I purchased my first jazz album in 1986, Round Midnight by The Miles Davis Quintet.
I had been encouraged to listen to jazz by a man named Howard who I met Uptown, in Minneapolis, and who has remained a friend throughout my life.
I had a couple of other Miles Davis albums in a collection of records I shared with my friend Josh, Bitches Brew and Kind of Blue, it was through these albums that my eyes were opened to this uniquely American art form, and to Miles Davis, who remains its greatest practitioner, having transformed the genre numerous times throughout the course of his life.
I saw him play at the Orpheum theatre in Minneapolis, in 1988. My mom and I went together with my Josh, outside of the venue we talked with a couple of other friends of ours from the neighborhood Sean Pike and Greg Fox
Even though this was not my favorite era of his music, it was the greatest performance I have ever seen and I regret that I missed an opportunity to see him play a second time, in 1991 shortly before his death.
In 1993 I was on a flight from L.A. to D.C. and the man who had been his bass player, Joseph “Foley” McCreary sat next to me on the plane. I was wearing a T-shirt with Robert Johnson printed on the front, Foley’s had a depiction of Miles. I told him that I had seen him play, he told me that he was on the stage that night, we talked for a couple of minutes before he tuned me out, but he gave me a copy of his recent release, Seven Years Ago, Directions in Smart Alec Music, which featured a tribute to the memory of miles and some unbelievable guitar work by Prince, and he got off the plane in Ohio.
During that trip I picked up a copy of Miles’ autobiography, co-authored with Quincey Troupe. It was fascinating.
Miles dished up all the good stories on everyone he ever played with, it was a deep lesson in American history. He didn’t pull many punches, including critical reflections on himself.
By 1993 time I had fallen in love with the album, Sketches of Spain, I was not surprised to read that Miles considered this the most difficult album he had ever recorded. He offered an anecdote about it in his biography, saying that an old Spanish cattleman had listened to it, and when it was finished he felt compelled to go out into the field and fight a bull, that is how deep this music spoke to the Spanish soul.
In 1988 Miles Davis was knighted by the King of Spain, inducted into the Hospital Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, otherwise known as the Knights of Malta and Rhodes, and two months before his death he was knighted in France and inducted into the Legion of Honor.
In his biography he mused that being knighted allowed him to enter seventy some different countries without having to pass through customs.
In 2008 I was taking classes at Saint John’s School of theology, in Collegeville Minnesota. I was in the kitchen early one morning when one of the monks was coming through the tunnel from the monastery, which is famous for its music studies program.
The monk was humming the tune for Bye-Bye Blackbird, one of the songs from that first Miles Davis Album I ever purchased. I caught the tune and named it as the monk was passing by me.
He gave me a questioning look, and I informed him about my discernment. He had no idea what I was talking about, informing me that it was the tune of a song written in the era of the troubadours, between the 10th and 12th centuries, and was associated with the Cathar Heresies of Central Europe…that made me smile.
Given First – 2020.09.28