He was a jerk, though. And I don’t mean just in an egotistical way—though there was a lot of narcissism as well. He beat his wives with regularity, by his own admission. Davis’ reputation as an artist is such that I didn’t know anything about this until well after I’d already fallen in love with his music. Even his Wikipedia page is suspiciously clean of any mention of tension with his partners. But the evidence is there, if scattered. The women in his life rarely brought it up—perhaps to salvage their own dignity, or maybe because of fear of reprisals. But in a rare interview with The New York Times, his first wife, Frances Davis, recalled, “I actually left running for my life—more than once.”
So the listener is left with difficult questions: If a boxer or a football player beats up his wife or girlfriend, folks are aghast. Why is it different for a trumpet player? Lawrence Taylor and Miles Davis were at the top of what they did. Is it still okay to enjoy “Bitches Brew” and “Birth of the Cool” — and highlights of LT’s career? Or do sins in private life invalidate what is accomplished in the public sphere? If it does, where is the line: beating women up (Davis)? Sex crimes (LT)? Murder (O.J. Simpson)?
In any case, this doesn’t mean that Davis’ story shouldn’t be told. It is, above, in a good video from bio.com. Below, famed musician/producer Teo Macero describes working with Davis and Dave Brubeck. I have the YouTube set to start at the point Macero begins talking about Davis. It doesn’t sound like it was an easy relationship.
(Homepage photo: Tom Palumbo)