Miles and Me
After the plethora of Miles Davis’ reissues, remixes and tribute albums, a book like Quincy Troupe’s earnest Miles and Me was inevitable. Troupe, who came into international prominence after helping Davis script his revealing, and still controversial, 1989 book Miles: The Autobiography, manages to capture the multiple layers of conflicts and complexities that made Davis one of the most beloved and despised icons in jazz. On some levels, the book functions as a “behind the scenes” trove of the making of Davis’ autobiography. But instead of rehashing interviews between the two, Miles and Me chronicles the development of a friendship between the author and the trumpeter.
The book is divided into four chapters, with the first two devoted to Troupe’s meeting and subsequent friendship with Davis; the last two focus on the trumpeter’s music—ranging from his recording of “Donna” to his Doo-Bop album. When crafting a composite of the Prince of Darkness’ infamous personality, Troupe pieces together what’s referred to in the book as an “unreconstructed black man”—or more pointedly, “a black man that doesn’t take shit off of anyone.” Whether Davis’ abrasiveness can be attributed to his astrological sign (Gemini), racial pride or simply too much of the glamorous life, his shrewd dealings with many in the jazz industry, especially opportunistic whites, echoes the id that exists in a lot of African-Americans, then and now. Sometimes Troupe champions Davis’ behavior towards individuals that he’s belittled; but even Troupe has been on the end of Davis’ vitriolic rants and he shares his disdain for the trumpeter’s behavior when it’s apparent that it’s more about ego tripping than self-defense.
But underneath the ruthless exterior, Troupe reveals a thoughtful, loving, humorous and often vulnerable Davis. When they were working on the autobiography, Davis developed a loving relationship with Troupe’s son and wife. The rapport Davis developed with Troupe’s son is one of the most touching moments in the book. As Davis’ health worsened through the end of the 1980s, it’s his vulnerability that Troupe poignantly captures, especially regarding the rumors of Davis having AIDS.
Troupe isolates significant Davis albums and offers succinct analysis, while using the music as memory guideposts to his own development as a literary artist. The only drawback to Miles and Me is the laborious epilogue, which is filled with so much fawning testimony that it’s nearly unreadable. As if Davis’ towering contributions to music aren’t already established, the epilogue reads as if the trumpeter has somehow fallen through the cracks regarding his place in music history. Unfortunately, it’s at this point that Troupe’s loving reflections on Davis veer too far off into unabashed idol worship.