Meeting Miles Davis
The first time I met Miles Davis, was kind of under strange and painful circumstances.
I was coming to the United States from Brazil in 1967. I was coming to meet Flora who had already been here in the US for a month. I arrived in California, without speaking hardly a word of English. I knew very few words and could not even tell the taxi driver where to go and all that kind of stuff. It was an interesting story, the day that I arrived in California, so I'm gonna start my story there.
I arrived at the Los Angeles airport with a piece of paper that a friend of mine had written on. It said "Please take me to…" and then Flora's address was on the other side. So I got a taxi outside the terminal and the driver immediately started talking. I guess he was asking me were I wanted to go, so I started to read (very badly) my note, and then handed it to him.
"What airline did you fly?" he asked me, but of course I did not understand. I just shook my head and said "Sorry no English"
"Varig did you fly on Varig?" He asked. Well I recognized that because it is a Brazilian airline. "Yes! Varig." I replied. Then suddenly he started talking away in Portuguese. He was a Brazilian guy who had been living here for a while driving a taxi. It was great! We drove off and talked a lot and I was happy to be with someone I could talk with. I thought that everything would be like this, that it was going to be easy. That there would be no problem with my speaking little English.
We arrived around eleven pm at a small building, which was the address on the paper and I got out of he taxi. I was a bit confused because I thought the address was for a house but it was an apartment building. I did not know the apartment number. So I walked around and just knocked on the first door I saw, which was on the second floor. This big black American woman answered the door, and in a very nice friendly manner started talking away to me. I did not understand her at all and just said, "Brazil" and pointed to myself. She seemed to get something from that and put her robe on, then walked over to another door downstairs and knocked on it.
It turned out to be the apartment of Moacyr Santos a great Brazilian composer and arranger. He was here writing for movies and all kinds of stuff like that. We had woken him up but he invited me in, and I explained that I was here to see Flora. He was very helpful and explained that Flora was at Shelly Manne's club. That she had gone to see Miles Davis with her friend, another Brazilian singer, Pery Ribeiro. Moacyr felt bad that Flora was not there and asked me to sit down, and woke up his wife, who made us all some coffee.
After hanging out for about an hour he told me where Flora's apartment was and I just went right up there. The door was not locked, so I could go in. I had two suitcases with me, one with clothes and the other full of percussion. I put them in Flora's apartment and then started to think how great it would be to see Miles Davis. I really wanted to go and Moacyr said that the club was just around the corner and down a few blocks. He gave me the directions and off I went.
When I got there, I just walked right in, there was nobody playing. I looked around and did not see Flora, so I went backstage. There was nobody stopping me. It was kind of funny nobody stopped me at the door of the club and nobody stopped me from going backstage, I was just there.
Anyway, Miles was standing right there by the dressing room door. I remember I said something like
"Miles!" rather excitedly, and he just looked at me with that look. That bored Miles look. I said his name again, then added
"Me Brazil!..............musician…………..Love! I Love!..." I was trying to find the right words and he just looked back at me with that look. Then he turned away and called for someone named Jack. Later on I found out he was calling Jack Whitmore.
"Hey Jack! Get this guy out of here! Get him out of here!" So I was taken back out front to the manager and Jack and the manager threw me out of the club. I hadn't paid to get in the club, I had just walked right in and gone backstage.
So there I was standing on the curb, having been tossed out of the club, and I was thinking, Wow! I just talked to Miles Davis! This is incredible! Then I realized that it was terrible, that I met him but he did not like me, he hated me. All these thoughts were going around in my head, so I took a little walk for about half an hour. I even cried it was such a bad experience for me.
Then I went back to Flora's place and fell asleep on the couch. When she walked in I was sound asleep. She was all excited to see me because she did not know that I was coming that day.
So that's what happened. That's what happened the first time I met Miles Davis.
People always ask me if I ever told him, and no, I never did.
About a year after first meeting Miles at the club, I got a call to record with him. I was in New York working with a bunch of different musicians when I got the call to work with Miles and record some of "Bitches Brew". Afterwards Miles invited me to sit in with the band at The Village Gate, in the village the next night.
Wow! That place the Village Gate was a beautiful club. I went there, but did not want to impose by bringing all my percussion. So I didn't't bring any. I took the train all the way from Walter Booker's house (He was the bass player with Cannonball Adderley ) which was at 87th to the club downtown in the village.
This time when I walked in the club my name was on the guest list and they let me in. The group was already on stage and when Miles saw me he left the stage and came to talk to me. It was amazing; everyone was looking at me, wondering who I was. Who is that guy?
"OK, Here you are! Where is all your shit? Did you bring your shit?" Miles asked me.
I explained "Well, I didn't't bring it; I didn't't want to impose…."
Miles was furious "Shut up!" he shouted, "Get out of here!" he continued "You're jive! You're jive! Just get out of here! You can't stay here".
I was shocked and just left and ran to the subway. I took the train all the way back to 87th from 3rd. When I got there I ran upstairs and picked up some of my percussion, two boxes full, and ran back to the subway, which I took all the way back to the club. When I got back there they were on a break and had one more set to go. I had no idea what to do. I couldn't't just walk backstage and say "Here I am Miles!" I still was remembering what happened earlier. Then I saw DeJohnette, you know the drummer, and Dave Holland the bass player. So I went over and started talking to them. They asked if I was going to play and I said that I had brought my stuff, and it ended up with them helping me figure out where I should set myself up on the stage.
They were really nice and receptive, while Miles was looking at me with a bad face, like "What are you doing!" He was trying to intimidate me. Well, maybe not trying, but he was intimidating me. I ended up sitting on a chair right in front of the drums, a little to the right, and just behind Miles. I played the whole set from there. Later Miles asked me if I wanted to come back the next day and of course I said yes.
"OK!" He said, "We'll be here."
So the next day I was there for the first set with all my percussion.
Anyway, a week or so later I did some more recording with Miles and he invited me to go to Washington DC.
"Do you want to go to Washington DC with me?"
"Yeah!" I said
"OK, well we are going to be there for two weeks playing at The Cellar Door, but you aren't't going to make any money. We can't pay you any money."
"That's OK, I haven't made any money for a year and a half now, and I guess I can go two weeks longer."
"You can go in the bus with the band." Miles added.
So I showed up at Miles place to get on the bus and Miles drove his Lamborghini with his beautiful model girlfriend. It was a nice big bus though. So that was it! I was playing 2 weeks at The Cellar Door with Miles Davis.
All of a sudden everyone was talking about me. The Reviews were, "Who is this guy from Brazil? This incredible percussionist who has things we have never seen before." All sorts of stuff like that. I had real long hair back then and I would sit in a chair with my instruments on the floor and the microphone really low to the ground. I would play leaning over with my hair covering my face. This made it so that I never had to look at anyone, especially Miles. Miles would come near me on stage to check out what I was doing, and I could see his boots. Usually he was wearing the most beautiful boots. Anyway, I would only see his feet. I never looked up, I just kept playing. I remember one day he got down on his knee and was looking into my face, and I just wouldn't't look at him. Then he said "Are you crazy? You are crazy, you crazy Brazilian." And I said "You're a crazy American" .
He didn't't laugh, but I guess he liked that because Miles I think really enjoyed seeing if he could scare people. Anybody, musicians or not, he would look at them like he was going to kill them. Then as soon as they got scared it was like, I got you, I figured you out. I saw him do this to lots of people. I saw him do this to musicians and then fire them if they got scared. I think he was trying not to have people around him who were using him, because he was Miles Davis, or whatever. People who just wanted to be seen with him because he was Miles. People who wanted to say they were "Hanging out" with Miles.
So he didn't't treat people that well because of that. Then when someone was for real, he would see it. I was scared the first time I met him, but then I got over it and there I was playing with him.
He never really hired me though, or fired me. Someday I will write the story about how I left the band, which is an interesting and intensely emotion moment.