Today marks the One-Year Anniversary of The Revivalist! Last year we kicked off the site with an entire issue dedicated to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, exploring not only the venerable and legendary musician, but also the innovations in music that emerged because of the album. Issue #1 was created in collaboration with the Miles Davis Estate, and launched with an interview with Erin Davis and Vincent Wilburn, Miles’ son and nephew respectively. We thought to celebrate this milestone by reuniting with our dear friends. We got a chance to sit and chat with them about their most recent release, the CD and DVD set of the Miles Davis Second Great Quintet Live in Europe 1967.
The night before we caught up with Vince and Erin they held a panel at the Apple Store moderated by jazz scholar Ashley Kahn and featuring Davis collaborators, bassist Ron Carter and saxophonist Gary Bartz. On a high from the phenomenal panel the night before and in celebration of the legacy of The Second Great Quintet and also to celebrate the one-year anniversary of The Revivalist we discussed everything from The Second Great Quintet, the legacy of jazz, playing with Miles Davis, and much more!
Can you tell us about the Miles Davis Estate’s most recent release, the Miles Davis Second Great Quintet Live in Europe 1967 CD and DVD?
Erin: It’s taken from three shows in the fall of 1967 in Europe. And apparently recorded by the governments of Belgium, Denmark, and France. And we were able to use some of this material to put out for people to hear. In Europe, they archive all the concerts and things, it’s a government run entity, protecting the arts. We were able to release some of the stuff and it’s been pretty good so far, can’t complain.
It’s so great that they archived this music and this great quintet, can you talk about the importance of archiving music which doesn’t seem to be as important here in the U.S?
Erin: It would be nicer if we had some government interest in the arts, because with all these great American artists, all the great stuff you find will come from Europe, Japan, or somewhere else. You have to put together so much money just to record a live show here. Where as in Europe or Japan, it’s much easier for them because it’s government run. I’m not too sure about Japan in terms of government run. But I wish we could do the same here in the U.S.
Let’s talk about The Second Great Quintet. All of the musicians were at the top of their game collectively, they were each masters and came together and that was something that was very important for Miles Davis, having a collective of musicians who were learning together.
Vince: Being around Miles he always sets the bar. Yesterday at the panel Ron Carter talked about how when they performed they would all wear suits, kind of like their uniforms. So before any music is played you had to dress the part. Now we call it swagger. Back then as the guys walked on the stage it was like Michael Jordan or Jeter, you had to have the mind set to kick some butt. And Miles had that thing, and being around him you had to produce. It was innate. I talked to Ron about it and I said, “when you all went on stage you just had this look like we are gonna kick some butt.” And when we played with Miles, we felt it too. You had to just come with it. If you made mistakes it was okay. Ron talked about how they only rehearsed 30 minutes one time in five years. And off the stage they didn’t talk a lot. They did their rehearsing on stage. You don’t get that anymore. Miles set the bar and anybody who had the opportunity to play and be around that, had to come with it. Including us, family or no family.
And yesterday you mentioned how Miles said “never take your eyes off me.”
Vince: With a wireless, so you had to follow him. I think he did it because he wanted us to know what it was like to be a bandleader, there was always an underlining current to whatever he did. A teaching tool. Now we are bandleaders and Erin composes movies scores. It was always like a baton. And I don’t know maybe Miles thought, after I’m gone you guys will see. In rehearsals he would tell us to try things and we would do it and we wouldn’t understand it, but at the show it would work. If the music wasn’t working he would cut it off and go to another song. Just telepathic.
Tell us about that spirit and the intimacy, the fact that you had to look at each other. Miles got flak for turning his back to the audience.
Vince: He wanted to be a part of what was happening on stage. When the conductor sits with the orchestra, he turns his back. I can’t answer for Miles but I don’t think it was to belittle the audience. I just think the camaraderie was on stage and he loved to feed off of that.
Erin: I used to be in bands where we would rehearse in a circle instead of everybody facing forward. You get a much better feel for what everybody is doing, and what’s going on. You gotta communicate on stage. You can’t just play your part and hope that everybody falls in together. There’s gotta be eye contact you gotta see sometimes the body language or movement, just everything. Especially with a drummer you gotta have eye contact. I’ve seen some big bands where the drummer is way up on the top but I’ve seen a lot where the drummer is right next to the conductor, and I think that makes a lot more sense. When we would play with him, he would would walk up and down the stage. He’s not gonna walk out on the stage like some performers and high five people and all that stuff. He’d pace the stage and then he would turn around to us and at the end of the song he would turn around and acknowledge the crowd. He was having a good time.
Vince: He put cue cards up.
Erin: Yeah he had our names on cue cards. After you did a solo he’d put your name up. To me it all made sense though. He also had some difficulty with his voice so he was not going to go on the mic and say, “my next number will be Stella by Starlight” you know. And going back to this quintet. It still baffles me whenever I hear it. How good everyone is at the same time. And hearing Ron talk about it last night was just amazing to think they were just trying to be better than the last night.
Vince: Some things work some thing didn’t work.
Erin: Yeah but they just kept trying. And they were actually revered as a great quintet.
Vince: And Ron was whispering when were listening to playbacks, “I’m driving the bus, I’m driving the bus.” That saying alone. It’s like wow. And Tony as a kid, giving ideas. Everybody is giving ideas. Herbie. Ron said Herbie played more at sound checks,to you know give ideas, and Herbie is also classically trained. And Miles is reeling it in and bringing it together with those components.
Something that this really stresses is that real creativity is about human interaction. And we are in a time were humans don’t interact face to face as much and even musicians, people make albums without ever physically seeing each other. Something that also comes up is the real life mentorship that was going on at the time of the Second Great Quintet. With the institutionalization of jazz it has become a bit colder.
Vince: I think we need to go back. The kids need to start over, go back and retrace whatever instrument they are going to play. And listen to Monk and Bird and work on it, not just listening to the artists of the day. These days it’s a lot about click on and buy. When I was coming up me and my boys would go to the record store and read the jackets. We’d just read them! We couldn’t afford the records. We’d look at the album covers and be like, “Ah Tony is on this look at this!” And then when we had the money to get it we would buy the records, go home, listen to them collectively and then decipher things and then try to play. Not like Tony Williams, or Miles, or Trane but just play it or listen to it and talk about.
Bill Cosby said it was cool to have a Miles album on the train, just walking around. But we are missing that. It’s something kids should adhere to and just check out. And that’s why we called Ron, because Ron–man that was it. Anything he says or speaks on it what is was about and what it is about. We were talking the other day about Q-Tip and the Low End Theory. We listened to the Low End Theory when Miles passed away in ‘91, all the way here for Miles’ funeral. We both had the record. So 20 years later we are talking to you all on the day that we came here to the funeral, and Ron was talking last night about Low End Theory and Q-tip. It’s like wow.
I was watching an interview with Sonny Rollins yesterday with Tavis Smiley and he said “jazz is not a body, you can’t kill jazz, jazz is a spirit.” Can you both speak about that.
Erin: There’s so much improvisation that it’s alive, its creative so its not something that can just die. People always say that jazz is dead and this and that. I heard that about rock and roll all the time but it’s still here. Jazz is still there. More prevalent in other places. Here In New York there’s a great presence. we went to the Zinc Bar last night. It was a jam session night and you could see that there were some guys trying to find their feet and some guys who went up there just to blow and let out whatever they were thinking in the week. I see it more here than in LA and I appreciate that about New York. The spirit is still alive here. We saw a couple of guys from Julliard Sunday night and they were just great players and still pretty young and totally taking on the mantle of social music.
Vincent: In New York there’s a melting pot. In LA you don’t get that and its not a knock on LA, but in New York it’s just like wow, you come here there are jam sessions and a great spirit.
Erin: I went to Smalls a few months ago and all these guys were waiting outside with their horns waiting to get in and play.
Vince: You have jam sessions in LA but in New York its just different, in Europe, Paris its all different. Here and in Europe there is more of a appreciation of the social music. They don’t have it in schools anymore. There is a Miles Davis academy in Chicago with a pad lock on the library. With all the budget cuts the first thing to go in schools is music and physical education.
Interview by Tamara Davidson