Extraordinary questions are the impetus of exceptional answers.
Truth Be Told: "Behind the Set"
Miles Davis: Part One "The Afternoon"
I met Claude Nobs, the founder of the famous Montreux Jazz Festival, when he once stopped over in Hartford, Connecticut. After we chatted about music for a while, he told me he was on his way to attend the Newport Jazz Festival and invited me to join him. After thinking about it for a nanosecond, I was certain I would accept his invitation to accompany him to Rhode Island.
Over the weekend while in Newport, he asked if I would consider taking a trip to Switzerland to be his guest at his Montreux Jazz Festival. That is a once in a lifetime offer from the gentleman responsible for singlehandedly putting together and promoting this world famous jazz festival, and he is requesting my presence for the entire length of the festivities.
Once over there, of all the outstanding musicians I had the pleasure of meeting that summer, I will keep the focus on one extraordinary, legendary artist in particular and impart to you two utterly marvelous stories. I'll title Part One, "The Afternoon".
Each afternoon over the duration of the festival, rehearsals were held in the main concert hall, so that all the musicians could get a feel for the venue, hear the acoustics, and – of paramount importance – share time together chatting about everything. Laughter filled the arena and echoed all around and everyone had a great time. All forms of the media were present including reporters, photographers and record executives. Quite a good time was had by all on a daily basis.
Miles Davis arrived in Montreux a couple of days before he was to perform. As one would imagine, special attention was provided. Miles stayed at the Montreux Palace, the finest hotel in town and he was given the use of a high performance sports car. His rehearsal time was closed to all media and it was the only time no other musicians were allowed in the venue.
The afternoon of his gig, the concert hall was in lock down mode. No one was to enter the room, period. I did, however, sneak in and sat in the back hidden by the dark. The band was on stage and Miles was on the floor in front of the stage facing his group. They played while he listened, with no horn in his hand. At that point a guard walked in and came over to me. He told me that Miles had a phone call. It was his doctor calling from London, and I was asked that I inform Miles.
I went up to Miles, stood next to him and told him of the phone call. He never looked over at me, never replied, or acknowledged me. I walked away. A few minutes later the guard reappeared and asked if Miles was coming to the phone. I then returned to Miles' side to pass on the information. This second time proved just as fruitless. He never looked my way, nor did he respond. Again I took my leave.
The guard made a third attempt to prompt me to encourage Miles to take the call, so I followed through. I approached Miles and remember vividly my words. Truth be told, I said something like this: "Miles. It's not my doctor on the phone calling from London who's been waiting all this time, it's your doctor and frankly I don't give a sh*t how long he waits." Without missing a beat (like most good musicians), though he never looked my way, he did speak. In his rough, harsh, gravelly voice he said, "Cool, I'll be right there." He stopped the band and left to take the phone call… finally.
Subsequently, there is my Miles Davis: Part Two, "The Evening" story. I trust you'll find that equally entertaining.
Truth Be Told: "Behind the Set"
Miles Davis: Part Two "The Evening"
Nighttime fell over Montreux, Switzerland on the summer night when Miles Davis was to headline the jazz festival. There was an anticipatory air all around within the concert hall as everyone waited for Miles to step over the threshold of the stage door and enter the building.
Because few people back stage spoke fluent English, Claude Nobs asked me to be there to assist in making certain all the musicians needs were met, and that there was not to be any breakdown in communication.
Miles came in quietly and went directly to his dressing room already stocked with food, beverages and fruits. He closed the door. Outside the dressing room is where his road/tour manager and I stood. Within minutes, Miles summoned for the manager. He went inside to see what Miles wanted. Less than a couple of moments later the manager came out and said to me, "Miles doesn't do Styrofoam cups." "Pardon me?" I replied. The manager punctuated the point. "Miles doesn't do Styrofoam; he doesn't drink out of Styrofoam cups." "He doesn't?" I questioned. "With all due respect, I'm not a waiter, so you'll have to excuse me while I locate someone to assist with the problem."
I went in search of someone who spoke a smattering of English and found someone who could help me. They told me that the only cups back stage were those made of Styrofoam; however, they would do their best to locate other cups. Upon their return, they handed me plastic cups like those found at receptions. I brought those back to the manager, who went back inside the dressing room to Miles. Not too much time passed and again the manager came from behind the closed door and said, "Miles doesn't like plastic, he prefers glass." "Glass," I repeated. "He prefers glass." "Yes" the manager stated.
In my travels back down the corridor I saw Claude and went over to him to give him my report. "There are no glasses anywhere in the building," he said. "Well, Miles wants glass," were my words to him. Claude frantically began running around, and speaking French in a panic-stricken voice, requested cups made of glass.
It was quite some time before Claude located me and handed over a couple of champagne flutes. He informed me that he asked an aid to run across the street to the hotel and get the glasses from the banquet room. I took the flutes and brought them back to the manager to keep Miles in the fashion he was accustomed to: happy, or as happy as Miles tended to get.
Miles never let the band know when he was ready to take the stage. He just walked out of his dressing room and headed for the stage. One of his entourage kept an eye out, and yelled to everyone else that their leader was ready and on his way. All the sidemen scurried to get on stage.
After the set, Miles headed back to his dressing room, as did the other ensemble members to theirs; however, on this particular night, though the guys in the band assumed the gig was finished, it was not. After a few minutes, Miles decided to take the stage once more. And so once more, the surprised musicians hustled. Though he never showed it physically, Miles must have enjoyed the playing that particular night enough to do an encore.
After the last note had long dissipated throughout the venue, and the people had exited the hall, Miles Davis, just as quietly as he entered the building, departed.
Claude asked me to check every dressing room to make certain no one had left anything behind. I entered Miles' room, looked around and noticed he had, indeed, forgotten something. Two very, very important somethings: his two trumpets. He had left them behind in their cases and the cases had been left opened. I walked over to take a look and the trumpets were engraved with his name on them. I closed them up and took the instruments to Claude who told me he would see to it that the horns were returned to their rightful owner, Miles Dewey Davis. You can imagine what first went through our minds.
The following morning, I had plans to meet Claude at his home for breakfast and he was acting like a kid in a candy store. He told me he had contacted the manager to tell him that Miles had left the trumpets behind by accident. The manager passed along to Claude that it was no accident at all. Miles enjoyed the set and the enthusiasm of the audience so much that he decided to leave the horns on purpose as tokens of his appreciation.
Truth be told, though I never said anything to Claude, I thought to myself, "Might Claude keep one horn for himself and – I was hopeful – gift me with the other trumpet?" What a remarkable collector's item for any lover of jazz such as myself. But it would not come to be. Claude decided to keep both of the horns for himself… (sigh)