[Part 2 in a series of posts featuring articles, photographs and opinions about the relationship between the sport of boxing and the life and music of Miles Davis]
The latest installment and excerpt is from a terrific issue of Stop Smiling magazine. It’s their boxing issue, in fact, which features cover stories on filmmaker Ken Burns, who chats about the life of Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world, and his film on the subject, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson; Peter Relic investigating the presence of boxing in the life and music of Miles Davis; Pulitzer Prize-winning author Norman Mailer discussing the art of boxing and its place in American literature.
By the way, that’s also easily one of my favorite photos of Miles Davis (via the wonderful Mr. Jim Marshall).
The Potent Presence of Boxing in the Life and Music of Miles Davis
By Peter Relic
In 1953, Miles had used his training in the ring to help kick his heroin addiction, emulating the discipline and determination of middleweight Sugar Ray Robinson. As Miles said, “Sugar Ray was one of the few idols I ever had.” Here, in 1955, Miles was focused on his music, and used boxing as a common experience to share with his friends and fellow musicians. One of them was David Amram. — Ed.
Miles often had residencies at the Cafe Bohemia, then one of the best jazz clubs in Greenwich Village. The club was also a second home to Charles Mingus’ group, which at that time featured French horn player and composer David Amram, a fistic specialist who had boxed during his two-year stint in the Army.
“By the time I met Miles in ’55,” says David Amram, “segregation was over, but racism wasn’t. Jazz remained a meeting place for a lot of us who had evolved beyond that.”
Amram is standing in the back garden of a house near the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where his daughter Alana is hosting a New Year’s Eve bash. As the final seconds of 2004 tick away, Amram, 74, pulls at a bottle of Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry Soda while spieling with beatific gusto.
“Once I was at a party with Miles where some guy was really being a drag until, suddenly, somebody shut this jerk up with one quick word. And Miles turned to me and said, ‘Gene Fullmer!’ which was a reference to the one perfect left hook of Sugar Ray Robinson’s that knocked Gene Fullmer out for the title in 1957.”
Miles in Boxing Ring 1971 © Jim Marshall