Miles Davis and the Street Drummer

SKF NOTE: This is a great snapshot of Miles Davis by his former road manager, Chris Murphy. It’s from Mr. Murphy’s book, Miles to Go: The Lost Years. An Intimate Memoir of Life on the Road with Miles Davis 1973-1983. A quick, enjoyable read full of insight into Miles Davis and his world.

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41I72iWwEZL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_[Miles Davis’s] mind was always active — he absolutely loved seeing new things and observing human behavior in its infinite variety. People and how they expressed themselves piqued his curiosity. It was one of the things that kept him going.

Once, after finishing a rehearsal at Studio Instrument Rentals in midtown Manhattan, we left in a limo and drove by the old Ed Sullivan Theatre, now the home of David Letterman’s show. At that time there used to be a character who hung out in front of the theatre every day, playing the street with drumsticks. People were accustomed to him, and many would slip him a buck, even though he wasn’t begging. He was usually dressed in the same black raincoat, and he would stand in front of the marquee, bent over at the waist, as he tapped out solos on the pavement, the sidewalk sewer caps, the fire hydrants, and the curbstones.

I was surprised Miles had never seen this guy before, but he hadn’t, and he ordered the driver to pull over so that he could watch. He was fascinated, and I saw his face become childlike with interest.

“He here all the time?” he asked.

“I’ve seen him many times, though not in the winter,” I said.

“Doesn’t his back hurt, bent over like that?” Miles wondered.

“I suppose so,” I replied. “Maybe he’s used to it. Maybe his mind is elsewhere, in the drumming, maybe.”

Miles shook his head slowly. He felt sorry for this guy, and yet he respected his obsession. We watched a good long time before heading home.

— end —

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