A DAY WITH MILES
by Dick Kraus
Some time ago, I was given an assignment to meet our music writer at an uptown Manhattan address to do a story on the legendary jazz trumpeter, Miles Davis. However, written in caps and underlined on the assignment sheet was the warning, "PHOTOGRAPHER SHOULD UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES GO INTO THE HOUSE UNTIL HE HAS MET WITH THE WRITER."
Now, this was unusual, but I followed the instructions. After parking my car, I waited outside the address, a 3 story brownstone building under renovation. After a few minutes, the writer, Bob Micklin, joined me. I asked him what the cautionary note was all about.
"I just wanted to talk to you before we went in", said Micklin. "I've never met Davis before, but I've been told that he is antagonistic towards whites and I thought you should be forewarned."
We knocked on the door and a black woman opened it. Micklin introduced us and said that we had an appointment with Mr. Davis.
"He's not here" said the maid and shut the door. Micklin tried again. "I told you he's not here" said the maid, defiantly.
"Yes, but he is expecting us. Do you think we could come in and wait for him?"
"I suppose so." she responded. We were led through a beautifully reconstructed first floor, to a sunken living room, and left to our own devices.
We took seats on a huge circular couch, in front of which was an ornate coffee table. On the table was some sort of mobile statue made of stainless steel. It had straight heavy wire arms which were balanced on some spheres and the whole thing would wave and bounce and turn with every movement in the room.
Micklin and I discussed our approach to the assignment, figuring that with his displeasure towards whites, we'd better make our requests for photos and stories as quick and as simple as possible. At one point while we were talking, Micklin gestured, and his arm struck the fragile mobile, sending parts all over the living room. We both turned two shades whiter than white.
"My God", I said. "We've just destroyed a costly work of art and now we expect him to stand still for some photos?"
For a horrifying half hour we struggled to put the damn thing back together, relying on memory as to what piece went where. We did pretty good, but after every attempt, we always seemed to have one little piece left over that just defied placement in the intricate scheme of the sculpture. As we were ready to try one more time, we heard Davis enter the house. Micklin stuck the offending piece under a cushion.
Miles Davis greeted us warmly and turned out to be one of the nicest celebrities that I have ever photographed. We discussed some picture ideas while the sullen maid served us coffee. All the while, we worked desperately to keep his attention diverted from the truncated sculpture.
Davis was proud of the work he had done in restoring the old brownstone, and took us on a tour. I photographed him in a room he used as his studio, with all of the mixing boards and sound equipment, as well as some of him with his horn. And I took photos of him with his wall of gold records as a backdrop. All in all, he was a pleasure to work with.
He speaks with a deep gravelly voice. He told us the reason, but I forgot the details. If I recall, he had a throat operation and the doctor told him to stay off the trumpet until he healed. He didn't and the result was blown vocal chords and the deep raspy voice.
When we finished, we felt that we had to own up to our misadventure with his piece of art work. Micklin told him what had happened and how sorry we were to have destroyed what was obviously an expensive work of art. And he handed him the piece that didn't fit anywhere. We expected to receive the full brunt of his wrath, especially since he had been so hospitable.
"Shoot, man!" he said in his deep voice. "Everybody's always knocking that damn thing apart." And with a few deft movements of his hand, the mobile was back together, bobbing and swaying in it's full glory.
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