Sunday, November 21, 2004

Life and Death United; An Intimate Portrait of a Man named Miles Davis

"The very first thing I remember in my early childhood is a flame, a blue flame jumping off a gas stove somebody lit.... I remember being shocked by the whoosh of the blue flame jumping off the burner, the suddenness of it....That stove flame is as clear as music is in my mind. I saw that flame and felt fear, real fear, for the first time in my life. But I remember it also like some kind of adventure, some kind of weird joy, too....The fear I had was almost like an invitation, a challenge to go forward into something I knew nothing about. That's where I think my personal philosophy of life and my commitment to everything I believe in started, with that moment....In my mind I have always believed and thought since then that my motion had to be forward, away from the heat of that flame." -Miles Davis.


Life.
Miles Dewey Davis III was born on May 26th, 1926 in Alton, Illinois. A year later his family moved to East St. Louis, a city full of racism, deep seeded and still smoldering from the race riots of 1917. Miles had an older sister named Dorothy born in 1924 and a younger brother named Vernon born in 1929. Miles father, Miles Dewey Davis II was a successful dentist and earned three college degrees. His mother, Cleota Henry Davis, was beautiful and dignified.
Miles grew up with relative ease. His family had plenty of money and they lived in a white neighborhood. One of the most painful memories of Miles childhood was when a white man had chased him and called him a nigger. His father went looking for the man with a loaded shotgun, but he never found him.
Miles received his first trumpet for his 13th birthday. He immediately took to the trumpet. His father spoke highly of Miles' talent by sighting his family's history. "By genetics and breeding Miles is always going to be ahead of his time. Historically way back into slavery days, the Davis's have been musicians and performed classic works in the homes of the plantation owners." Just as his ancestors, Miles continuously fought racial prejudices. His father speaks of this unfair treatment. "In school competitions he was always the best, but the blue-eyed boys always won first and second prizes. Miles had always to settle for third. The officials, Miles and everybody else knew he should have had first prize. You can't treat a kid like that and tell him to come out and say the water wasn't dirty."
The events in Miles childhood against his race left a deep impact on him and most likely fuelled his anger for years to come.


Death.
Miles Dewey Davis died on September 28, 1991 in Santa Monica, California. He entered St. John's Hospital and Health Care Center there in early September. He was suffering from bronchial pneumonia. Doctors noticed laborious breathing and wanted to insert a tube to deliver oxygen. Miles refused. However the doctors were insistent. Suddenly, Miles flew into a rage and turned purple with anger. Anger. Anger the emotion deep routed in his childhood. Anger led to Miles death. He suffered a massive stroke and entered into a coma from which he never would awake.
"The tragic irony consisted in the fact that Miles Davis was perhaps for the first time in his life, in the right psychological and physical condition to enjoy a relaxed, healthy, and carefree retirement, secure in the knowledge that he had given his utmost to music, and created what had been called 'one of the greatest musical legacies of the twentieth century.'" says Ian Carr in Miles Davis; a Definitive Biography.


Life and Death.
"The very first thing I remember in my early childhood is a flame, a blue flame jumping off a gas stove somebody lit....I remember being shocked by the whoosh of the blue fame jumping off the burner, the suddenness of it...."


Suddenly, Miles flew into a rage and turned purple with anger.

"That stove flame is as clear as music is in my mind."


Miles had always to settle for third. The officials, Miles and everybody else knew he should have had first prize.

"I saw that flame and felt that hotness of it close to my face. I felt fear, real fear, for the first time in my life."

One of the most painful memories of Miles childhood was when a white man had chased him and called him a nigger.

"But I remember it also like some kind of adventure, some kind of weird joy, too....The fear I had was almost like an invitation..."

Miles received his first trumpet for his 13th birthday. He immediately took to the trumpet.

"...a challenge to go forward into something I knew nothing about."

Miles Dewey Davis died on September 28, 1991 in Santa Monica, California.

"That's where I think my personal philosophy of life and my commitment to everything I believe in started, with that moment....In my mind I have always believed and thought since then that my motion had to be forward, away from the heat of that flame."

Bibliography


Miles the Autobiography
Milestones; The Music and Times of Miles Davis
Miles Davis; The Definitive Biography