August 28


“Be your own man, have your own sound”

Man break dancing
credit: / Stuart Miles

I’m always reading several books at a time, picking up whichever one interests me at the moment. One of the books I’m currently reading is Miles Davis’ “Miles, the Autobiography”, and it’s a fascinating read, and a very straightforward “tell it like it is” story. (I also feel very confident in saying that this book holds the world record for the most repeated use ever of a certain expletive that alludes to a person dramatizing Oedipal complex).

Along with John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell and Charlie Parker, Miles was one of the original spectacularly creative forces that gave us one of the most vital music genres ever, bebop jazz. Charlie “Bird” Parker, in my view, was the original rock star- his unbelievable sax runs were the precursor to every electric guitar solo that ever was, he was the musical icon of his time, he was to the saxophone as Jimi Hendrix was to the electric guitar, and his frenetic pace of sex, drugs and bebop jazz set the mold for the rock era; a decade before anyone scrawled “Clapton is God”, posthumous “Bird lives” graffiti was ubiquitous. But I digress..

There’s a particular passage in which Miles talks about having decided to quit Julliard because, at age 19, he was playing alongside the aforementioned masters of bebop, and learning far more observing and playing with them than in this music school. He was going to quit first and then tell his father, who financially supported him, and was himself a very successful dentist and a highly educated black man, not common in those times.A good friend and fellow musician told him that he should tell his father before, not after, he quit school …

“I caught a train and went back to East St Louis, walked in his office, which had out the ‘Do not disturb’ sign. Of course, he was shocked to see me, but my father was cool about things like that. He just said, ‘Miles,what the f**k you doing back here?’

I said, ‘Listen, Dad. There is something happening in New York. The music is changing, the styles, and I want to be in it, with Bird and Diz. So I came back to tell you that I’m quitting Julliard because what they’re teaching me is white and I’m not interested in that.’

‘Okay,’ he said, ‘as long as you know what you’re doing,everything is okay. Just whatever you do, do it good.’

Then he told me something I will never forget: ‘Miles, you hear that bird outside the window? He’s a mockingbird. He don’t have a sound of his own. He copies everybody’s sound, and you don’t want to do that. You want to be your own man, have your own sound. So, don’t be about anybody but yourself. You know what you got to do and I trust your judgment. And don’t worry, I’ll keep sending you money until you get on your feet”

This passage from Mile’s autobiography resonates extremely well with me. With this advice and support, Miles achieved creative greatness,and, I believe, so can you, and in fact anyone, who takes that philosophy to heart, and applies it to whatever you may be passionate about.

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