© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Miles Davis has in fact never played bebop, cool, fusion, or funk. He has always been a flat-out up-front romantic.”
“It had taken imagination, taste, talent, and courage to play Charlie Parker's Anthropology at fancy hotels and supper clubs when people had paid to hear a band that had won two Billboard magazine polls in the "sweet band" category. The distinctive, softly dissonant swing he had pioneered anticipated "cool" jazz by several years. In fact, Claude Thornhill, not Miles Davis, had given birth to the cool.”
“The lead trumpet player of a big band must be a concertmaster and quarterback in one. He must be clear-headed, with fast reflexes and great strength. The chair requires a unique and demanding combination of physical conditioning, tact, leadership, and intelligence. Lead trumpet players often lift weights. Heart attack is the occupational hazard.”
“How have I survived my heroes? What a strange power jazz has over me. Some jazz musicians were outlaws, but I did not have their courage. How I envied Allen Eager. "Allen Reluctant," we used to call him. No Jewish tenorman has ever played more like Lester Young. The first time someone told me about Stan Getz, he was described as "playing even better than Allen Eager." There were many other white Presidents — Stanley Kosow, Brew Moore, Johnny Andrews — and I had played with all of them in Brooklyn strip clubs. They had taught me tricks like running augmented arpeggios on dominant seventh chords. Listening to them had been my school. But none of them had taught me more than Allen Eager. Allen was my Joe DiMaggio. I modelled my swing after his. He listened to Prokofiev, drove racing cars, (once won Sebring), frequented Swiss ski resorts, lived with high fashion models — boy, were they high — and patronized the best English custom tailors. Miles kept trying to find out the name of Allen's tailor, but Allen wasn't talking. This was no nodding-out, nose-scratching junkie fixing in dirty toilets. He was always sharp, bright, on top of it. He could hold his own with poets, writers, and classical musicians. He was a model to me of what hip should be. Much later, not too many years ago, I ran into him, living in a broken-down house in the black slums of Coconut Grove. He had lost his teeth and was a born-again Christian, on welfare and the food stamp program.”
- Excerpts from Mike Zwerin’s autobiography, Close Enough for Jazz.
Very few of my business trips to Europe turned out as planned; there was always an inconsistency to them.
I suppose that since I was involved with trying to transfer risk on behalf of my clients to international insurance companies, there was always going to be an element of uncertainty in any of these transactions.
I mean when one of the executives you are dealing with has a sign on the wall behind his desk which states in large bold letters - WE DON’T ACCEPT RISK, WE ARE AN INSURANCE COMPANY! - you know that you are in for some tough negotiations and a lot of inconsistency between what you want for your client and what’s on offer by the insurance carrier [who, as an intermediary, is also your client, but that’s another story for another day].
But whether it was tea and scones in London, cafe au lait and a croissant in Paris, or an espresso and biscotti in Rome, one person that I could always count on joining me for breakfast and consistently bringing pleasure to my day was Mike Zwerin.
This was because Mike, who was based in Paris until his death in 2010, wrote a regular Jazz column for the International Herald Tribune, the English language newspaper that is available on a daily basis in most of the major cities of Europe.
And, Man, could Mike ever write.
For those not familiar with his work, Mike was an expatriate for quite a while having left for Europe in 1969.
Mike was a fine trombonist who became known when he was a member of the Maynard Ferguson band. A strange thing happened on the way to the job. His father died and Mike suddenly found himself the president of Dome Steel. I found it very hard to imagine Mike as the head of a steel company; so did he, and in fact he would stash his horn in his office in New York so that he could slip away to play gigs. Eventually he gave the position up, returned to playing full time, and became jazz critic of the Village Voice [1964-1969] and then its London correspondent [1969-71]. He moved to Paris and wrote regularly for the International Herald-Tribune for 21 years while also freelancing for various European magazines and continues playing.
Along the way, Mike authored an autobiography that was published by Quartet Books in 1984. There's wonderful stuff in that book. It has a naked honesty that is very rare. The following essay is condensed and excerpted from the book, which is titled Close Enough for Jazz. It appeared in the March 15, 1983 edition of Gene Lees’ JazzLetter.
The Square on the Lawn
by Michael Zwerin
“In the summer of 1949, I was in New York on vacation from the University of Miami. I was eighteen. In those days I played my horn like a kid skiing down a slalom, with more courage than sense. One night I climbed up to Minton's where bebop was born, in Harlem. A lot of white cats considered Minton's too steep a slope but I never imagined that somebody might not like me because I was white or Jewish. I was absolutely fearless. I walked in, took out my horn, and started to playing Walkin' with Art Blakey, then known as Abdullah Bihaina — a fearful cat, I was later to learn.
When I noticed Miles Davis standing in a dark corner, I tried harder, because Miles was with Bird's band. He came over as I packed up. I slank into a cool slouch. I used to practice cool slouches. We were both wearing shades, no eyes to be seen.
"You got eyes to make a rehearsal tomorrow?" Miles asked me.
"I guess so.”
"Four." Miles made it clear he couldn't care less if I showed up or not. Driving home over the Triborough Bridge, I felt like a batboy who had been offered a tryout with the team.
The next day at four I found myself with a band that would come to be called the Birth of the Cool. Gerry Mulligan, Max Roach, John Lewis, Lee Konitz, Junior Collins, Bill Barber, and Al McKibbon played arrangements by Mulligan and Gil Evans, who was musical director.
Miles was...cool. Pleasant, relaxed, diffident. It was his first time as leader and he relied on Gil. He must have picked up his famous salty act some time later, because he was as sweet as his sound that summer.
It did not seem historic or legendary. A good jazz gig. But there were plenty of them then in New York. We certainly did not have the impression that those two weeks in a Broadway joint called the Royal Roost would give birth to an entire style. It was fun being on a championship team and when Gene Krupa's entire trumpet section took a front table to hear us, I was proud. But my strongest memory of those two weeks is the one we played opposite Count Basie, who then had Wardell Gray on tenor saxophone. Like a later summer spent listening to John Coltrane with Thelonious Monk at the Five Spot, Wardell with Basie is a sound that has never left my head and I will go to my grave with it.
How would my life have changed had I stayed in New York after the summer of 1949 instead of going back to Miami and college like a good boy? A few months later, Miles made the "historic" Birth of the Cool record with Kai Winding on trombone, and I became a footnote to jazz history. When I later read about Gerry Mulligan's success with his pianoless quartet in Time, I moaned. That could have been me. Had I committed myself to jazz at that point, I think that today I would be one of the ten best trombonists in the world. I had everything but the conviction. It was an unforgivable crime and I'm still paying for it. "You're an under-rated trombone player," a customer in an Amsterdam club recently told me. "It's better than not being rated at all," I answered. I'm not so sure.
Leaving the Russian Tea Room after a three-martini lunch, when I was president of Dome Steel, I crossed Miles and Gil Evans arriving. By now I had a familiar stomach lump in such situations. It's terrible, having nobody to blame. Miles and Gil had followed their forward dance. It was a bright autumn afternoon and Miles looked as though he has just stepped out of the pages of Esquire. He was wearing a flared suede single-vent jacket and leather driving gloves with belts on them. The doorman was parking his Ferrari. I was afraid he would not acknowledge recognizing me. We had not met since the cool had been born. But he poked my stomach and said in that sandpaper voice of his, "You're getting fat, Mike."
One recent afternoon I was with Chet Baker in the Club Dreher on Place Chatelet in Paris. He stopped talking when the tape played Miles' The Man with the Horn. Chet stared at the bottles for a while and said, "That sure is romantic music." And it's true. Miles Davis has in fact never played bebop, cool, fusion, or funk. He has always been a flat-out up-front romantic.
That is why Miles and Coltrane made such a timeless team — the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries in tandem. And like a true Nineteenth Century romantic, Miles is always disappearing, with a wave of his Byronic cape and a consumptive cough, into the mists on some brave, secret, lonely mission. Always to reappear just when you need him. James Baldwin called him "a miraculously tough and tender man."
Towards the end of John Coltrane's period with Miles, he was searching desperately to find his own personality. His solos were getting longer and longer, sometimes lasting forty-five minutes in a forty-five minute set. Miles said to him, "Man, why don't you try playing twenty-seven choruses instead of twenty-eight?"
Trane answered, "I get involved in these things and I don't know how to stop."
"Try taking the saxophone out of your mouth," Miles said.
When I came back to New York from Miami, I played the Roseland Ballroom for several weeks. I forget the name of the band. It was a forgettable band. People nostalgic for the big-band era forget how many forgettable big bands there were. Yet here I was, finally — a working musician, waking up hung over at noon. I couldn't believe my luck. When I finally made my first big name band, the name had faded and the band had shrunk.
Claude Thornhill loved confusion. It seemed to be his only remaining pleasure. He never called out the number or the name of the next arrangement. Each started with a piano introduction and we had to recognize it. He tried tricking us with oriental, Flamenco, or atonal disguises. He could be pretty clever about it. We would wait for Squirms, the lead trumpet player who had been with Claude so long he could hear through him, to shout Lover Man or Witchcraft, and then we scrambled to pull out the chart.
When we were ready, Claude modulated with grace and musicality into another introduction and watched our confusion. Eventually Squirms screamed another title and we scrambled again. It could go on three or four times. In the meantime, Squirms might grab a fast blast from the portable leather bar he always carried ("my band aid," he called it) and groan, "This band should disband."
Claude adored the confusion of setting up. Combination French horn player and bandboy, Nooch, would be unpacking while musicians ran scales and stagehands fussed. Once Claude grabbed a microphone, announced "Testing testing one-two-three," and then, looking revolted by the results, began shouting firm and unintelligible instructions to nobody in particular. He looked up, pointing with horror: "What the blirdy spidle restitrew?"
"You're putting me on," said the drummer.
"Are you kidding? Who'd want to wear a drummer?" Claude laughed to beat the band.
"Put on" is originally jazz slang. It is at the root of the irony of jazz humor. We would laugh at what was not supposed to be funny. Spotting a put on was passing the test. Considering the context of sick humor jazz musicians existed in, it was odd that I could not laugh at Claude Thornhill's sick jokes. One time he went down in the diving bell they used to have off the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. There was a microphone in the bell and people on the pier could hear the "ohs" and "ahs" of the experience. We heard Claude's voice among the others, getting louder and louder until it became a scream. "Look, look, water, water! There's a leak. Oh my God! Help! Please somebody help me! We're all going to drown like rats in a trap! Help!"
That might have been an amusing little number had it not been for the fact that he sounded like he thought he was really drowning. He could see the water coming to drown him. He really did need help.
Claude died a few years later, but he was already dead musically by the fall of 1958 when I toured with his band for six weeks in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and states like that.
Claude had been a pioneer, the first commercial dance band to play bebop arrangements and Charlie Parker tunes as early as the mid 1940s. They were good, too — by Gerry Mulligan and Gil Evans. They were still in the book in my days but rarely pulled out. Claude was highly amused when we played Walter Winchell Rhumba instead. He saw it as a huge dark joke on the public. But when he was drunk, he would sometimes launch into an introduction even Squirms couldn't remember, until finally he'd yell, Anthropology or Yardbird Suite But that was not often.
He was then a small, shrunken man with a W.C. Fields nose, and there was quite a bit of Fields in him in general. His hair was combed straight back and the hairline was receding. His waistline was expanding. His eyes were often glazed, which I attributed to excessive alcohol, but Squirms told me that Claude had once suffered a nervous breakdown and had had electroshock therapy, although he drank enough, too.
The band's basic style was built around a soft, smooth sound obtained by a French horn playing melody with harmonized saxophones. It was like Glenn Miller with brains. Claude had been on top for a while with that sound, playing the best theaters, clubs, and hotels. His theme song, Snowfall, had been on jukeboxes. But by my time his fortunes had taken a decided and, as it turned out, permanent turn for the worse. Arrangements written for full sections were being played by only one trombone, two trumpets, four saxophones, and a now guitarless rhythm section, plus the essential French horn. We worked country clubs, American Legion halls, and high school gymnasiums in provincial towns where Claude Thornhill was still a name. Referring to more successful "ghost" bands — Sam Donahue and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Ray McKinley and the Glenn Miller Orchestra — Claude said to me after one particularly grungie affair, "I guess you have to be dead to make it these days."
All twelve of us travelled in two cars and a supply truck, which was driven by Nooch. Claude's road manager, Kurt, who also played saxophone, was a fat nervous type who kept trying — unsuccessfully — to look cool.
I learned about the day sheet. In those days, if you checked into a hotel at seven a.m., you could check out as late as four the following afternoon and pay for only one night. With a little planning and a missed night's sleep here and there, it was possible to check in only three times a week. And ghosting. Ghosting is when two guys check into a double room, and some time later, four more wander through the lobby as if they are checked in somewhere else. By staggering their entrances into the elevator, they could usually get to the room without detection. There they would sleep on a couch or on the floor, and the cost of the room got split six ways instead of two.
After a three-day drive interrupted only once by boss ghosting, we arrived in Port Arthur, Texas, just in time for the day sheet. Squirms and I were wary of ghosts, so we decided to room together alone, cost notwithstanding. We went to sleep, leaving a five p.m. wakeup call. I unpacked my horn beforehand. The hardest part of practicing is taking the monster out of the case. It is often an insurmountable psychological block. By five-thirty, I was warming up.
I fastened the slide to the bell at varying angles until it fit my hand, lubricated the stockings, put vaseline on the tuning crook so it would move easily but only when I wanted it to, passed a brush through the tubing, polished the balance weight, and made sure the spit valve was properly corked. I shone the bell inside and out with a chamoix cloth, caressed it and might even have kissed it had not Squirms finished throwing up in the toilet and emerged groaning, "I'm sick and tired of waking up tired and sick."
Now here was a hero, my roomie, Squirms. His definition of a square was someone who didn't like throwing up. A funky road rat with bleary eyes and a green complexion testifying to a dedicated pursuit of happiness, Squirms was laying low from the day. Daytime was not his friend. Under cover of darkness, he consumed small packages of powders and liquids from vials. He almost never ate, and yet he was overweight. If the gin people had added vitamins to their product, he would not have eaten at all. He ate out of a sense of duty. His idea of a meal was one Drake's cake.
Squirms poured himself a libation from his band aid, a quadruple. Four fingers, no fucking around. The smell of alcohol joined that of codeine syrup and the dyspeptic cloud which surrounded Squirms at all times. Even a ten-foot pole was not enough to escape its touch. The fact that the lead trumpet player sits in the middle of the brass section made playing a brass instrument hazardous with Squirms, who would joke, "My mouth feels like dinosaurs are walking around in it." Squirms smelled like cat food. He even looked like cat food. The yuckie kind that comes out of a can.
Squirms won farting contests, which involve big-league farts with road rats. Trombone players have been known to bribe band boys not to set their chairs directly in front of Squirms. And road managers have used the threat of having to ride in the same car with him to keep unruly players in line. "Not that, Kurt, anything but that!"
Affectionately called Filthy McSwine, Squirms believed that playing a saxophone held together by rubber bands and chewing gum was essential to Charlie Parker's genius. He thought that the new breed of educated, punctual, well-mannered and responsible musician would be the death of the music. He considered himself to be preserving tradition, upholding true values. Everybody was too clean, that's why jazz was in trouble. His theory was that soap was bad for the skin, that it contained chemical impurities that interfered with natural body juices. "Look at cats," he'd say. "They wash with their own spit."
His fierce and dependable lead trumpet playing was a miracle. The lead trumpet player of a big band must be a concertmaster and quarterback in one. He must be clear-headed, with fast reflexes and great strength. The chair requires a unique and demanding combination of physical conditioning, tact, leadership, and intelligence. Lead trumpet players often lift weights. Heart attack is the occupational hazard. There was controversy over Squirms in the band business, much as there was over fast-living quarterbacks such as Joe Namath in the sports world. Is it possible that dissipation can help, not hinder, performance? In certain cases involving genius, this may be true. One element of genius, after all, is excess. Geniuses by definition are abnormal. How can they be expected to conform to norms? Physically, however, geniuses are mortal. And in addition to his not being a genius, the wonder was how Squirms' heart could take it. Kurt suggested he leave his heart to science.
I have neglected to mention Squirms' legendary cough syrup switcheroo. It went like this. Place a can of Coke on a table next to a bottle of maximum codeine cough syrup. Bury your head in the sports page. Read for a while and then, absentmindedly, reach for the Coke. This avoids the awful anticipation of the syrup's sweet and sickening consistency. Pick up the syrup by "mistake" and "discover" the "error" after it's all down. Act surprised. Swear. Burp. Wash it down with Coke.
This went on three times a day when Squirms could not score anything harder (and sometimes even when he could). After only one day sheet, empty syrup bottles would be rolling around under the bed and in dresser drawers. Chambermaids would give him knowing winks. "Cough any better?"
This did not embarrass him. On the contrary, he was proud of his excess. He gloated and joked about it: "My stomach may be a mess, but I haven't had a cough in three years."
Some context is necessary. Squirms is an exception, not the rule. He was both larger and smaller than real life. Most jazz musicians are somewhere in between. They are, for the most part, more or less normal blokes who take no more drugs than advertising executives. They might drink a bit because the road is tough, but so do truck drivers. They have neither the courage nor the desperation it takes to live like Squirms, one long chemical Russian roulette game. Obviously I am not speaking about the great names. But by far the majority of jazz musicians are normal guys who have found a way to live outside organized society — to avoid work in banks, record company offices, or music stores. This takes a certain amount of sanity. Writing about Squirms is one big sick joke, and thus of some interest. But if s a past interest. His type plays rock today. Rock stole our excess, like our licks. So here we are, preserving exotic folklore about an endangered species. I felt pleased, being finally part of that folklore, even if only to observe it, as I walked into the ballroom in Port Arthur, Texas, for the first date of the tour.
Claude was no longer even interested in how his band sounded. He never gave instructions about vibratos, phrasing, or dynamics, if he ever even thought about such details. When someone was out of tune — which was not unusual — Claude would pound an A on the piano. Over and over, two and sometimes four octaves. The customers usually looked perplexed, as if they did not understand modern music. At no time would he say or do something to improve the intonation. He would just pound those notes and laugh. Once it got so bad he stopped pounding and rose from the piano bench waving a white handkerchief in unconditional surrender.
We were protected by a thick coat of provincial ignorance. Once in a while, a group of local musicians came to hear the famous Claude Thornhill orchestra, and then he would go out of his way to play the dumbest arrangements in the book, which was pretty dumb. We did have our moments, and some nights for four or five minutes we could come close to a reasonable facsimile of the Claude Thornhill of yore. We were like an expansion team, over-the-hill veterans, rookies, and a few like myself who had other things on their minds. Bill's drumming varied with the quality of the girls on the dance floor. If they excited him, the time would speed up; if the pickings were lean, it would be like walking through mud. The bassist was a nineteen-year-old hippy from the Bronx who flew over all sorts of marvellous notes, few of which had any relation to the relevant chord.
I was loafing by the bandstand on a break between sets at the Fort Worth Country Club when Claude, looking elegant in his tuxedo, and giggling into the palm of his hand, walked up to me and pointed to a pale blue-haired little old lady at a nearby table. She had a carnation in her white gown and eyeglasses with fake jewels on the rim. He said she had just requested Chloe. Claude had told her politely that we had no arrangement for this composition and thus could not play it for her. She looked disappointed for a minute, then cheered up, snapped her fingers, and said, "Fuck it. Play Anthropology."
The next set we played Anthropology.
We bought an arsenal of cherry bombs in one of those southern counties where they were legal and tossed them out the windows on lonely roads. Outside Holdenville, Oklahoma, we spotted Claude's car behind us and tried timing the fuses so that they would explode under it.
The acceptable limit of ambition for someone who wants to be called "hip" is to do what you want as well as possible, and if you get rich and famous from it, so much the better. Eschew the accumulation of capital or power for their own sake. Conniving for either is considered square, though if they arrive on their own, so much the better.
Bob Dylan said, "Money doesn't talk, it swears." The problem is deciding how much money is enough — and how to keep it from talking dirty. How many shiny things do I really need? What's my purpose in life?
Everyone has their own way of escaping such questions. Keeping on the move is one. Congressmen go on the campaign trail every weekend. Normal people visit ten cities in twelve days on their vacations. Young men ship out to sea. Working-class families live in trailers. Dictators visit their provinces. Beatniks went on the road. Hippies crashed in Goa. Copping out of a straight society is central to the "hip" ethic, and playing with a road band is as good a way as any to do it.
All you have to do is show up on time and sober, and not all that much of either, at that. Alienation is no longer a problem. You are alien everywhere. You travel thousands of miles from Bangor to Baton Rouge — or Berlin to Barcelona — and end up in a hotel exactly like the one you just left. You speak to and play for people exactly like the people you just left. You cannot be reached, mail does not catch up to you. You skim more than read; you pass out rather than fall asleep. You work when everybody else is off, have breakfast in the evening and dinner at dawn. Disorder is the order, and physical alienation is so powerful, so omnipresent, that no treatment seems too extreme. Nobody can even question the need for treatment. Playing chess will not do the trick. You've got to find a familiar internal place to hang onto, it's a matter of survival. And there is one place, a warm corner called stoned.
I shiver remembering one hop we made with Squirms at the wheel. "Wake me up when we get there," he said as we started out. His band aid was empty by the time we reached the outskirts of Dallas, and he was complaining about the absence of coke to tone up his smack.
"Look at that fucking square," he snarled, pointing to a man in an undershirt watering one in a line of small lawns. He looked square all right, watering his lawn at seven in the morning. He did not look like he had been up all night. Battling heartburn, I put on shades. The square stopped to smell a flower. His better half was probably cooking ham and eggs, maybe waffles. I could smell them blend with the odor of perking coffee in a sparkling kitchen flooded with morning sun. It did not seem as square as it would have a few weeks earlier, and I did not feel as hip as I would have liked. Wouldn't it be hip, I thought, if hip turned out to be square?
We pulled up at a light on the corner of "Shoe City" and "Hamburgerville". American commercial enterprises often take names which, they hope, will put them on a larger map. Shoe Village, Bargaintown, Foam Rubber City, Disneyland, Miss Universe. This sort of geographical exaggeration is all over our culture. An adjective can cover square miles — Dullsville, Fat City. Squirms extended it to cosmic proportions with a game he called Wordgrad. After a gig, he'd kick it off by saying something like, "Tired Hollow, man." Or, seeing a beautiful woman, 'Stacked Junction." As we started driving towards the last date, even Squirms squirmed with the ultimate Wordgrad: "New York City City, baby!"
The last hop was from Dallas to Midland, Texas. We checked out of the White Plaza Hotel late in the afternoon, planning to drive at night after the gig to open the day sheet in Midland. Claude passed out in the back seat at two in the morning, when we finally left. He stayed that way the entire drive. We had to shake him awake in Midland. Eventually he flopped out of the car, entered the hotel, and staggered toward the elevators. In the middle of the lobby he stopped, seemed to remember something, and approached the desk. "Let me have my key," he stuttered. The clerk looked puzzled and asked his name. Standing nearby, Kurt explained that this was Mr. Thornhill, who was expected. The clerk asked what kind of room Mr. Thornhill would like. "Look, just let me have my key," Claude repeated, getting red in the face. "I like my room. I don't want to change it."
Claude had not checked out of the White Plaza and did not realize we were now in Midland, three hundred miles west of Dallas.
I was reminded recently of how old and tired Claude looked that morning in Midland when I purchased a record called The Billie Holiday Story and saw his picture in the enclosed booklet. He had accompanied her on a number of recordings and the photo shows a clean-cut cherubic face with a winner’s smile. The contrast between those two images tells the Claude Thornhill story.
But he kept his dignity as his audience dwindled. His hair was always combed, his suits pressed, his face shaven, his bow tie straight. I marvel at how much control that must have involved, considering the skid he was on. He knew he had been something special. It had taken imagination, taste, talent, and courage to play Charlie Parker's Anthropology at fancy hotels and supper clubs when people had paid to hear a band that had won two Billboard magazine polls in the "sweet band" category. The distinctive, softly dissonant swing he had pioneered anticipated "cool" jazz by several years. In fact, Claude Thornhill, not Miles Davis, had given birth to the cool.
His closest friends were the most alienated guys in the band. He loved Squirms, for example. Claude was attracted to people who were defeated, cynical, dissipated — who were, like himself, victims of changing public taste and their own inability to adapt to it. Road rats, they appeal to me too. Losers appeal to me. Perhaps it can be explained by paraphrasing R.D. Laing. If alienating society calls those who cannot adapt to it "losers", does this not make them winners in a larger sense? In any case, road rats were to become so alienated that they were not even aware of the fact that some square folkie named Bob Dylan was singing about them: "How does it feel to be without a home, like a rolling stone?"
How have I survived my heroes? What a strange power jazz has over me. Some jazz musicians were outlaws, but I did not have their courage. How I envied Allen Eager. "Allen Reluctant," we used to call him. No Jewish tenorman has ever played more like Lester Young. The first time someone told me about Stan Getz, he was described as "playing even better than Allen Eager." There were many other white Presidents — Stanley Kosow, Brew Moore, Johnny Andrews — and I had played with all of them in Brooklyn strip clubs. They had taught me tricks like running augmented arpeggios on dominant seventh chords. Listening to them had been my school. But none of them had taught me more than Allen Eager. Allen was my Joe DiMaggio. I modelled my swing after his. He listened to Prokofiev, drove racing cars, (once won Sebring), frequented Swiss ski resorts, lived with high fashion models — boy, were they high — and patronized the best English custom tailors. Miles kept trying to find out the name of Allen's tailor, but Allen wasn't talking. This was no nodding-out, nose-scratching junkie fixing in dirty toilets. He was always sharp, bright, on top of it. He could hold his own with poets, writers, and classical musicians. He was a model to me of what hip should be. Much later, not too many years ago, I ran into him, living in a broken-down house in the black slums of Coconut Grove. He had lost his teeth and was a born-again Christian, on welfare and the food stamp program.
In Paris in 1957, Allen was rooming with Beat poet Gregory Corso. Miles was between sets in a dark corner. I always seem to see Miles in dark corners. He put his arm around my shoulder, asked about my health, and generally made it clear that he was concerned with my welfare. His smile went a long way with the ladies. A club owner once said to him, "The trouble with you is that everybody likes you, you little son of a bitch."
My period with Maynard Ferguson ended with two weeks in Birdland, opposite Miles. Coltrane was with him. Miles and I were sitting together at the musicians' table on the side, in a dark corner once again, listening to Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb, and Paul Chambers, his rhythm section at the time, playing Oleo. Miles had not greeted me once in a week, and we were not really together at the table. He looked furious. "What the hell is Paul doing with the time?" he said.
The time sounded pretty good to me, but I said nothing. He got up to bound towards the stand to do something about the time. He paused long enough to pat my knee and said, "You're still too fat, Mike."