Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies

By Robert G. O'Meally; Brent Hayes Edwards et al. | Go to book overview

JOHN SZWED


The Man

I called him KingTut, and sometimes King John.What else could I call him? He had that royal thing.

Vernon Davis

Miles is a potentate. He's also a puritan, and the combination can be pretty sadistic.1

Lena Home

Beyond anything else he might have been, Miles Davis was the sound of his trumpet. It was a sound that was deeply personal to him, and almost mystical in its source and power to project himself through his music. Amiri Baraka once said to poets, "You have to start and finish there … your own voice … how you sound."2 Miles, similarly, could tell horn players that sound was everything: "Believe your sound."

"Voice" is a poet's metaphor, of course, an analogy between the speaking voice and the writing voice, conveying the sense that the poet is not only what he or she says, but how it is said. But Miles went further and added an African American dimension to the equation by declaring that the instrumental voice is analogous to the human voice. If poets can bring a vocal, tonal quality to words on a page, then the instrumental voice can signify words through its tonality and timbre. Athough Miles knew the words of all the ballads he played, he had no interest in having a

From John Szwed, So What: The Life of Miles Davis (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002) copyright © John Szwed.

-166-

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