Miles trumpets with style
`PEOPLE ask me, `Why did you play ``Time After Time''? Are you going pop?' When I used to play `Bye, Bye Blackbird' and `My Funny Valentine,' nobody said anything.'' Veteran trumpeter Miles Davis, who rose to prominence during the heyday of bebop and has now single-mindedly moved ahead with the times, leaned back into the sofa in his gray-carpeted split-level Manhattan apartment and made it clear that he plays what he likes, and if it happens to be Cyndi Lauper's hit ``Time After Time'' or Michael Jackson's ``Human Nature,'' well ... so what?Skip to next paragraph
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The interview was supposed to have taken place over lunch at the Carlyle Hotel. But when the limo hired by Mr. Davis's press agent drove the two of us around to pick him up, he had changed his mind. Instead, we were invited up to his apartment.
``You've got 20 minutes,'' said Davis, as I reached for my tape recorder. ``Ohhh,'' he said, when he saw the recorder. I sat down next to him on the sofa and pulled out the mike. He moved back, then got up and walked away.
Now what? I had heard about Miles Davis's reputation for being uncooperative and sometimes rude with the press.
Well, 2 hours later, after talking congenially about his music and other matters, demonstrating some chord patterns on his Yamaha DX7 synthesizer (``Do you want to take a lesson?'' he asked, laughing), graciously showing me his imaginative and colorful drawings and paintings, and even letting me try on some of his designer jackets and coats, he growled, ``Your 20 minutes are up.''
We were supposed to talk about the Miles Davis television special, ``Great Performances,'' coming up on PBS (Oct. 17, 9-10 p.m.), but when I asked him about it, he said he hadn't seen it yet. ``I don't know how the idea came up,'' he said. ``They asked me to do it. I probably won't like it.''
Why? ``Because what you see yourself doing doesn't look the same as you think you look. ... You know what I mean? I'm not so sure I want to see it right away.''
The next day I had a chance to preview the show, a thoughtfully produced and deftly edited musical journey that traces Davis's career from his youth in St. Louis in the 1930s up through his New York years, where he studied at Juilliard during the day and played on 52nd Street at night with Charlie Parker, and on through his own groups, up to the present. Davis himself appears on screen, talking about his career and his music.
In person Davis looks fit, sipping mineral water and eating sugar-free candies. His bout a decade ago with various health problems, including injuries from an auto accident, kept him out of music for more than five years.
``I was sick,'' said Davis. ``I was an alcoholic. I took a lot of coke. If I had kept on playing, I'd be dead.''
Asked if he had thought about music during his illness and recovery, he said, ``No, I didn't think about it. I put it out of my mind.'' But he added that when he came back, it was with a fresh, new approach.
Davis's way of playing and living these days has a lot to do with style and keeping up with the times. He has the air of a man who fits comfortably into everything he does, and he gives the impression that those things fit him to a T -- music, drawings, clothes. In fact, references to clothes pop up constantly in his conversation. We got into a discussion about the old and new in music, and he jumped in with the remark that when you're not keeping up with the times, you end up with ``bell-bottom music.''