Howard McGhee and Miles Davis

Howard McGhee and Miles Davis, New York City, September 1947.

Howard McGhee and Miles Davis. New York City, September 1947.

I’ve looked at this photo many times. Davis is 21. McGhee is 29. I’ve wondered a lot whether I’m reading too much into Davis’ expression. But with the context of moment, age, appreciation, future, what’s contained in it seems limitless. – jm

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  1. A wide-eyed lad from East St. Louis. From his autobiography, about Charlie Parker, from about this time:

    “He was a great and genius musician, man, but he was also on of the slimiest and greediest motherfuckers who ever lived in this world, at least that I ever met. He was something.
    I remember one time we was coming down to The Street to play from uptown and Bird had this white bitch in the back of the taxi with us. He had done already shot up a lot of heroin and now the motherfucker’s eating chicken— his favorite food — and drinking whiskey and telling the bitch to get down and suck his dick. Now, I wasn’t used to that kind of shit back then— I was hardly even drinking, I think I had just started smoking— and I definitely wasn’t into drugs yet because I was only nineteen years old and hadn’t seen no shit like that before. Anyway, Bird noticed that I was getting kind of uptight with the woman sucking all over his dick and everything, and him sucking on her pussy. So he asked if something was wrong with me, and if his doing this was bothering me. When I told him that I felt uncomfortable with them doing what they were doing in front of me, with her licking and slapping her tongue like a dog all over his dick and him making all that moaning noise in between taking bites of chicken, I told him, “Yeah, it’s bothering me.” So you know what that motherfucker said? He told me that if it was bothering me, then I should turn my head and not pay attention I couldn’t believe that shit, that he actually said that to me. The cab was real small and we all three were in the backseat, so where was I supposed to turn m head? What I did was to stick my head outside the taxi window, but I could still hear them motherfuckers getting down and in between, Bird smacking his lips all over that fried chicken. Like I said, he was something, all right.”

  2. Amazing photograph. Thank you for this.

  3. Lovely picture. And don’t forget the guy in the foreground: Dodo Marmarosa, one of the forgotten giants of the bebop era (and one of Pittsburgh’s greatest gifts to jazz history).

  4. I’ll bet that scene freaked him out. His father was a dentist, and the family was well off, and he’d come to New York to attend Juilliard.

    From everything I’ve read, Bird could be charming but in general he wasn’t an easy person to know. This is why I often don’t want to know much about the personal lives of artists I admire.

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