Smitty: I have two very special guests joining me here at JazzMonthly.com. They are a part of a fantastic project. It is a cross-cultural celebration of the music of Miles Davis along with some of India’s foremost musicians collaborating with the legendary musicians who comprised the various Miles Davis bands over the years. Here to talk about this great project and the legendary Miles Davis, please welcome the son of Miles Davis, Erin [Davis] and Mile’s nephew, Vince [Wilburn, Jr.] Erin, Vince, how ya doing? Welcome to Jazz Monthly.com!
Erin Davis (ED): Thank you.
Vince Wilburn, Jr. (VW): Yes, thank you for having us.
Smitty: You are so welcome! All right. Well, I must say that when I listened to this project, a lot of memories came back from listening to Miles over the years and I really got into what a fantastic experience and journey this must have been over 11 months to do this great project. So talk about your contributions, just initially, to this great project. Erin?
ED: Actually, I didn’t work on this project, but Vince did. Yeah, but you know what, Smitty? What we do is we bounce ideas off each other so, I mean, I did—I gotta get my cousin’s approval [Vince laughs] because I love him and I like his input on things that we do together or separately, you know?
Smitty: Yeah, absolutely.
VW: So I would take things over—we call them advances—and lay it on him, but it was Bob Belden’s baby and what he did, he went back and researched. There was a tabla player named Badal Roy who played with Uncle Miles and that’s how they started—I guess that piqued their curiosity about Indian musicians. There are people all over the world who admire Uncle Miles and love his music, so I guess they got the group of Indian musicians together and had these interpretations of different songs, and Bob asked me would I be interested in playing on some of the tracks and he picked “Jean- Pierre” and “Great Expectations” for me to play on and Ndugu [Chancler] played on a couple of things and Jimmy Cobb and Lenny White.
Smitty: Yeah, Marcus Miller…
VW: Marcus. Marcus played the bass clarinet on “Great Expectations.”
Smitty: Yes, a fantastic track…
VW: Adam Holzman, a bunch of dudes. Ron Carter, and Ranjit Barot.
ED: Chick Corea, Pete Cosey.
VW: Yeah. Benny Rietveld.
VW: Mike Stern, Wallace Roney, Dave Liebman, Bobby Irving, [John] McLaughlin.
ED: It’s actually everybody who’s still around, basically.
Smitty: That played with him.
Smitty: Yeah, exactly. Vince, talk to me about when you heard the music of the Indian musicians, what did that invoke in you initially when you started to lay down your work with this music?
VW: Oh, man, the actual two tracks were already recorded and it was sort of like the glue to hold it down for “Jean-Pierre” because there was Rangit Barot and myself, and then for “Great Expectations” I just researched the original “Great Expectations” track and went in and did it with that kind of a mindset.
Smitty: Did that create something different in your approach to this music? Obviously it was different than your normal approach to music. Did this create something totally different for you as far as your approach to music?
VW: I mean, any time—I hope I’m speaking for Erin too—any time we approach—we call him The Chief, you know, that’s Erin’s dad or Uncle Miles—we’ve gone into the vault and checked out music, like tapes, because he never stopped the tape so he had reels and reels of tracks. I mean, it just opens your mind up because I think Uncle Miles always thought so far ahead, right Erin?
ED: Yeah, yeah.
VW: So it leaves like an open canvas, man, to just create if your mind is open enough on your particular instrument. If you keep that mind open like he did and always want to evolve and create then you can go for it.
Smitty: Yeah, absolutely. Erin, your dad has just created such a force in music even down to this day. I can’t tell you how many people talk to me about Miles, talk to me about how he influenced them and maybe it was a spoken word, maybe one sentence to them in passing, and they have kept that with them all these years and continue to…
ED: Oh yeah, yeah. Like an anecdote, yeah.
Smitty: Yeah, you know? Talk to me about the influence that he had on you as a boy, as a man, and down to today as far as your interactions and your relationship with him.
ED: Well, I tell ya, I was checking out a new My Space page that went up for the Miles From India project, and there was an interview from 60 Minutes that was done in the 80s, I think, and I watched it again and I was watching him speak and I was like it just brought back so many memories of how I remember him and how I perceive things, and the way he speaks about things is with a clear mind and I love the way he was able to just say whatever was on his mind, doesn’t matter to who it was. It could’ve been anybody, right Vince?
VW: Oh yeah.
ED: It could’ve been the President of the United States, it could’ve been anyone, anyone in the world, anyone from 60 Minutes too—I watched his interview he did with Bryant Gumbel on the Today Show. What I learned from him aside from musical things, which I still learn every day, is what it means to carry yourself and to have self-respect, first of all. And make sure that everything you do is done at a certain level, not to leave anything out there, no half stepping, no shucking and jiving.
VW: Yeah, honesty and getting to it.
ED: When I watch these interviews I’m constantly reminded, you know, he always talked about how people would say, give reasons—his teachers give reasons why people play the blues, black people from the Midwest, the South, and he said “My father’s wealthy and my mother’s beautiful and I can play the blues. I don’t have any….” He grew up a happy child but he could still play the blues.
VW: You don’t have to be downtrodden and, you know, oh, woe is me.
ED: And sad.
Smitty: (Laughs). So true.
VW: It’s about being a musician and having feeling and soul and interpretation in your music.
Smitty: Yeah, and I think you both hit it straight on because when you listen to Miles, not only his musicianship, but like you said, the way he spoke, he was always so profound in every word, every syllable was so profound, and there was no fluff.
VW: No, no, no.
ED: No time for that.
Smitty: Yeah, there was no chaser. It was like this is it, this is how it is. And I remember listening to Herbie Hancock speak of Miles and he said Miles was all about music. He wanted you to be working on music but no junk. You’ve got to be legitimately working on some great music and really getting into it. And I thought that was so unique when he said that because you don’t hear that much, today. It’s like “Well, I got a couple of tracks over here” or “I’ve got a couple of demos.” But Miles was about what’s your music about? What’s your music saying? What is it bringing to me? Does it have substance? And I thought that was so, I guess we should say, rare today.
VW: It definitely rubbed off on us, man. That’s how we approach our separate projects and collectively too, you know?
VW: I mean, when Erin and I go into the vault, man, it’s no nonsense because it’s sacred. It’s just no time to B.S. I mean, we tear up, man, our jaws drop, I mean, it’s like hey man, this is sacred, this is the vault, this is what it’s about, you know?
Smitty: Yeah, very serious.
ED: And what you’re looking at is all these years and years and sessions of what’s work, you know? Of creative output. Work, you know? And it’s beautiful. It’s inspiring, it’s really inspiring.
VW: It sure is.
Smitty: Well, everything about him was inspirational. I saw a tape not long ago, some footage, and I really analyzed it to the letter, and with Miles everything was on time.
Smitty: I mean, you know what I’m saying?
VW: Hey man, I lived with Erin and my uncle, right? And, man, I mean, this is a man who used to change clothes six times, five-six times a day.
VW: And just stay clean and just stay on his axe and just have his trumpet by him and his paint and his paint brush and his canvas, and he could cook his butt off, man.