Sunday, June 20, 2010

Quincy Troupe Remembers Miles Davis in “Miles and Me”

By Deardra Shuler
Photo by Jon Stevens

I was young and barely off the farm when I met Miles Davis. He entered my life like a whirlwind scooping up all in his path. I knew him for a summer when he dated my then roommate. His visits could be disconcerting and as a young girl I was unequipped to handle this very complex, complicated and oftentimes paranoid man. His dominant and sometimes harsh and combative personality could cower the fiercest gladiator. However, it was Miles who decided I should work at his record label. Shortly afterwards, I found myself ensconced at the receptionist desk on William Paley's floor at Columbia Records. Miles could be endearing if he liked you. Yet, there was something about his aura that said 'don't mess with me.' Most folks didn't. I was both repelled and in awe of this genius who had chosen to put me in his inner circle wherein he took me on a sometimes fun and sometimes maddening adventure that I now look back on fondly.

I had the pleasure of swapping stories with poet/author/screenwriter Quincy Troupe who wrote “Miles: The Autobiography and his memoirs on Mr. Davis in his book “Miles and Me.” Mr. Troupe is also, the co-author of “The Pursuit of Happyness” with Chris Gardner. “Later Will Smith starred in the movie version of the book,” remarked Troupe. “I also wrote the “Miles and Me” screenplay which is about to go into production starring Samuel L. Jackson. Initially, I suggested Don Cheadle for the Miles role. The filmmakers considered a few actors including Wesley Snipes but at the time Snipes was having problems. Hollywood makes the final decisions and ultimately it comes down to money and who has the greater box office appeal. Laurence Fishburne was approached to play me but he has CSI commitments, so the movie makers may have to go with another actor” commented the St. Louis reared poet who appeared on two PBS television series on poetry: The United States of Poetry and Bill Moyers' The Power of the Word wherein Troupe's segment, “The Living Language,” received a 1990 Emmy Award for Television Excellence.

“Miles was from East St. Louis so I never met him as a youngster although Chuck Berry lived a few blocks from me. I knew Chuck was famous but he used to love young girls. He would occasionally come around the young athletes because we had the prettiest girls. I'd steer my girl out the door whenever I'd see Chuck. He would yell after me “Hey, Young Troupe! Young Troupe. Where you going, Young Troupe? He was funny,” chuckled Quincy tickled by the memory of Chuck Berry trying to steal his high school girlfriend.

“I first became aware of Miles Davis at age 15. I went into this fish joint where I noticed these 4 hip looking guys. They were talking and eating 'jack-salmon' sandwiches and listening to music. Their heads were bopping to the music. They were playing a tune called “Donna” and saying it was by a trumpeter and St. Louis homeboy named Miles Davis. It was my first exposure to jazz. After they left I played the song a few times and I was hooked. I started listening to whatever Miles Davis music I could find. He became my hero. However, it wasn't until 1956 that I first saw Miles play live in a St Louis jazz spot called Peacock Alley. I watched Miles from a distance noticing few were approaching him as he stood at the bar. Then this gushing white couple approached, “stated Quincy. '”Thrilled to meet Miles the white man stuck out his hand and was about to state his name when Miles took off his dark glasses and gave them a withering look followed up with a profanity-laced “get out of my face MF and take yo silly-a__s “B” with you.” I would hear the “MF and “B” word coming from Miles many times during the course of our friendship, sometimes even directed toward me. Miles could be very jealous regarding women, complicated and paranoid. He was also generous, loyal and comical. He loved boxing, sports and respected musicians such as Clark Terry, Hugh Masekela, Santana, Monk, Charlie Parker, Sly Stone, Prince and Michael Jackson.

"There were quite a few musicians Miles respected but Mick Jagger wasn't one of them. Miles told me that one day Mick showed up at his house unannounced. Miles came to the door and Mick was standing there. Mick said “Hi, Miles. “I'm Mick Jagger.” Miles said “So, what!” and slammed the door in Mick's face.” recalled the Peabody Award winner.

“The first time I had a chance to actually talk to Miles was at my friend Leo's party. Miles was sitting by himself so I took a seat nearby. We actually exchanged a few pleasantries and then Miles got up and said “Later,” and left the party. It wasn't long after I saw him in the street and greeted him but Miles kept walking and completely ignored me. I was with a girlfriend who I had told I knew Miles. Then Miles just dissed me. It was embarrassing. When I had the occasion to see him again I asked him why he had treated me like that. Miles replied with a profanity laced sentence that amounted to he didn't have to speak to me every time he saw me. He then walked away leaving me hurt and confused. After that I stayed away from Miles until I was commissioned to write his autobiography.

“It was while writing his autobiography that we became true friends and remained friends until his death. My wife Margaret and I truly loved Miles and he loved us. I noticed Miles was getting sick. He became secretive about his illness. Later, Miles admitted he was taking AZT as part of his medication,” said Quincy.

To hear more about Quincy and Miles' friendship listen to my “Topically Yours” show on via the BlakeRadio network or see

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