I got a phone call today. My baby brother, Tracy, is not doing so well. Lately, life hasn’t been good to him. He has a disease that causes him to “not be Tracy” all the time. I love Tracy. Here’s what we did almost exactly 31 years ago.
Miles Davis had just come out of “retirement,” and was playing Red Rocks. Since his booking was last-minute, he had to be the opening act for Spyro Gyra. They were enjoying great success in the “Jazz Fusion” explosion of the Seventies and early Eighties, but even they were shocked to find the great trumpeter was their opening act.
Tracy and I arrived very early, since I was a rabid Miles fan. I suppose I still am, despite the fact that he ruined some of the happiness of my then two-week-old marriage by inconsiderately dying. The show was to start at 8:00, and my brother and I got to the venue at 2:00. It was a great idea to come that early, because we were treated to two sound checks with the full band, including guitarist Mike Stern and bassist Marcus Miller.
During the first sound check at about 4:30, the band played truncated versions of tunes from Miles’ new (and largely execrable) album, The Man With The Horn. But the second sound check was a thrill. At about 5:00, the band emerged to play a medium tempo, straight-ahead blues. Miller played a terrific walking bass line, and Stern was a dazzling accompanist with his complex boppish chording. During both sets, Tracy and I were favored with Davis’ laser-like “what the hell are you looking at” glare, since we were part of only about six or seven people there, and we were also the only ones who were right down front.
The crowd filed in at the usual time, blissfully unaware of what they’d missed and what Tracy and I were one of the only ones to hear: Miles Davis playing hard bop, just as he had a quarter-century earlier. No tepid, unoriginal “Fuzak” (the combination of Jazz Fusion and Muzak) like the garbage on most of the new album.
When the show started, with Tracy and I firmly ensconced on the right side of the front row (since that’s where Miles wandered during his solos or when he wasn’t playing), the members of Spyro Gyra crept up next to us, all of them laughing nervously and whispering to each other about how strange it was that one of the greatest jazz artists of all time was their opening act. I gained a great deal of respect for these guys because they understood the incredible juxtaposition taking place.
A particularly strange sight was one of Miles’ guests sitting in a folding chair off-stage right, just out of view of 99% of the audience and contentedly sipping a beer. It was Willie Nelson, with whom Miles had always claimed to have co-written a country song called “Expect Me Around.” It was just another unique piece of a unique day with my baby brother Tracy,
As for Stern and Miller, they’ve both released albums in the last few weeks. Marcus Miller’s recording is called Renaissance, and it’s terrific. So is Mike Stern’s All Over the Place. Go to Twist and Shout, Denver’s best independent record store, and buy them both. You won’t be sorry.
I hope you’re feeling better, Tracy. Your older brother loves you and misses you.