Saturday, March 11, 2006

tell that little purple mf to contact me!

Long Alan Leeds interview on the relationship between Prince and Miles. Relevant excerpts:

TLM: How did Prince view Miles?

AL: Eric [Leeds, saxophonist] joined the band in the middle of the Purple Rain tour and quickly became friends with [guitarist] Wendy Melvoin and [keyboardist] Lisa Coleman, who were familiar with jazz. Gradually they began turning Prince into this kind of music- he had little first hand knowledge of jazz. This was during 1984/85. They made it their own project of turning Prince onto different kinds of music. Eric would give him jazz records and turned Prince on to Sketches of Spain and Kind of Blue and other stuff. Gradually the three of them had an impact on Prince and he felt that he needed to know this music and figure out what he liked and didn't like. He had a very genuine interest in expanding his musical curiosity. Young black guys were attracted to Miles because of his politics - he was an icon. I think as Prince learnt more about Miles he started to see some of himself in Miles. He was fascinated with Miles and used to ask Eric about stories about Miles and he'd share recordings with him. He'd show him video recordings and Prince would be fascinated and say 'look at the way Miles is standing.' - he was just studying his moves or his posture. There was a real fascination with the iconic aspect of Miles.

TLM: Can you describe the first time they met?

AL: To my knowledge, it was at Los Angeles airport and according to my diaries it was December 7 1985. (...) And as we were walking through baggage claim I spotted Miles Davis and I poked Prince in the ribs and pointed. I introduced myself and it ended up with Prince getting into Miles's car, which was parked a little in front of his. I didn't get in with him and they sat and chatted for twenty minutes or so and swapped phone numbers. (...) Prince had recently discovered Miles's music and his history and had a kind of falling in love with him as an icon to the same level as James Brown. He even began with Eric's help to rearrange some of the music, putting in jazz-based segues. There was actually a break between two of Prince's song where they would do "Now Is The Time".

[In late 1985, Prince composed and played on a tune for Miles called "Can I Play With U?" which Miles recorded]

TLM: Can you explain how "Can I Play With U?" happened?

AL: (...) Shortly after the meeting at the airport, they swapped numbers and I'm sure they talked about Prince submitting some material for the first Warner Bros album. As I said, there might even have been conversations before they met Tommy LiPuma [then head of Warner Bros jazz] and the Warner Bros people. So it was already in our mind that 'Miles was on Warner and you guys are going to end up doing something together.' (...)

Within a couple of weeks, Prince was in the studio and he recorded the initial track was on the 26th and 27th of December 1985. (...) Prince did the basic track on the 26th and Eric overdubbed his horn on the 27th. (...) In January [1986] Prince sent the multi-track tape to Miles for him to do whatever overdubs he wanted to do. This didn't happen until February and March. Prince was never present at any of those overdub sessions - he had absolutely nothing to do with them. He was enamoured with Miles but I don't know how ambitious Prince was about working with Miles.

TLM: It seems that Miles always wanted greater collaboration but Prince never seemed to countenance them working together in a studio on an album. Why was this?

AL: First of all, you're dealing with two people who are control freaks. And if Miles is a control freak, multiply that five when you come to Prince! As enamoured as he was with Miles, it was never to the extent that he wanted to sacrifice his control. (...) He doesn't see himself in the role of a traditional producer, whose job is to bring out the essence of what the artist is. With Prince it's a matter of 'This is how I do it and here's how you could fit in. Give it a shot and see if you fit in.' (...)

And Eric reminded me of a quote -and here I'm paraphrasing - he remembers Prince saying to him 'I can't imagine what it would be like to tell Miles what to do.' In other words, 'I wouldn't want anybody telling me what to do, so how dare I tell the great Miles Davis what to do.' So the idea of being in a studio with Miles and trying to direct him was foreign to him and he just couldn't even conceive of that scenario. The irony was that Miles would have welcomed it and that's what we were trying to get through to Prince. Unlike Prince, Miles was somebody who was open to that and who would be interested in seeing where you would take him. Miles had the spirit of adventure to be wide open to see what it would be like for you to direct him as a producer. It was really all about Prince being completely intimidated at being in that role and how he really couldn't understand someone being in that role.

TLM: Prince pulled the track from the album.

AL: I remember Prince's reaction when he got the tape back - he wasn't enthralled with it. Not so much because of what Miles had done with it. But he just lived with the song long enough and realised that there wasn't really anything brilliant about it. It was something that had been hastily and impulsively done. I feel certain that Prince felt that if there was going to be a collaboration that was officially released, it should be something more significant than what that track was. That wasn't a reflection of Miles's playing, but more about the composition and the significance of the quality of the track in itself. (...)

TLM: What happened after that?

AL: They stayed in touch with occasional phone calls back and forth. (...) Sometimes I'd come back from the grocery store and there'd be this raspy voice on the answer machine saying "tell that little purple motherfucker to contact me!"

TLM: Miles and Prince met in 1987?

AL: Prince asked Miles if he could come to the studio and hang out and maybe come over for dinner. (...) Miles hung out for a few hours and Prince then had Miles over for dinner. Prince invited his father, who had been a local jazz pianist. He was an extremely eccentric player - I think he styled himself as a local wannabee Thelonius Monk! (...)

Eric says it was one of the oddest dinners he'd ever had! It wasn't exactly tense, but it wasn't exactly casual! There was so much tip-toeing. Eric says it was like two boxers feeling each other out. At one point Miles turned to Prince's Dad and said 'So you're a musician too?' And Prince's Dad says: 'I was a piano player but always saw myself as [saxophonist] Lucky Thompson.' Miles replied 'what the fuck did you want to do that for?' and the whole table collapsed! Then Miles asked Eric 'How do you stand when you play? Stand up and let me see.' So in the middle of this dinner Eric stands up as if he was playing! Towards the end of the dinner Miles says to Prince's Dad, "Now I know why that motherfucking son of yours is so crazy!" It wasn't exactly relaxed, but there was a lot of love in the house.


TLM: But Miles and Prince DID perform on-stage at the famous 1987 New Year's Eve concert.

AL: It was a benefit that Prince had decided to do for homeless people in Minnesota. (...) At some point, it crossed Prince's mind that we should invite Miles. Miles flew in from Europe with Gordon and Foley. They attended the dinner and he was delightful - sociable, charming. He met my parents - they thought he was the nicest guy in the world! My mum's now 94 and afterwards she read the stories in Miles's autobiography and said "He didn't seem like that sort of guy to me!"

(...) Of course it was arranged that Miles would sit in. The upshot of this was, that like James Brown, Prince has a set of elaborate cues for his band that cue certain breakdowns and changes of tempo and so on that he will spontaneously signal. Now he might be doing a vamp and let's say Eric is doing a tenor solo, Prince would just spontaneously feel he wants to break down and so if Eric hears that signal, he'll know what to expect, so if there's a change in key or tempo in the middle of a solo, he can follow it. Of course Miles had no way of knowing all this and so didn't know what to expect. So after the performance Miles comes off-stage and says "That little motherfucker tried to set me up!"