People think of my dad as the prince of darkness (the name of his 1967 album), a moody performer who turned his back on the audience out of disregard for them. That wasn’t him at all. But this wasn’t something I truly realised until I stood onstage with him as part of his legendary band: Dad wasn’t turning away from the audience; he was turning toward the band. It wasn’t a sign of disrespect for those there to hear him; it was a sign of respect for those there to play. And I was lucky enough to be there to play.
I knew he was a famous musician, but didn’t quite understand how famous. As a kid, I was always telling him I wanted to be a musician. Finally, when I was 14, he asked if I wanted to go on the road with him in the summer. Of course, I said yes.
I learned a lot, not only about music, but about my father, during those summer tours. As I stood in the wings, I saw that playing the music live was the most important thing to him.
Those tours were the first sustained amount of time I spent with my father. What I discovered about him was how he could break down what was going on in any musical performance – and find something to take away from it. I remember once watching a heavy metal show on MTV, and when Slayer came on, I thought, “Dad’s going to hate this.” He watched for a bit and then said, “Huh. That drummer is really laying it down, isn’t he?” Then he just walked away.
He finally asked me onstage for a tour in 1990. He was giving me a chance and I was terrified of blowing it. I played electronic percussion, which was a genre my dad kind of invented. I didn’t even get any rehearsals. I watched the guy who did it before me for a couple of shows, then I was just kind of on it, in the seat. It was nerve-racking for me, but at the same time, it felt wonderful to have my father turn toward me, to listen to me and to play with me as an equal.
- Erin Davis, along with his sister and cousin, is an executor of the Miles Davis estate
Miles Davis | 1986
Photo: Suzanne Rault Balet