Of the more than 500 interviews I’ve done since embarking on a career as a radio and print journalist, I’ve been fortunate to meet and talk with some amazing artists: Ravi Shankar, Peter Tosh, Alice Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Fela Kuti, Victor Borge, Astor Piazzolla, Mercedes Sosa are there, the heros of my personal pantheon.
But I never got to meet or talk with Miles Davis. But I almost did. I was a Los Angeles County Beach LIfeguard, and we guards got a special deal to be Crest Club members at Pepperdine University Malibu and carte blanche to use the fabulous 50 meter pool, the best pool in LA. Miles used to swim there. He’d drive down from his home, just north of the Ventura County Line, in his yellow Testarossa Ferrari, and train with a coach. I hoped to run into him there. And I had a game plan. I’d initiate conversation by swimming next to him, showing off my superior swimming talents, then suggest he change something about his stroke or kick to become more efficient in the water. Then I’d start talking about Coltrane and Cannonball. Like Pavlov’s dog, I would know by the thunderous roar of his V12 Italian supercar that he was arriving….my Dad had those cars and I even drove a few. They have an amazing sound.
I told my French friend Benedicte, who also swam at Pepperdine, to be on the lookout too. I knew about Miles’ fondness for French women because of his mad affair with Juliette Greco, who swept the young bohemian artist community of postwar left Bank off their feet, and she did the same for Miles as well. One day Benedicte was swimming and Miles arrived. She swam over to him and they started talking. Before long, she had his phone number. He was leaving for a European tour, however, and said they’d be in touch when he returned. When Benedicte called a month later, the phone number had changed. Cicely Tyson, his wife, may well have changed it to keep her husband away from young French women.
And so, alas, I never met Miles Davis. And though I never got to interview him while he lived here, he still rests in my pantheon of jazz heros.