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
"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
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.
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