MILES DAVIS (part 1/2)
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BL!NK: Demystifying Miles Davis
By ANTHONY BARBOZA
Miles Davis poses for a Van Liquor advertisement shot in 1982 by photographer Anthony Barboza, who also co-directed the TV commercial as part of a Japanese ad campaign. _________________________
Date: 1971 and 1982
Published: Essence Magazine, Advertisement for Japanese print and television
Barboza met Miles Davis in 1971, when the jazz trumpeter was in his mid-40s and experimenting with electric and funk music. The men would cross paths, both professionally and personally, in the years ahead, eventually becoming close friends. Today’s feature is the first of a two-part series on Davis (1926-1991), a legend worldwide who, Barboza recalls, had a difficult reputation, but welcomed the young photographer to his home.
.Article by Anthony Barboza as told to Sean McCarthy
“In 1971, Miles Davis and his music were the talk of the town. I was just starting my career and I’d never imagined I would get an opportunity to do a shoot with him, but one day Essence Magazine called me and told me they wanted to do a spread on him and his fashion.
“I called a few people that I knew to find out what kind of a person he was, and some said that he was very unpredictable and very tough to deal with. One person told me a story about how he once made another photographer wait for four hours before he came down to do a shoot. I was excited — and a little nervous.
“I walked to his (Manhattan ) brownstone apartment and rang the bell and he came right down to greet me. He stood about 5-foot-7, with beautiful skin color and piercing eyes. He spoke in this deep, hoarse voice which might have come from playing the horn so much. There’s a legend that goes around about trumpet players, that they blow the horn so much that they don’t get enough oxygen to the brain and it makes them a little crazy.
“I didn’t know much about him, but he turned out to be very cordial to me. It just so happened that he had a hair dresser there who I knew, by the name of Finney, who was responsible for bringing the style of cornrowing to this country from Africa . The two of them were in the kitchen working from a large French cookbook that must have had 2,000 pages. They were making a fish soup.
“Miles asked me in his voice, ‘OK, Barboza, where do you want to shoot me?’ and he showed me around his three-floor brownstone. We decided to shoot downstairs on the first floor, in front of a door that led to the back yard. He put on this long coat and some really nice boots. He did some modeling and eventually took his shirt off for some more shots, showing off his muscles.
“He took me into his bedroom and showed me a closet overflowing with clothes and shoes. He had a large number of shirts, and told me that when he performs he sweats so much that he can’t use them anymore and continually has to buy new ones.
“He was very nice to me, receptive and open to suggestions. We took a break and Miles went back to check on the soup. I took the opportunity to look around the house. It was full of horns and awards that he had won. The walls were all done in *stucco..“Eventually we got to try the soup. To this day, it was the best soup I’ve ever eaten. I’ve eaten in France in the past, but this was definitely as good as that or better. It was delicious.”Miles turned out to be the opposite of what everybody had said to me. It was a wonderful day. He wasn’t the Miles that everyone told me about. I gave him the phone number of my studio apartment and he called me almost every day just to talk and see how everything was going.”He became a good friend to me and would send women to me for photo sessions. One of the first women he sent to me was his wife, (R&B singer) Betty (Mabry) Davis . He would call me up occasionally and say, ‘Barboza, you’d better not be messing with the women I’m sending you.’ I told him not to worry, that I wasn’t messing with his women..
“Some of the photographs that I took from that first session in 1971 would eventually be used in Paris when the Citi de la Musique did a show called ‘We Want Miles’ (which is still ongoing and moves to Montreal next). They had blown up the format and hung these posters that were about 3 feet by 6 feet. The show contained two floors of Miles’ belongings that also included horns, clothes, films and music.
“Over the years he would call me and we would talk. He seemed a little lonely and I wasn’t sure if he had any close friends.
“The next time I saw Miles was when I was walking with some models on the upper west side to Riverside Park to do a fashion shoot. As we walked down the street, Miles was standing outside by his gate. I went over to him and said, ‘Hey, Miles, I’m doing a shoot for an Essence spread.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about the shoot, you can do it later, just invite the women in and we’ll have a party.’ I said, ‘Miles, I can’t do that, these women are getting paid by the hour.’ I had to leave him at the gate of his brownstone and go do the shoot.
“Then one night I was in a popular New York restaurant called Max’s Kansas City , getting some food. I was sitting in my booth and Miles walked in. I stood up and called him and he came over and sat with me. The waiter came by and Miles placed his order. The waiter eventually returned and said, ‘Mr. Davis, we can’t serve you because you have an outstanding bill here.’ So I told him that I would take care of the bill and that he could order whatever he wanted. He said thank you and we sat there for a while and had a friendly conversation, mostly about women.
“My next shoot with Miles was in 1982, when a Japanese advertising agency wanted me to shoot and direct a television commercial featuring Miles for Van Liquor. They wanted me to direct it because I knew Miles. We comprised the crew as half American, half Japanese. I used this as an opportunity to give some experience to some of my black brothers, who I took along with me. The shoot was going to last three days.
“Miles didn’t like the wardrobe that the Japanese people brought to him, so he went out and bought $7,000 worth of clothes, including a really nice leather jacket. “When we first met the Japanese crew they were extremely polite to us. Miles said to me, ‘Barboza, this is about respect. They respect me and I respect them.’
“The first day of shooting were stills of Miles’ image, which were going to be blown up and used as billboards. The second day we recorded film of Miles sitting with a glass, taking a drink of it and saying ‘Van.’ It took a little while to get it right, but they were very satisfied.
“The third day had us shooting down from a balcony on Miles, who was walking around with his horn playing a tune. Miles was very obliging and did anything they asked. The Japanese people were very happy and everybody got paid in cash. Miles made about $250,000 and I made five figures. We were able to take advantage of a booming Japanese economy.
“Miles would say to me, ‘People treat you the way you treat them. I try to treat people with respect.’
“Miles and I remained friends, but from these early years I realized that I really had a special relationship with him.”
BL!NK, A Photographer’s Experience Between Exposures
This article is the third installment of our monthly feature, republished here at the BL!NK online archive. Return to this site to view more articles in their re-release, now with new exclusive images and extras.
BL!NK, originally a printed monthly feature in South Coast Today, shares the recollections of Photographer Anthony Barboza, as told to writer Sean McCarthy, along with photos of some of his world-famous subjects from throughout his long and illustrious career.
THIS MONTH’S SUBJECT
Barboza met Miles Davis in 1971, when the jazz trumpeter was in his mid-40s and experimenting with electric and funk music. The men would cross paths, both professionally and personally, in the years ahead, eventually becoming close friends. Today’s feature is the first of a two-part series on Davis (1926-1991), a legend worldwide who, Barboza recalls, had a difficult reputation, but welcomed the young photographer to his home and hospitably shared an exotic meal.
In part two of Miles Davis: “The Many Faces of Miles Davis.”