One of the best interviews I’ve read, like ever. And in Playboy too, who would’ve thought eh? Apparently the magazine wasn’t just tits on tits on tits.
I don’t listen to a lot of jazz but I appreciate a fair bit of it and find their entertainers of yesteryear quite fascinating. I also do recall hearing a bit of Davis when I was younger, what with mi dad being a fan and all.
Last night I was doing some reading up on jazz musicians and such from way back when. I came across this 1962 interview which was so enthralling that I felt the need to press it and share with you lot.
So very worth a read, whether you’re into the music genre or not. While the interview has some to do with the actual music, it mostly delves into Davis’ views on race, politics and culture.
N.B. Scroll down to the bottom and click on the link that will take you directly to the full interview. In addition I would even suggest you listen to the following track featured near the bottom, while you read.
DAVIS : …If I hadn’t met that prejudice, I probably wouldn’t have had as much drive in my work. I have thought about that a lot. I have thought that prejudice and curiosity have been responsible for what I have done in music.
Alex Haley/PB: What was the role of the curiosity?
DAVIS : I mean I always had a curiosity about trying new things in music. A new sound, another way to do something — things like that. But man, look, you know one of the biggest things that needs straightening up? The whole communication system of this country! Take the movies and TV. How many times do you see anybody in the films but white people? You don’t dig? Look, the next movie or TV you see, you count how many Negroes or any other race but white that you see. But you walk around in any city, you see the other races — I mean, in life they are part of the scene. But in the films supposed to represent this country, they ain’t there. You won’t hardly even see any in the street crowd scenes — because the studios didn’t bother to hire any as extras.
Negroes used to be servants and Uncle Toms in the movies. But so much stink was raised until they quit that. Now you do have some Negroes playing feature parts — maybe four or five a year. Most of the time, they have a role that’s special so it won’t offend nobody — then it’s a big production made like that picture is going to prove our democracy. Look, I ain’t saying that people making films are prejudiced. I can’t say what I don’t know. But I see the films they make, and I know they don’t think about the trouble a lot of colored people find with the movies and TV.
A big TV network wanted to do a show featuring me. I said no, and they asked me to just look at a show featuring a big-name Negro singer. No, I ain’t calling no names. Well, just like I knew, they had 18 girls dancing for the background — and every one of them was white. Later on, when I pointed this out to the TV people, they were shocked. They said they just hadn’t thought about that. I said I knew they hadn’t. Nobody seems to think much about the colored people and the Chinese and Puerto Ricans and Japanese that watch TV and buy the things they advertise. All these races want to see some of their own people represented in the shows — I mean, besides the big stars. I know I’d feel better to see some kids of all races dancing and acting on shows than I would feel about myself up there playing a horn. The only thing that makes me any different from them is I was lucky.
This black-white business is ticklish to try to explain. You don’t want to see Negroes every time you click on your set. That would be just as bad as now when you don’t see nobody but white people. But if movies and TV are supposed to reflect this country, and this country’s supposed to be democratic, then why don’t they do it? Let’s see all kinds of people dancing and acting. I see all kinds of kids downtown at the schools of dancing and acting, but from what I see in the movies and TV, it’s just the white ones that are getting any work.”
Notice I said track, meanwhile I embedded a whole album off of youtube. That aside, it’s a brilliant album and don’t get me started on the album art – probably should given the type of blog this is.
This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg however, and it gets better when he talks of his refusal to play gigs down in the south due to the extreme presence of Jim Crow at the time. There’s a lot more where that came from as well, found here; A Playboy Interview With Miles Davis.
Give that interview a good read and come back tomorrow when we turn our attention to a much older jazz musician. One of the pioneers of the genre, with an affinity for reefer – yes, one Louis Armstrong!