My 1986 encounter with Miles Davis in Vancouver
I have recently been asked about my 1986 encounter with Miles Davis in Vancouver. Though I have not thought about it in years, the interest in this incident and the inaccurate recounting of it in Miles’ book (which I addressed publicly before his passing) has for some reason resurfaced. Just for the sake of truth, I called the three men who could verify what happened: Jeff Watts, Robert Hurst and Marcus Roberts. I asked them to comment on a statement of the facts leading up to the impromptu meeting, and they all agreed. Now, almost thirty years has passed. We don’t get the chance to speak that often but shared a good laugh recalling the events of that day. The story and their unedited statements appear below. As you will see, although all three have different feelings about it, not one of them disputes the facts.
Vancouver, June 1986
We were in the car approaching the city when the subject of Miles’ repeated disrespecting of me and my family came up. Marcus, Tain and Bob began yeasting me, “Man, how long you gonna just let him say you ain’t shit and do absolutely nothing.” “Yeah man, Davis is always slapping you.” “We think you must be scared of him.” Then someone (I think it was Tain) said, “He’s playing tonight and we’re off. I think you ought to go up there and jump on him.” I said, “Man, I have too much respect for him to do that.” Then they started betting I wouldn’t. We were joking and laughing. The pot hit $100 apiece and I said, “Ok. I’ll do it.” And I did.
He was actually playing the organ when I walked on the bandstand. So far as him saying anything to me, it was too loud to hear whatever he said. When the band stopped, he said something, but ‘fuck’ was not one of the words. And so far as him hitting me, I made sure to stay to the left (I’m left handed) and avoid that at all costs, because that would have put me in an unwinnable situation. I came to respond to his constant public shit talking about me, not to whip a much older (and infirm) man’s ass, which certainly would have happened at that time and would have caused my father to whip mine. And…..I never collected that $300.
The story hit the street and became a much bigger deal than it was or than any of us thought it would be.
The statements of Jeff Watts, Robert Hurst and Marcus Roberts.
“I recall the events of the day similarly, with Wynton having initial trepidation about sitting in, out of respect. I believe I pushed it over the edge by saying that perhaps Miles should not be above having someone jam with him during his performance, as he had done the same with Bird and others.
The other band members and I positioned ourselves in the audience, and when Wynton walked out, we exclaimed loudly “Look, it’s Wynton…..wow !!!”. We were howling with laughter that he actually did it.
I never anticipated that how much would be made of the feat, as it quickly became international news, still talked about to this day. I was young and silly at the time. Oh well……”
“As embarrassing as it is to recount these matters, they are in fact true, and I deeply apologize for the ignorance and lack of judgment shown during my youth which yielded any disrespect to my musical hero, Miles Davis or his Great Legacy.”
“This account is accurate. We were all young guys on a mission to preserve our music, and though we all grew up admiring Miles’ contribution to the music, we also felt as young men that he no longer represented the art form with the same level of steadfast integrity as before when he was great and admired by musicians and laymen alike. So, after Wynton sat in and played on this slow blues to a stunned but very supportive and appreciative audience, we all left.
We felt bad, because in the end, how many heroes are left that you can truly look up to and admire? The key to the future of preserving the high ideals of jazz has always been to reassert your dedication to the highest principles of the music while playing it, especially in public.
So, hopefully this clears up any misunderstanding concerning Vancouver. Me, Bob, and Tain were all there and witnessed it.”
There you have it. Hopefully I will not be called upon to address this again until 40 years from now when, if fortune smiles upon me, I will be 93.