September 13, 2015
Try to remember the unveiling of the Miles Davis statue, more than a thousand people, all colors of people, all there to honor one of the greatest musicians of all time. The justly proud Preston Jackson, sculptor of the masterpiece, the beaming committee of folks who made the event possible.
Try to remember the folks of whom I asked the question: Why are you here? Oh, said the woman holding the biography of Miles. I just started reading this. I’m reluctant, because I know his personal life was complicated. But his music . . . oh. Oh, said Jules, an eccentric man with his accordion file of photos of famous people and their autographs in his arms, I am here because Miles was great—the greatest. Do you have a card? I collect cards. This is St. Louis, said the young bearded man standing with his red tee-shirted border collie, I couldn’t miss this. Because, said the middle-aged woman in the large hat, he was a great genius. His music was absolutely the emotional core of the meaning of life. And the twin little boys hugging Miles’ statue around the only part they could reach: the bronze bellbottoms.
Try to remember the speeches. Bobby Shew the great trumpeter, improvising words with the audience. You should be proud, he said to the audience. And I am humbled to be here. Preston Jackson, master sculptor: I will return here over and over to this wonderful place of history. The mayor of East St. Louis who spoke in gospel mode: This is a great day. The sun came out at the moment this ceremony began. The mayor of Alton: This crowd is what American looks like.
Try to remember Miles Davis project member Pete Basola, beaming onstage next to Bobby Shew and just in front of drummer Montez Coleman, holding his sax and madly happy to sit in and play. Bobby Shew immaculately dressed in a suit, having not played his horn for weeks because of two carpal tunnel operations, firing off sixteenth notes with seeming ease, bursts of color and throbbing and glissando sex. Montez Coleman bent over his drums and smiling, his bassist playing standup as if it were a guitar, and the keyboardist watching Bobby and laughing: hot, baby, and the music was all Miles, all the time, and we were all turning kind of blue.
Try to remember the band sitting outdoors, the night fifty degrees cool, man, Bobby Shew saying, “I’m freezing my ass off,” the collective crowd head bouncing up and down, the little girl on her father’s lap, buried in a blanket but her left foot tapping the beat, Bobby hugging me at the end and calling me ‘brother,’ the conversations of strangers over our common bond, liquid music.
Try to remember Alton’s greatest night, Alton looking American and fit and artsy and brotherhood and sisterhood abounding, and watts of smiles, and cries of devotion, oh please let this never end.
Try to remember the kind of September when kind of blue dreams were kept beside our pillows