Jazz Stories

MILES DAVIS - The year was 1957. I was nineteen years old and living in New York city studying acting. One of my brother's peers, Beverly Bentley, was also pursuing an acting career in New York. Beverly used to kid sit me in Louisville, Kentucky. She went on to have a successful career in television and on the stage. One fall Manhattan evening Beverly invited me to dinner and said, "I have someone very special I want you to meet." When I entered Beverly's dimly lit east side apartment a dark figure sitting on a chair in the corner of the room said, "You must be Paul, I'm Miles." I do not remember the evening's conversation with Miles and Beverly. Years later, in 1969, I was photographing at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Miles was on the bill. He remembered me as we exchanged greetings back stage. A few moments later I noticed Miles standing on a steel circular staircase, leaning slightly on a curved hand rail. The light and shadow on Miles was exquisite. I hurriedly took two or three fames with my camera, afraid he would move and the great moment would be lost. When I finished taking the photographs Miles looked at me and said, "Paul, Did you get what you wanted?"

DUKE ELLINGTON - In 1973 Duke Ellington and his orchestra were rehearsing Duke's composition, "The Sacred Concert" at St. Paul the Apostle church in West Hollywood, California. Brock Peters was a featured singer. I had photographed Duke twice before and did a taped interview with him when I was a disc jockey on a leading jazz FM radio station in Los Angeles. When I photograph at a rehearsal I always try to be as inconspicuos as I can be with a camera. Duke seemed very relaxed at the end of playing on the piano. He got up from the piano, stood perfectly still, and fixed a serious gaze on me. Perhaps he was deep in thought about the rehearsal, or annoyed with me taking photographs. Duke continued to stare directly at me until I raised my camera and took some pictures. Duke stayed in the fixed position until I was finished. When I lowered my camera he simply walked away from the piano.

DIZZY GILLESPIE - I was living in Europe in 1977. One morning I picked up a newspaper at my hotel in Geneva and read that Dizzy was performing the next night in Paris. I had planned a trip to Paris and decided to go a day earlier to see Dizzy. I first met Dizzy in 1970 at the home of Arthur and Joyce Dahl in Pebble Beach, California. Dizzy was playing at the annual Monterey Jazz Festival. Over the years I was fortunate to become friends with the ever delightful , soulful John Birks Gillespie. In Paris I discovered that Dizzy was booked in an out of the way concert hall, more like an old movie theater. The house attendance was small and Dizzy did not seem in the best of spirits. An expatriate American was attempting to do an interview with Dizzy for the International Herald Tribune. Dizzy did not care for the direction of the writer's questions. Dizzy tersely said, " I have to go to the toilet." After Dizzy left the room I suggested to the writer he ask Dizzy about his spiritual beliefs. When Dizzy returned the writer asked, "What do you believe in?" Dizzy's face lit up and he made that delightful cooing sound I had heard before when he was happy, or greeting an old friend. Dizzy said, "I believe there is one God, and that all of His Prophets are one, mankind is one, and Baha'u'llah, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha'i Faith, is the latest Messenger from God." A few days later the writer had a great article on Dizzy in the Herald Tribune.

SONNY STITT - In 1954 I hitchhiked from Indianapolis, Indiana to Hollywood, California, hoping to break into films. I was brave but naive and 16 years young. My late uncle, Charles Mastropaolo, an accomplished dummer, said if I run out of money while in Hollywood check to see if the great alto sax player, Sonny Stitt, was playing at a local club. How did Uncle Charlie know I would run out of money and that Sonny Stitt would be performing at a jazz club on Hollywood Boulevard near Western. I had a part time job cleaning at a hot dog stand on Cahuenga. In return I got breakfast or hot dogs. I was underage and did not think I would be allowed in the club. Uncle Charlie's name was the magic word and I was taken to Sonny's dressing room when he finished playing his first set. Sonny was very gracious and after a few minutes conversation asked me if I needed any money. It was like a play in performance and I was just along for the ride, so to speak. I was too shy to ask for any money. Sonny gave me five dollars. Years later when I was photographing at the Monterey Jazz Festival I reminded Sonny of his thoughtfulness and kindness to me that night in Hollywood. When I tried to repay the five dollars Sonny would not accept it. He simply said, "Just pass it on, pass it on." To this day I am still passing on that five dollars.