Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lay Back and Groove

“Another white motherfucker?” Miles rasped.

“Miles, Miles,” Jimi shook his head slowly, a wry grin on his face. “He’s a great cat. Why can’t you just be groovy, man?”

Miles glared as he leaned back on the control panel. “You want to play jazz, you want to play black music? You can’t do that with some ofay rock star on bass.” Jimi leaned forward to catch Miles’s whispery voice.

Through the wood-framed window, Hendrix could see into the studio. Tony Williams, Miles’ drummer, looked with disdain at Paul McCartney. When Jimi and Miles had talked about doing a session at Electric Lady Studios, Jimi thought of one bass player only, McCartney. Paul had always been a big supporter of Jimi’s and had gotten him the gig at the Monterey Pop Festival two years before. Jimi’s popularity exploded after that performance, loud, feedback drenched pyrotechnics that included dousing his axe with lighter fluid and setting it ablaze. He owed Paul something in exchange for his faith. More than that, McCartney could play anything. Looking out at the two, Jimi could see Paul, friendly as ever, waving his hands in the air as he talked animatedly to Tony. McCartney never noticed the disgust in Williams’ eyes.

“Miles, Paul is the best bass player in the world, and…”

“Don’t you tell me that. Oscar Pettiford, Charles Mingus, Ron Carter. Don’t you tell me Paul McCartney is the best. You don’t know what you’re talking about. Plus, he can’t read music.”

Hendrix laughed and crossed his arms, the ultra-wide sleeves of his floral print blouse hanging loosely down. “Well, you know I can’t either. Every time you mention diminished chords you know I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Jimi respected Miles Davis, loved playing with him, but he was hard to take sometimes, a lot of bad vibes. Jimi’s mind drifted to the time Davis dropped by his apartment and they jammed. Miles’ muted trumpet and Jimi’s unplugged guitar were magic together. Jimi just wanted to play and not deal with this racist bullshit. He fiddled with the red and black knobs on the control panel as he thought about the music that could be, if Miles would just be cool and relax.

“Can’t we just play?” pleaded Jimi, as he quietly strummed his Fender.

For all his strident independence, Miles Davis had become something of a follower when it came to Jimi Hendrix. After seeing Jimi’s blowout hairstyle, he left his Afro behind and began to wear his hair the same way. No more dark suits, either. It was pure psychedelics in the Davis wardrobe now, bought from the same shop in Greenwich Village that Jimi frequented.

It wasn’t only Hendrix’s fashion sense that knocked Davis out. There was no doubt this motherfucker was a natural. When Miles showed him something on the horn, or played him a record, Jimi would pick it up faster than anyone Miles had ever played with. And Miles had played with everybody. Miles genuinely liked Hendrix and was amazed at his musicianship, but, man, he did not go for Jimi’s taste in music. He fiddled with the buttons of his multi-colored vest as he considered Jimi’s request.

“You know I hate that hillbilly shit you play, always having these white folks playing with you. What about my music, Trane’s music? That’s where your head should be at, not with these rich honkies playing teeny bopper shit. You come from the blues, man, stay with that. You want to play Carnegie Hall with me, like we talked about, you listen to me.”

“It’s just music man. I dig you, you know that. I dig Trane. But I also dig Sgt. Pepper. I don’t go for that radical rap. There ain’t no black music. There ain’t no white music. It’s just music.”

“You’ll never win them up in Harlem. You think the cats at Small’s Paradise gonna love you now, playing Bob Dylan shit with a white band?” Miles knew Jimi had a thing about not making it uptown with his own people. Jimi had told Miles how he went to Small’s thinking he’d be cheered, the new black hope in rock music. Strutting into the room wearing bell bottoms, a ruffled purple shirt and a wide-brimmed black hat adorned with a chain of silver rings and a lilac scarf, he was met with insults and put-downs.

“Hey man, take those fag clothes back downtown.”

“Where’s your purse, Miss Thang?’

He did not go over well with the short-brimmed, straight-legged patrons at Small’s.

Miles knew how to shove in the knife. Jimi was hurt by the recollection and wondered why Miles was so angry. Did he know that Jimi was getting it on with Miles’ wife Betty? Nah, he couldn’t; it was too new a thing.

Jimi looked back into the studio. There, Tony and Paul were jamming, Paul following Tony’s subtle swinging, an indisputable groove forming. Paul was laughing and Tony couldn’t help but smile.

“Look out there. You see I’m right.” Jimi said happily.

“Turn it up,” ordered Miles. Jimi pushed the controls northward. It was a slow tune, but it swung.

“I don’t know that tune,” Miles said curtly.

“It’s a Beatles song called “The Fool on the Hill.” Paul wrote it,” Jimi smiled. “You should be more hip to the scene, man, everyone knows that song.”

Miles turned to watch the rhythm section playing like they’d been together for years. He had no reaction at all. He turned to face Jimi.

"Fuck you, man.”

Jimi grabbed his white Fender guitar and headed out to play. Miles picked up his horn, right behind him now.

Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix met in 1968 at the hairdressers. They had talked about jamming together and met once at Jimi’s apartment. When it came time to plan a session, Miles and drummer Tony Williams each demanded rock star money - $50,000 each. That scuttled the deal, but not before Hendrix had sent a telegram to Paul McCartney inviting him to play with the group. Tony Williams recorded “The Fool on the Hill” on his last album in 1998.


  1. I've been trying to find a photo of this so-called telegram for seven years...

  2. Here it is:

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.