Highway 61 Revisited: The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, and Country Music

By Gene Santoro | Go to book overview

7
Miles Davis

IT'S DRIZZLING ON AN UNSEASONABLY WARM spring day in New York in 1988; even the huge bay windows in this suite in the upper reaches of the swank Essex House, which sits on Central Park's southern edge, reveal only the muted greens of the reviving foliage below and the dull gray sky above. The plush suite's hallway is crammed with huge cardboard boxes; the living room has a Yamaha DX7 keyboard and a four-track recording machine set up within reach of an armchair where, across a coffee table littered with magazines (Details, Interview, Vogue) topped by a score pad and a couple of trumpets, sits Miles Dewey Davis III.

The disarray is partly because Miles's apartment is being renovated and partly because he just signed himself out of the hospital the day before. Once again, his body, which over the last 40 years has been ravaged by heroin, alcohol, cocaine, Benzedrine, barbiturates, sickle cell anemia, and car accidents and their after effects, is fighting off another onslaught, this time by the diabetes that has plagued him for years. “I got these sores all over my right leg from taking the insulin,” he rasps in the world-famous cough of a voice that somehow, like his muted trumpet, projects crystalclear. He pulls up his pants leg to reveal a swaddle of bandages and tape beneath a metal brace; his shirt hangs open to show a cotton pad taped to his chest. From time to time he shifts uncomfortably in his seat, his leg semi-stretched out beneath the table. When he gets up to open a window, he's stooped and achingly slow: the pain he's repressing becomes unavoidably, horrifyingly manifest. “I was in the hospital for three weeks,” he says offhandedly, playing off his reading of the reactions on my face. “I've got an infection right here from taking insulin. They say it was a floor germ that comes from the rug, y'know.”

I don't say anything. I don't know what to say. Rumors are milling around the entertainment world about what is ailing Davis, and the speculation runs right up to AIDS, hemophilia, cancer—you name it; if it's deadly enough, Miles Davis is supposed to be stricken with it. This is a typically double-edged mark of his stature: those who admire him and those who disparage him are abuzz with the same stories. He wants to

-68-

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Highway 61 Revisited: The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, and Country Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Highway 61 Revisited - The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, Rock, & Country Music iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I: Avatars 5
  • 1: Louis Armstrong 7
  • 2: Woody Guthrie 17
  • Part II: The Postwar Jazz Era 31
  • 3: Mary Lou Williams 33
  • 4: Max Roach 37
  • 5: Sonny Rollins 49
  • 6: Chet Baker 64
  • 7: Miles Davis 68
  • 8: Herbie Hancock 80
  • Part III: Rebirth of the Blues 91
  • 9: The Gospel Highway 93
  • 10: Chess Records 99
  • 11: The Folk Revival 104
  • 12: Willie Nelson 119
  • 13: Lenny Bruce 124
  • 14: Sweet Soul Music 135
  • Part IV: In the Garage 151
  • 15: Bob Dylan 153
  • 16: Electric Blues Revival 171
  • 17: Buffalo Springfield 179
  • 18: Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris 185
  • 19: The Grateful Dead 193
  • 20: The Band 204
  • 21: The Firesign Theatre 216
  • 22: Bruce Springsteen 223
  • 23: Tom Waits 235
  • Part V: Possible Futures 241
  • 24: Ken Burns, the Academy, and Jazz 243
  • 25: The Politics of Music Don Byron and Dave Douglas 257
  • 26: Cassandra Wilson 265
  • 27: Marty Ehrlich 278
  • 28: New Jazz Fusions 283
  • 29: Ani Difranco 297
  • Index 302
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