Miles Davis on Dexter Gordon
Excerpt from The Autobiography of Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe: Miles on Dexter
Since 52nd Street was going down fast, the jazz scene was moving to 47th and Broadway. One place was the Royal Roost, owned by a guy named Ralph Watkins. It was originally a chicken joint. But in 1948 Monte Kay talked Ralph into letting Symphony Sid produce a concert on an off-night there. Monte Kay was a young white guy who was hanging around the jazz scene. Back then he used to pass himself off as a light-skinned black guy. But when he got some money, he went back to being white. He’s made millions producing black musicians. Anyway, Sid picked Tuesday night and did a concert with me and Bird, Tadd Dameron, Fats Navarro, and Dexter Gordon. They had a non-drinking section in the club where young people could come and sit and listen to the music for ninety cents. Birdland did that too, later on.
This was the time when I got to know Dexter Gordon. Dexter had come east in 1948 (or somewhere around that time), and he and I and Stan Levey started hanging out. I had first met him in Los Angeles. Dexter was real hip and could play his ass off, so we used to go around and go to jams. Stan and I had lived together for a while in 1945, so we were good friends… We would go down to 52nd Street to hang out. Dexter used to be super hip and dapper, with those big-shouldered suits everybody was wearing in those days. I was wearing my three-piece Brooks Brothers suits that I thought were super hip, too. You know, that St. Louis style shit. N***ers from St. Louis had the reputation for being sharp as a tack when it came to clothes. So couldn’t nobody tell me nothing.
But Dexter didn’t think my dress style was all that hip. So he used to always tell me, “Jim” (“Jim” was an expression a lot of musicians used back then), “you can’t hang with us looking and dressing like that. Why don’t you wear some other shit, Jim? You gotta get some vines. You gotta go to F & M’s,” which was a clothing store on Broadway in midtown.
“Why, Dexter, these some bad suits I’m wearing. I paid a lot of money for this shit.”
“Miles, that ain’t it, ’cause the shit ain’t hip. See, it ain’t got nothing to do with money; it’s got something to do with hipness, Jim, and that shit you got on ain’t nowhere near hip. You gotta get some of them big-shouldered suits and Mr. B shirts if you want to be hip, Miles.”
So I’d say, all hurt and shit, “But Dex, man, these are nice clothes.”
“I know you think they hip, Miles, but they ain’t. I can’t be seen with nobody wearing no square shit like you be wearing. And you playing in Bird’s band? The hippest band in the world? Man, you oughta know better.”
I was hurt. I always respected Dexter because I thought he was super hip—one of the hippest and cleanest young cats on the whole music scene back then. Then one day he said, “Man, why don’t you grow a moustache? Or a beard?”
“How, Dexter? I ain’t even got no hair growing nowhere much except on my head and a little bit under by arms and around my d**k! My family got a lot of Indian blood, and n***ers and Indians don’t grow beards and be hairy on their faces. My chest is smooth as a tomato, Dexter.”
“Well, Jim, you gotta do something. You can’t be hanging with us looking like you looking, ’cause you’ll embarrass me. Why don’t you get you some hip vines since you can’t grow no hair?”
So I saved up forty-seven dollars and went down to F & M’s and bought me a gray, big-shouldered suit that looked like it was too big for me. That’s the suit I had on in all them pictures while I was in Bird’s band in 1948 and even in my own publicity shot when I had that process in my hair. After I got that suit from F & M’s, Dexter came up to me grinning that big grin of his and towering over me, patting me on my back, saying, “Yeah, Jim, now you looking like something, now you hip. You can hang with us.” He was something else.