This morning, I had the opportunity to speak with the Miles Davis Estate on a phone interview. The interview was set for 11 a.m. I had been up since 6 going over everything in my mind and my notes. I got in a second bowl of coffee, picked up the phone and dialed.
Both Erin Davis (son of Miles) and nephew of Miles, Vince Wilburn Jr. were kind enough to speak with me at length. Both Erin and Vince are musicians themselves both playing drums. They have toured with Miles and have lived with him.
In this interview, I wanted to find out more about Miles Davis than what we already know.
If this is your first introduction to Miles Davis, your timing couldn’t be any better. With a new documentary film “The Birth of Cool” and the newly released album “Rubberband” you can experience the birth of cool for the first time or the hundredth. After 30 years of being put on a shelf, “Rubberband” the album that started in 1985 with producers Randy Hall and Zane Giles has just been released on Rhino Records. Hall, Giles, and Vince Wilburn Jr finished the album.
“Uncle Miles would be proud. Randy, Zane and I, and everyone involved, put our heart and soul into the Rubberband of Life,” says Wilburn Jr. The album features several guest artists.
If that doesn’t satisfy your bebop bug, “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool” the documentary film directed by Stanley Nelson is in theaters now. The film debut was in January 2019 and has been screened nationally to excellent reviews. “The story of Miles Davis, who he was as a man and artist has often been told as the tail of a drug-addled genius,” said director Stanley Nelson.
“You rarely see a portrait of a man that worked hard at holding his craft, a man who deeply studied all forms of music, from Baroque to classical Indian. An Elegant man who could render ballads with such tenderness yet hold rage in his heart from the racism he faced throughout his life.”
There have been many films and documentaries made about Miles all telling a similar seedy tale. Many of Miles’s interviews are super cringeworthy. Miles has been known to say things like “You should have done your research before you interviewed me.” in his barely audible level of voice.
The mystique behind the smokey jazz musician has decades of folklore. Images of cool cats wearing sunglasses at night fill our minds. Miles has a 50 year career to talk about. Over 50 studio recorded albums, 36 live albums, 35 compilation albums, 17 box sets, 4 soundtrack albums, 57 singles, and 3 remix recordings. We love Miles, but we don’t know him.
Miles came from a good family. He was born Miles Dewey Davis III in Alton IL. His mother was a music teacher and violinist, his father was a dentist. Miles went to Juilliard School, a private performing arts school also known as Yale for musicians. The outcome was Miles Davis and the birth of cool. His trumpet sound is unmistakable. His music and sound can never be duplicated. He’s an American treasure.
Talking with Erin and Vince was more fun than I had expected. Phone interviews can be awkward, interrupted, or seem cold. Hearing them both talk about Miles was absolutely charming. You could hear their love for him. They made me wish I could have known him too.
When I asked Erin how deep he had dug into his father’s past, he said, “I don’t have to dig, everywhere I go people have stories to tell me and I listen.”
So I did the digging, and here’s what I found out about Miles Davis. Miles had a great sense of humor. Tradition suggests that most musicians have good senses of humor, and apparently Miles didn’t disappoint. Miles was an excellent cook! He loved to cook for people. Imagine what that may have been like, having Miles Davis make dinner for you in his beautiful Malibu home. Nobody knows how he learned to cook, or who taught him.
Miles served dishes like bouillabaisse and Caesar Salad from scratch, and swordfish. There is a missing secret recipe book that nobody has ever been able to find. My guess would be one of the fascinating women that he had been involved with taught him how to cook. One thing we know about Miles is that he invested quality time in quality women.
Miles was also a painter. An artist with bold strokes and loud colors, finishing many works of art on paper and canvas. Miles worked mostly with acrylic. His artwork is kept in a climate controlled facility. When I asked about an exhibit, “It holds a lot of mechanics” said Erin. Miles did the artwork for his album “Amandla” with an impressive self portrait.
Miles had a love of boxing. He trained with professionals when he was clean. Erin remembers sitting in front of the TV, and “Dad would make popcorn, and break down the fight.” Erin said he misses that. “Dad had an old satellite dish, it took 5 minutes to find the fight, but it was so much fun.” Miles trained at Brooklyn’s Bobby Gleason’s Boxing Gym, and in Chicago at the legendary boxer Johnny Coulon’s. Miles was a diehard boxing fan and friend of Sugar Ray Robinson.
“My Uncle was sensitive, and forever evolving. He never wanted to rest on his laurels.” said Miles nephew Vince Wilburn Jr. “ He was always about the music.”
The Miles Davis Estate was started by the Davis family and members of the Davis circle. “Miles was always looking for new musicians to work with, and new talent.” was the answer I got from Erin when I asked if Miles would have wanted a foundation.
The Miles Davis Estate is in its beginning stages. What we have here is something to look forward to. A scholarship is being developed for musicians pursuing a degree in music, and that is music to our ears. Please visit www.milesdavis.com