a signed print by Miles Davis. Entitled Bebop, it shows an exuberant splash of colour and line against a luxurious expanse of white space, an intense evocation of the musical movement that Davis heard first-hand as a teenage jazz musician. Late in his turbulent life, Davis (like John Cage) created an impressive body of artwork, a visual postscript to a career spent changing the sound and feel of 20th-century music.
Carr also owns a Davis self-portrait, an ink drawing in which the lines of an exaggerated skull swoop down to sensual lips pressed against a skeletal trumpet. This sketch fills the title page of a first edition of Carr's biography of Davis (published by Quartet in 1982) and underneath is a dedication to "Ian the great".
This tribute goes some way to rewarding Carr's efforts over more than two decades to write, rewrite, expand and update his terrific biography of Davis, jazz's "Prince of Darkness" and one of the century's greatest musicians. Duke Ellington called Davis "the Picasso of jazz", an appropriate description for a man who changed the sound and feel of jazz several times over. Classic albums such as Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain, and In a Silent Way regularly top listeners' and critics' polls. (Bob Geldof claimed on TV the other day that Davis's awesome double album Bitches Brew, recorded in 1969, had much greater significance than the Woodstock Festival of the same year.) The Miles mystique - that cool trumpet sound and image - still sells and connects to people who know little of jazz and its history. Yet in 1975, when Carr began his biographical odyssey, no publisher would touch the idea. Carr, an impressive jazz trumpeter himself, had lectured about the music of Miles Davis and liked the idea of stepping sideways from the pressures of constant touring and recording with his band Nucleus. "I thought it would be easy to get an advance," says Carr, "but most of the publishers were so ignorant they didn't even know his name." Carr decided to go ahead anyway. An aunt had left him a legacy that would cushion a few months of unpaid work, and the fees from a studio project in Stuttgart (with an all-star band that became the United Jazz and Rock Ensemble) would pay for three weeks in America. He flew to New York "to get beneath the surface of that city", says Carr. "I knew that the key was Teo Macero," Davis's elusive producer. Carr finally cornered him at a mixing session. Macero asked Carr for a cigarette, and promptly ate it. "I said: `What are you eating the cigarette for?' and he said: `My doctor said it's bad to smoke them!'" With Macero's help, the Davis story began to unfold. Carr spent an entire night in the Columbia press office photocopying material, "leaving in the grey morning with huge stacks of dynamite material". He tracked down Gil Coggins, who had known Davis since they were teenagers in St Louis. The bebop trumpeter Red Rodney called up, demanding to be interviewed. "At one house where I went to interview someone, two policemen were shot dead by drug dealers outside the house." The neighbourhood "protector" had called in to dine with Carr and his jazz musician host - who provided his alibi while shots rang out in the street. A string of conversations with Davis allies - Dave Holland, John McLaughlin, Jack DeJohnette, Herbie Hancock, Gil Evans - started to reveal some complex, contradictory insights into Davis's life and music. "I thought I knew a lot, but it was like a detective story. For a lot of people who played …
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Publication information: Article title: Putting in the Extra Miles Most Writers Seem to Knock off a Biography over a Couple of Wet Saturdays. Not Ian Carr. His Took 23 Years. by John L Walters. Contributors: Walters, John L - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: November 25, 1998. Page number: 11. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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