Re: RARA-AVIS: Hardboiled jazz

From: dave (
Date: 28 Nov 2001

SOME heroin? Try five years worth! And you gotta do some pimpin' to feed the monster. And even after he kicked cold turkey at his father's house, he still went to de-troit, and was still using, because the shit there wasn't as strong as in NYC. Eventually, he just did "coke" for the rest of his life. Some people disagree that he wasn't using later in life, but during the great years of the quintet it's clear he's not strung. However, all the other musicians in his band were -- including the great Philly Joe Jones -- "The pied Piper of junk."

However, I disagree that it's a tough read. I've read it three or four times, and I totally dig it. Anybody who likes Slim, Goines, etc, has to read his autobiography. The hundred pages on his relationship with Bird are worth the price of admission. Miles talks about how Bird was "the greediest slimiest motherfucker, because he was a genius. All geniuses are greedy..."(I'm paraphrasing)

As for the term "motherfucker," it implies good and bad. Some guys are motherfuckers, or as he called Symphony Sid, a
"JAMF" of a guy, (Jive Ass Motherfucker.) But MUCH of the time it's good -- as a jazz musician playing like a
"motherfucker." When someone's really swinging or blowing, he's definitely a motherfucker.

There are two other great autobios about jazz, hard living, hard time, and music. The ultimate, (and I've mentioned it before) is "Straight Life," the autobiography of Art Pepper. This one makes Miles' look tame. Art is such a complicated motherfucker, a prick, and a greedy genius, and he even has other people talking about him, mostly disparagingly, in the book. Art's badge of honor is that he never ratted on any of his dealers -- thus doing many jolts in county, and finally Quentin. (Unlike Chet Baker, whom everybody knew was an informant for the narcs.) Whoo-eee. When Art comes out of Quentin in San Fran in the late sixties, and sees all these
"dirty" chicks dancing with spades barefoot in the park, he wants to kill 'em! Total Time warp. BTW, he was a true alto genius.

The other, which predates all of them, (except for Mingus', which is as eccentric as he is) is "Raise Up Off Me," the story of Hampton Hawes -- another amazing musician who lost most of his best years doing time. The crazy thing is, he played like a motherfucker, and he was all "tore up" in the fifties. There's some pimping in it, but it has a real vernacular style, similar to Miles'. Lots of funny shit about his being AWOL and scoring dope in Japan.

Hawes piano playing during the fifties was heavily rhythmic and dynamic. But, unlike Art Pepper, who overhauled his style in the sixties, (influenced by Coltrane) and made a comeback during the jazz revival of the seventies, Hampton's playing never quite matched the passion of the past. His autobiography is THE artifact of this period of his life.

Come to think of it, there's another great hard-boiled autobiography through the WOMAN'S POV... "High Times, Hard Times," the story of Anita O'Day. This one has more harrowing episodes of being strung, playing jazz, and doin' time. Anita, thank god, is still alive. Her voice is shot, but she still swings ... well, like a motherfucker.

Anybody who wants recordings can email me off the list. There are some very hip ones of Art and Hamp in the early fifties. Oh yeah, they're both L.A. cats. As am I.


> > Didn't Miles Davis also do some pimping (and heroin)? Does he write
> > much about it in his autobiography?
> >
> MIles' autobiog is a very tough read, and makes no attempt to portray the
> author as remotely likable. There's certainly plenty of heroin use. I don't
> recall out and out pimping, though it's a tough call as to whether Miles was
> more a misogynist or simply a misanthropist. One interesting linguistic
> sidelight is that Miles makes abundantly clear that the word 'motherfucker'
> (possibly the most used word in the book) is at root a synonym for 'white
> man' which kind of explains it's enduring power.
> John
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