Miles onward aluta continua
Village News — June 13, 2001

"Miles was my hero since I was 15 years old, but I was not going to let him hit me in my mouth," said UCSD Professor Quincy Troupe, dismissing the suggestion that he had once had a fight with the late great Miles Davis.

The extent of Troupe's altercation with Davis can be found in his book "Miles and Me," the screenplay of which is within three weeks of completion, according to Troupe.

Troupe chaired a panel of Davis' former band members who met to share anecdotes and to celebrate what would have been Davis' 75th birthday at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido on Friday June 1.

The panel comprised: Buster Williams (bass), Benny Maupin (bass clarinet and tenor sax), Lenny White (drums), Adam Holzman (keyboards and Fender Rhodes), Wallace Roney (trumpet), and Patrice Rushen (piano & keyboards).

They returned to a much larger audience on the Saturday evening with Gary Bartz (alto and soprano sax) to play a concert, Miles Beyond, that seemed to touch upon each period of Davis' work without ever presenting a pastiche.

Davis, regarded by many as music's equivalent of Picasso, had definite periods. In each of them he influenced musicians beyond the borders of jazz and far beyond national borders. In Friday's panel discussion Maupin remarked that Jimi Hendrix had been scheduled to record with Miles Davis in New York in 1969 but died in London just a week before.

Holzman described his experience of being hired by Davis as a "synthesizer programmer" and, against his own expectations, retaining his place in the sextet for four years, becoming musical director along the way. His funky licks on the Fender Rhodes recaptured something of the 1980s era while at the same time offering a contribution to the millennium.

White was just a teenager when called upon by Davis to play drums on "Bitches Brew," an album that (depending on your point of view) can be blamed or praised for having invented jazz fusion in August 1969. Davis had a knack for recognizing potential in a young musician and would then manipulate an outstanding performance in the recording studio or the concert stage.

Grammy-winner Williams played bass Davis' quintet in the late 1960s. He remembers flubbing badly in front of an audience because Davis had spontaneously decided to count him in at a tempo twice as fast as usual. He said Davis then stopped the band, walked up to him (all the time without removing his tongue from the mouthpiece of his trumpet), stroked the palm of his hand down Williams' strings and then walked back only to count the band in at double time again. But somehow this time Williams played his bass note perfect.

Some of these stories are repeated verbatim like familiar epigrams. "I asked Miles after the gig, 'Miles, what am I supposed to be doing up there? He said, 'When they play fast, you play slow. When they play slow, you play fast.'" ѿ Buster Williams.

Patrice Rushen recalled a memorable festival during which Davis had stood behind her throughaout her band's set, just watching her play the piano. According to the Miles Beyond program notes, Rushen's bland style of pop-soul brought her a large folowing in the late 1970s. Nevertheless, seated at a grand piano, she demonstrated she is a sophisticated improviser with a classical background.

On both evenings Troupe acted as emcee while protesting that, being a poet, he is unaccustomed to public speaking. During the interval he autographed books. One purchaser asked him if the band would play "So What?" in the second half. Troupe explained he was unable to take requests.

The audience gave audible ripples of appreciation whenever the rhythm section played a familiar introduction to an old favorite such as "All Blues" or "Funny Valentine," but althrough that may have Davis' blue trumpet played by Wallace Roney, Roney is his own man. He's a scholar of Davis' solos, but he has his own tone and he makes his own statement.

Williams played the bass line from "A Love Supreme" to great effect under the melody of "Filles De Kilimanjaro," bringing even the late John Coltrane to the party.

The fact that each individual on that stage is at the top of his or her game made the concert more appropriately a tribute to to the memory of Miles Davis. As Wallace Roney said in closing, "We all wish he was here to hear it. But he was here in the music."