Philly Joe Jones in a conversation with David Aronson about Miles Davis
Source: JAZZ [Swiss magazine] 1/1985, reprinted in JAZZ 5/1985, MILES DAVIS SPECIAL
People talk about the friction between Philly and Miles, but few folks have any idea how close the trumpeter and drummer really were - or that there is no real enmity between the two men.
DA: When you were playing with Trane in Miles' band that must have been orgasm nonstop.
PJJ: That was every night. That was one band ... I went to work with every night and I don't remember any bad nights. I mean you felt your worse, because I was going through a different period of my life and so was Trane [both men were having serious drug problems], but it didn't effect the playing. We were playing with a master. We were playing under a towering giant. Miles is a towering giant, and to play with every night is a blessing. You're in school every night with him. And then, after a while, you start effecting the teacher. The teacher turns around and says, "You learned your lesson well." "Yes, teacher, I have learned my lesson well, and I have something I want to say to you." It was almost a marriage. You had five people with really a musical telepathy.
You know, I was with Miles nine years, and we never had any rehearsals. Never had a rehearsal. He'd say, "We'll rehearse on the stand, Bear." I'd say "We played tonight and played the arrangement. Let's play it like that tomorrow night. Do what you want to do inside, but play the arrangement the way we did tonight." That was our rehearsal. He never called us. He'd call us in the afternoon and say, "Let's meet at the club at three o'clock, man, and have a little rehearsal."
So okay. At three o'clock we'd all be downstairs in the club where we were playing, and Miles would come down and say, "Hey man, how you doin'? Everybody feelin' good?" We'd say yeah. He'd say, "Hey man, I want 'Two Bass Hit' tonight. You know 'Two Bass Hit', Trane?" Trane says, "Yeah."
"You know 'Two Bass Hit', don't you Paul?"
He'd say yeah and Red Garland'd say yeah.
And then Miles'd say, "All right man. And then we're gonna do 'A-Leu-Cha.' You know? Charlie Parker's 'A-Leu-Cha.' Ba doo bee ba doo ba lah..."
We'd say, "Yeah, yeah ... we know that shit."
"Okay we'll try that shit tonight. I'll see you later." [laughter] You know, we'd have a verbal rehearsal. We'd sit on a plane, and he'd sing something to me on the plane, the arrangement. "That's what we're gonna play tonight."
"You know that tune, John?"
He'd say, "Yeah."
"Well, I'll do this, and why don't you take ABA? You do that, John, and then you and I'll play something together. He'd look at me and say, "And then Trane will play the figure, and then we'll play on out."
DA: And that's the way he'd introduce the new tunes as well? His own tunes?
PJJ: Well, see, Miles was doing music that had been done. He was doing Monk's things. His band was good that way. He wasn't into thinking with the scope that he is now. He's in a more creative scope now. And where he's creating now, he'd be more likely to have rehearsals.
DA: He still doesn't rehearse very much.
PJJ: Well, he just plays ... It's hard for me to think about him not rehearsing now.
DA: That's what the cats tell me.
PJJ: Miles says, "Man, that's the end of the day." Miles puts his horn down after he's finished playing, and leaves it on the shelf where he puts. And he doesn't pick it up until he's ready to work again. Sometimes we were off for three weeks and he wouldn't even touch it. I lived with him, man, and he wouldn't even touch the motherfucker. The night before we were going to play, he'd be shakin' his valves, messin' with his chops. And he'd go to the bandstand and play like he'd never been away from the thing. He'd play just like he never had it out of his mouth.
DA: And then he came out of retirement, five or six years, without touching the thing.
Miles Davis is a genius. Miles Davis is one of the greatest people, along with Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. Miles is the greatest influence in my life in more ways than one. I mean about getting your personal life together. Miles taught me a hell of a lesson about control of oneself. It took me a long while, but it got through. Miles has superb control, willpower to do what he wants to do with himself. He controls his destiny.
DA: Well, he cleaned himself up all by himself.
PJJ: Long before we started playing. Miles did that before he started the band with us. We were the ones in the band who were acting crazy. He wasn't. Miles used to look at me and try to pull me out of it then. But I wasn't ready. Trane wasn't ready. You have to be ready at a certain time of your life. You have to get sick of yourself. And then you change your life. And then you can get a little further after that. You have to get yourself together to do what you want to do.
DA: But before you reached that decision, didn't there come a day when Miles had to say, "Hey man, I'm sorry but I'm gonna have to let you go"?
PJJ: See, I don't like to discuss our ... personal problems in life. I'd prefer to leave the past and get on with what we're doing now.
DA: Well, interestingly enough, you and Trane had sort of a duo thing going in Miles' and - even if the rest of the cats didn't lay out [as they would later in Trane's classic formations in which he played duos with Elvin Jones].
PJJ: Well, we grew up playing together, so we were still playing with each other when we had Miles with Red and Paul. I played with Red in Philadelphia. And I met Paul and he was so beautiful, just turned it together, and Miles let us do it. So it came off beautiful. We had a good leader. We had a good compadre, a compassionate leader. Miles is a beautiful individual, a beautiful person, man. People don't know Miles like I do. Miles Davis is one of the finest men I met in my life. I thank God I passed this way during his time to be associated with him on all the levels I've been associated with Miles. And I've been associated with Miles on many levels. He's never stopped once being all man ... His heart is as big as this earth. So much heart, soul man ... and love. I cry sometimes that I don't have the oportunity to step on the podium with him for a minute. I cry sometimes. I love him. He gave me all that happiness and he taught me a lot. A loving, beautiful genius.
People talk about him, and I say, "Aw, get away from me. Talking about Miles and you don't even know him. If you knew him you wouldn't be saying the things you're saying." He's just a different personality. He thinks about what's going on in the world. Miles is a tortured man. It's just that he's his own way. He's a conformist. He's never learned to conform; he's just conformed to his way of life. The nonconformist as a conformist, really. You can conform any way of life you want.
DA: Well, no matter what he seems to be conformed to, apparently he's open enough to let others express themselves, musically, as they like.
PJJ: He just looks at you and evaluates what you're doing. And if he likes you and what you're doing, or if he doesn't - you'll know about it later. Miles never fires anybody. He just makes it so hard that you quit. [laughter] If he doesn't like you, he'll never come to you and say so. [Philly imitates Miles' growl of a whisper.] He'll say, "Man, look, I'm gonna have to change piano players, and I've got another one chosen. This cat we got now will never do." He'll make it so intolerable for you that the next day you'll say, "Hey look man, I think I'm gonna quit." That's the way it is. He never fired nobody. Immediately. He'll make you disgusted enough that you want to leave.
DA: You mean on stage?
PJJ: Every night. Every night you'll find out that you don't belong there. It's time for you to make another move. It will not be on his part. He won't be telling you that you're fired. That's not his way. He'll make it so difficult for you that you'll have to leave. On your own.
Then he doesn't feel that he has to fire you.
He'll make you say, "I better not hang. Think I'll have to walk. In another direction." He never did that to me. I just felt as though ... I wanted a change. And then he brought Cannonball Adderley into the band, and Cannonball was causing dissemsion among us. The quintet that we had we made a sextet with Cannonball. And as soon as he came in he was talking against Red and he was talking against me. I saw that he was gonna break up our harmony, so I figured, "I'm gonna get out. I'm gonna get out because I see something happening. Cannonball is an excellent beautiful sayophone, but his way of thinking..." got in the way. His genius got in the way of Miles'. And he's whispering in Miles' ear, telling him, "You ought to get rid of this..." So all that dissension was developing. He was breaking up our musical therapy.
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