It’s practically becoming a cultural rite in Chicago: the annual Memorial Day celebration of Miles Davis’ birthday, led by the brilliant Chicago pianist Robert Irving III.
Irving, who worked closely with Davis from 1979 to 1988, will preside over the third annual event at 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Velvet Lounge. (Davis would have turned 84 last Wednesday; he died in 1991, at age 65.)
For Irving, the event represents much more than just an excuse to play classic tunes written by Davis or associated with him. It’s a chance to thank an iconic musician who made an indelible impression on Irving’s career — and many others.
“Miles was just a huge influence on my life at a formative and impressionable period,” says Irving, who was 26 years old when he began collaborating with the groundbreaking trumpeter-bandleader.
“I would always hear him tell stories about his early years with Billy Eckstine’s band and how he felt that he wasn’t really ready but that he was thrust out there. He got a push.
“So, that was what (Davis) was doing with me and the other young guys. He felt he heard something in us that was deserving of that kind of push and development, and that’s what he gave me.” – text by Howard Reich