The 1978 Session: Miles’s Missing Musical Link – An interview with George Pavlis
In the summer of 1975, Miles Davis dropped out of the music scene. Sick, exhausted and suffering from creative burn-out, it would be over six years before Miles played in public again. During the long lay-off between 1975 and 1980, before Miles started the process of recording material for what would become his 1981 comeback album, The Man With The Horn, Miles spent very little time in the studio, and as far as is known, only ever attended one session where a new tune was recorded to completion – this happened in 1978. Miles did venture in the studio with his old band in late 1975 and in 1976, but these sessions were essentially long jams (often without Miles) and musical explorations.
On 2 March 1978, Miles entered Columbia Records Studio B in New York, with a band comprised of Miles on keyboards, Larry Coryell guitar, George Pavlis and Masabumi Kikuchi keyboards, TM Stevens bass and Al Foster drums. Miles’s old producer Teo Macero handled the sessions. The band recorded a new tune that had been rehearsed earlier.
The session came about because Miles was a good friend of Eleana Steinberg. She invited Miles to stay at her house in Westport, Connecticut to aid his recuperation. The new surroundings must have invigorated Miles, and what’s more, inspired him to explore music again, because here he met a young guitarist Barry Finnerty and composed a tune with him – Finnerty would later play on The Man With The Horn.
It was also in Connecticut that Miles began rehearsals with Coryell, Pavlis, Stevens and Foster, before going to New York for the recording session. Naturally, Miles’s record label, Columbia, was excited by the prospect of Miles returning to the music scene. Its chief publicist attended the session and a staff photographer took lots of publicity shots at the end of the session. Some of these were supplied to the press and subsequently published.
The sessions received a fair amount of press coverage. Rolling Stone reported that one listener at the sessions described the music as: “having a strong sense of lyricism,” adding that “release plans are still vague.” Jazz Magazine noted that Miles’s old friend and arranger Gil Evans was not present at the sessions but that arranger Bobby Scott was. The magazine added that the music had “heavy underpinnings,” and noted that “Miles looked good, with a few extra pounds around the tummy.” It also reported that Miles had twice postponed a planned second session, adding: “So it is still possible to wonder what the biggest enigma in the jazz world will do next.” Billboard reported news of the session, while Down Beat magazine ran a report which described how the session came about: “It happened totally unexpectedly, catching everybody off guard. One day recently, Teo Macero received a telephone call from the ever-mysterious Miles Davis. Miles in his customary laconic fashion said “I’m ready,” to Teo. The next day saw Davis and his assembled crew in a New York studio laying down fresh material. An observer described the music as a cross between late 60s free [jazz] and late 70s disco.”
Sadly, this would be as far as Miles would go with the band and he went back into the shadows for another two years. Guitarist Joe Beck recalls he and Coryell meeting Miles in Connecticut to discuss making an album together, but it never went beyond the talking stage. So far, the music from the 1978 session remains officially unreleased, which is a shame, as it’s the missing musical link between Miles pre-retirement and post-retirement periods and gives us an idea of where Miles might have gone had he not stayed away from music for so long. TheLastMiles.com was fortunate to speak with George Pavlis, the young keyboardist who suddenly found himself playing for the jazz giant. George spent a lot of time with Miles in Connecticut, rehearsing with him and interacting with him on a social level. In this exclusive interview, George describes meeting Miles, rehearsing and recording with him, and explains what Miles was like during this largely undocumented period.
George Pavlis [© and courtesy George Pavlis and Wendy Simmons-Taylor]
The Last Miles.com: George, can we start by you telling us a little about yourself?
George Pavlis: I was born September 22 1956 in Greenwich, Connecticut. I was first introduced to music at an early age by my mother, who was a jazz pianist, and by my older brother, who constantly played great music (soul, rock and jazz) in the car and at home. My mother arranged for me to take lessons with an excellent pianist and teacher, Stuart Hemingway, who happened to be blind. I studied with Stuart for many years and he was a major influence. Later, I would study for several years with John Mehegan, and then I moved on to Manhattan School of Music for one semester leaving to go on the national tour with Vicki Sue Robinson.
I started touring and recording with Vicki in the 1970s as her keyboard player and then continued to write songs with her into the 1980s and 90s. As well as playing with Miles and Larry Coryell, I’ve also played keyboards on Ted Nugent’s State of Shock album. I performed and recorded for several years with the jazz/fusion ensemble, Tomorrow Band, which released the album Open Fire on All Night Records. We opened for artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Average White Band, Jan Hammer, Dave Brubeck, Jeff Lorber, Kenny G., and Dave Valentin. I’ve also recorded my own albums, George Pavlis and Sunscape and a jazz/fusion CD Time of Arrival by Pavlis and Taylor.
I’ve also recorded with Dan Pickering at RCA Records studios on a project which featured artists such as David Sanborn, Alphonse Mouzon, the Brecker Brothers, Larry Coryell, Butch Taylor and Anthony Jackson. I played keyboards for many years with The Butch Taylor Band in the tri-state area. I’ve also recorded with artists such as Dan Pickering, Mutti Lewis and Butch Taylor and the Penetrators.
TLM: How did you get to meet Eleana Steinberg?
GP: It all started about a year before I met Miles, when I was writing songs with Eleana Steinberg – I wrote the music and she wrote the lyrics. She was a singer, lyricist, producer, and jazz enthusiast who seemed to know every jazz musician in the world.
TLM: How did you meet Miles?
GP: It was a clear weather, sunny day in Connecticut when the phone rang one afternoon. I picked it up and said “Hello”. I heard this hoarse whisper on the other end say: “This is Miles Davis. George, I need you”. I said “Who is this, Bill?” I thought it was one of my musician friends fooling around on the telephone again. I could hear Miles get a little angry this time. He said a little louder “This is Miles Davis”. All of a sudden Eleana took the phone from him and said: “George, it’s really him. It’s Miles. Come up here right now.” I said I would be there in a few minutes and drove up to her house as fast as possible. When I got there, Miles Davis was lying in a bed by the grand piano. Eleana introduced me to Miles and I shook his hand. Eleana had played recordings of some of our compositions for Miles earlier before they had called me, and he liked what he heard. She asked me to play something on the piano for Miles. I said to myself: “This is it!” All I could think of was jazz. What do I play? “Autumn Leaves” came to mind all of a sudden. So I played that song like my life depended on it!!!
TLM: Many people who knew Miles say that he either liked you or didn’t like you straight away. How did you get on with him?
GP: We clicked. For some unknown reason, when I first met Miles that day, I had this strange feeling that I had already known him for many years. I guess many people have that same feeling because he was so famous, and everyone had seen his records, TV shows about him, pictures of him and articles in magazines, etcetera. When I played the piano for the “audition”, he had already heard me play on my recordings, but this was different. This was live. He was listening right next to me only a few feet from the piano. Talk about pressure and being nervous! I’m surprised my fingers could even move! Luckily they did move, and I felt more relaxed once I started playing the piece. Everything went smoothly, and the next thing I know – I’m rehearsing with Miles and Larry Coryell a few days later.
TLM: Did you spend any time socially with Miles?
GP: We had dinner at Julie Coryell’s one night – we had a great evening hanging out there. On our return, it was snowing, as we drove into Eleana Steinberg’s driveway where Miles was staying and where we were rehearsing. Miles was in the passenger seat next to me in my used Chevrolet van. I am sure he was probably thinking “Man, I am really moving up in the world – from limos to this old van!” Anyway, I parked my van and walked over to help Miles get into the house. He was having a hard time walking and tired out. I think his legs might have been hurting from that car accident he had in New York [this happened in October 1972 and Miles would suffer the after-effects for many years]. I put his arm around my neck and held him up by putting my right arm around his back basically carrying him into the house. There were trees covered in snow. I thought to myself: “This is like some kind of a weird dream. Here I am carrying Miles Davis, a living legend, through a forest in a snow storm.” It was really surreal, but when you do something like that for another human being, such as carrying them in a time of need, you form a real bond. I guess that is why he was always good natured with me whenever I was working with him.
George Pavlis [© and courtesy George Pavlis and Wendy Simmons-Taylor]
TLM: Tell us about the rehearsals at Eleana’s house.
GP: I was on top of the world man. I couldn’t believe it. I remember driving to rehearsals and thinking to myself: “I’m twenty-one years old and I’m Miles Davis’s keyboard player. I can’t believe this is happening!” I was still working in a hard rock band and a fusion band too, so I was busy. At that time, I had long hair and so did Larry Coryell. Recently, I was thinking that Miles was obviously continuing his jazz/fusion trip, but also maybe trying to add a rocker dude image to his musicians onstage. He seemed to be continuing his quest to crossover and appeal to the rock record buyers out there, which would add to record sales while at the same time keeping the creative Miles sound.
TLM: How long did the rehearsals last?
GP: The rehearsals at Eleana’s house with Miles were only about two hours long usually, sometimes a little longer, but always so cool just to work with him on new music. We were working on a slow adagio first section for the composition, which I wish Miles had not thrown out the day of the recording because it was great. The second section was an uptempo, faster, demonic sounding hypnotic groove section. This is the part of the composition that we recorded at Columbia Studios a few weeks later and turned into a long extended Miles jam.
The rehearsals eventually included TM Stevens and Al Foster – at least once with them, maybe more. Usually it was Miles, Larry Coryell and me. When TM Stevens and Al Foster came to rehearse with us, it was great! They are just incredible musicians. Eleana Steinberg was present and at times Julie Coryell. Larry and I would have a great time just warming up with these improvisations we came up with. He really is fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed working with him as well!
TLM: Wasn’t keyboardist Masabumi Kikuchi also present – TM Stevens recalls going to Connecticut with him?
GP: I definitely remember being surprised to see another keyboard player there on the day of the recording session in New York, and I really think that was the first time I met Masabumi Kikuchi. However, it has been twenty-nine years, and I was thinking, maybe it is possible he did come out to Connecticut with them and maybe he just listened, keeping a low profile at first. My radar was always on Miles and trying to pay attention and focus on what he wanted to do. The other possibility is that they got together some day when I was not present. (possibly I was not available that day). The last thought I had is that maybe TM was remembering the actual day of the session when they picked up Masabumi Kikuchi. It has been so many years who knows, but I really do not remember him playing at any of the rehearsals we had.
TLM: How did the rehearsals go? How did Miles direct them?
GP: Miles had half the band lock into a groove, and the other half would mostly improvise freely. When I was sitting at the piano, he would come over and show me what he had composed for the piano part. He had definite ideas about what he wanted to hear. My right hand was to play an inversion of a G major triad then a G flat major triad with two note trills thrown in now and then. He wanted me to play this bass line with my left hand at the same time which was EEFGABBAGF up then down again and again. He would do funny things once in a while like stopping the rehearsal, and saying “George, come over here”. I would stand up and walk over to Miles, and he’d start boxing with me. He really did love boxing! Jack Johnson and all.
When Larry and I were warming up, I would get into these modal fourth type of improvisations similar to McCoy Tyner’s style. One day I came in and was warming up with some nice jazz chords – minor ninth chords – more like Bill Evans’ style (Miles’s former piano player who I had the pleasure of meeting years ago). All of a sudden Miles came to the piano and said: “Don’t play that shitass chord man. Play this!” and his hands came crashing down on the piano playing this really weird dissonant chord – a real mish-mash of notes. I thought that was interesting! It was as if that musical style was a closed chapter in his mind. He liked the really out stuff – in outer space.
TLM: Any other stories from the rehearsals?
GP: One day Eleana and Julie were talking and Miles shouted: “All bitches get out!” He was probably just joking, but he said it so forcefully they left the room. It was as if Miles was the captain of the ship, and you obeyed his command. A true leader. I remember when he started a song he would raise his hand up, and when he wanted to stop the song, he would move his hand down quickly like a karate chop. He was definitely in charge.
TLM: What happened during downtime at the rehearsals?
GP: One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in my life was one afternoon when we were rehearsing with Miles. We were taking a break for lunch and Eleana was busy doing something so she asked if I could go buy sandwiches for everybody. I got into my van, drove downtown and bought about $55 worth of sandwiches and sodas (a lot of money for a young musician. Probably all I had in my pocket). When I returned to Eleana’s house, we all started eating the sandwiches, talking and having a good lunch break in general.
After we finished eating, Miles was standing next to me talking to someone and I asked Eleana if it would be possible to somehow get reimbursed. I didn’t know if a production company or the record company was paying for this sort of thing during the rehearsals. Miles heard us talking about money, and all of a sudden, he looked right at me with this angry look on his face – like a father about to scold his son. He reached into his pocket and pulled out some cash which he rolled up like a cigar. He then pulled down the zipper on the front of his pants, and stuck the rolled-up cash in there so that most of it was sticking straight out. While he held it in place with his hand, he looked right at me and said with that great Miles Davis voice: “Fuck Money! Fuck Money!” We all cracked up. Probably the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and you know he’s right: music, family and friends are the most important things in life, not money.
TLM: Did you have any time with Miles after the rehearsals?
GP: One evening I was sitting at the piano probably after rehearsal. It might have been the night Eleana asked if I would like to stay for dinner. Miles and Eleana were in the mood to cook up a great dinner, which I will tell you about later. Miles was sitting on the couch sipping on a Heineken beer. He used to drink those at the rehearsals now and then. Everything was cool. Miles generally didn’t talk too much, but I remember that when he did, I was impressed. He was like a college professor. Eleana left the room for a while probably to start the dinner. So here I am alone in the room with Miles Davis and I didn’t know what to say at first. My mother always said that if you need to make a conversation with someone, and don’t know what to say, just ask them about themselves, and they will usually start talking for quite a while. I guess Miles was the exception to the rule. I started asking a few questions and he talked a little at first. Short simple answers. I can’t even remember what we were talking about, probably the area he was from originally, John Coltrane, the past in general. He stood up and slowly started walking across the room, and then he said in a whisper just barely loud enough to hear: “You ask too many questions”. I got the message and kept quiet after that one. Once again, it seemed he didn’t want to think of the past.
TLM: When did you first learn that you would be recording with Miles?
GP: At that dinner with Miles and Eleana one evening after rehearsal. They cooked up a great halibut fish dinner and as Miles was working at the stove, he said “It’s a bouillabaisse”. We had a great dinner with some wine and salad if I remember correctly. The whole evening was upbeat; sort of a celebration that we were going to record and this whole thing was really starting to happen. Miles was coughing quite a bit that night. I don’t know if it was a sign of deep health problems or maybe just the result of cold winter weather. We talked for a while and eventually when I said that I better head home, Miles actually saw me to the door and in the doorway he shook my hand. It was a sign of approval and showed he was a true gentleman. We had planned a rehearsal for the next day. I said to confirm it: “So we’re rehearsing tomorrow? Should I come back tomorrow?” Miles replied “Yeah, come back tomorrow”.
TLM: What happened at that rehearsal?
GP: The band was really coming together. We were all excited about the whole prospect of this band taking off. Miles went to the phone one day near the end of the rehearsal, and I realized he was holding up a cassette player to the phone. He was playing the recording of the rehearsal we just had I think to Teo Macero or somebody at Columbia Records. He was playing the composition we had been rehearsing, which ended up being the one we recorded at Columbia Studios, Studio B. He felt it was time to take this band into the city to record, and so did whoever he was on the phone with. A recording date was set up, and now this whole thing was really starting to take off!
TLM: So now you’re off to New York to record with Miles. How did the day start?
GP: It was a sunny day. Perfect weather. I woke up, showered, got dressed, loaded three keyboards and other equipment into the van and drove into the City. I was exhilarated while driving into New York to record with Miles. In a sense it was a mixture of trying to get my creative musical head into the right place and at the same time uptight about getting to Columbia Studios on time for the recording. We all know how driving in New York City is: traffic, double parking, quickly unloading the equipment, parking in a pay lot, moving the keyboards, amplifier and speakers up in the elevator. Luckily, I got there at the right time. The type of keyboards I chose to bring were my Minimoog synthesizer, Rhodes electric piano (Mark I Stage Piano) and my ARP Odyssey synthesizer. I ran the electric piano into my Mu-Tron phase shifter.
George Pavlis [© and courtesy George Pavlis and Wendy Simmons-Taylor]
TLM: What happened when you reached the studio?
GP: We were all there roughly around the same time. As I said earlier, I had never met Masabumi Kikuchi before – that was the first time I had ever seen him, and I was a little shocked at first. I didn’t know that we were going to have another keyboard player in the band. However, he is a very nice person, and I immediately felt relaxed. I thought to myself “This is really going to be cool!” This is when I first met Teo Macero, Miles’ producer.
TLM: What was Teo’s role?
GP: Teo was such a pleasure to work with. He is really a great person, a very nice man. He was a producer who got Miles inspired. I’m sure he was great in the studio adjusting the sound on the board and all that, but he inspired Miles as well. At least that was the impression that I was getting. He seemed to let the tape roll, let Miles do his thing and then talk to Miles when the time was right.
TLM: What instrument did Miles play in the studio?
GP: Miles ended up playing my Minimoog synthesizer through the whole recording while I played my Rhodes electric piano and ARP Odyssey synthesizer. Miles would once in a while hit these interesting chords in the upper register of my electric piano while we were playing. I had set up my electric piano with the Minimoog on top of it right in front of the recording booth out in the studio with the rest of the band. I set up the ARP Odyssey to my left. I remember the studio was large. The mixing board, recording equipment, etcetera were very impressive. Miles stood right next to me playing through the whole recording, and once in a while he would go into the booth to talk.
TLM: Can you clear up the question of whether Miles actually played some trumpet during this session?
GP: Miles never played trumpet the whole time I worked with him. It was a real keyboard fest! He wasn’t in great shape physically at that point as you know, so maybe all that blowing into the horn was just too much for him. It is a strain – I know because I used to play a little trumpet in the school band when I was a kid. As for the trumpet, I didn’t see it in the studio as far as I can remember. I read somewhere that Eleana had tried to give it to Miles at the beginning of the session, but he refused to take it. Maybe this happened when I was busy setting up the equipment, and they were in the other room (the control room where they had the recording equipment and mixing board). I don’t know. I didn’t see Eleana try to give him the trumpet, but it sounds like she probably did.
TLM: What was the set-up in the studio?
GP: Most of the time Miles was out in the studio standing literally right next to me. Masabumi Kikuchi played a Yamaha electric grand piano. I think he had it plugged into a ring modulator. This added a great creative sound to the recording. I realized this is going to be something different – three keyboard players and Miles is one of them.
On the recording, which was in E minor, Miles played my Minimoog synthesizer, and I played my Rhodes electric piano (Mark I Stage Piano) with my right hand and my ARP Odyssey synthesizer with my left hand. Miles was standing right next to me since the Minimoog was on top of the Rhodes and he once in a while would hit these interesting chords in the upper register of my electric piano while I played the parts he had instructed me to play. I set my Minimoog to have an eerie hornlike sound with some glissando hoping Miles would like it. I guess he did because he dove right in playing this totally cool 12-tone melody that was way out there. He really was like the Picasso of the music business. I wanted to tell you about the key of the piece (E minor) and the type of keyboards we used because in some books and articles they have written something different.
TLM: Isn’t there also some organ on the recordings?
GP: I think Miles overdubbed some at a later date.
TLM: How was the recording session directed?
GP: As I said earlier, when we got to the recording studios, Miles decided not to play the slow adagio section, which was going to be the beginning of the recording. He wanted to go right into the faster groove section in E minor. My memory is a little hazy on the exact phrase, but I am going to agree with Larry, Miles said: “Fuck the adagio!” I am sure that is definitely the way he would say it! There were no charts at any time. It was all by ear, and we already knew pretty much from the rehearsals what we were going to record. It was a combination of Miles showing on the keyboard what he wanted or verbally explaining his ideas to us. Miles directed the band with his hand as to when we should start playing and when to stop. The tapes were rolling so we dove right in. Larry Coryell’s playing was incredible as usual. Al Foster and TM Stevens deserve gold medals for their playing. Their arms must have been ready to fall off when we finished. We all just had a great time playing and went on for quite a while.
TLM: Having no charts must have kept you on your toes!
GP: All of the musicians contributed their creative input as well. Miles had been showing me basically what he wanted at the rehearsals. He had been experimenting with G major triad second inversion to a G flat major triad second inversion with these little two note trills thrown in now and then on C and C sharp – the alternate trill being D to D sharp. The other combination he was thinking about was A flat major triad second inversion to G major triad second inversion. The bass line was EEFGABBAGF going up then down again and again which gave it an E minor modal tonality. I can’t remember if Miles, TM or Larry came up with that cool bass line.
TLM: Peter Losin’s analysis of the sessions notes a number of breakdowns. Can you remember why?
GP: One of the breaks in the middle of the session was when Miles stopped the band, because he decided he wanted the keyboard part to be G to G flat in the right hand instead of A flat to G. (My left hand continued to play that bass line with TM). On one of the breaks you can actually hear Miles showing me the chords that he had decided on. The other breaks mostly in the earlier part of the recording were probably Miles stopping the band. The idea is to get the best take possible. Sometimes you just feel like keeping that one and trying to go for an even better one. It also could be trying to get the right mix in the earphones. You have to stop the band and talk to the engineer.
Miles would raise his hand up to start the band and move it down quickly like a Karate chop to stop the band. He liked to control the room it seemed. Maybe he was just getting off on starting and stopping the band like turning a light switch on and off. Eventually, he just let it ride, and when I heard the playback in the control room standing around the huge mixing board, I really liked it! Visions of modern art in my head. Miles’s utopian world of total artistic freedom. I felt like the last two takes were the best although we had recorded some good sections earlier as well. We all talked before and after the session, but it has been a long time, and I don’t remember the exact words.
TLM: It must have been quite an experience recording with Miles.
GP: Yes, it was a very powerful experience recording side by side with Miles. It felt like he was the captain, and I was the co-pilot flying a jet across the ocean! He was such a great jazz superstar, and my mind was filled with visions of all the history. (the musicians, the recordings, concerts, etcetera.) Now it was our time to forge ahead and create. The whole event was really great! What an experience!
TLM: Was Bobby Scott present? He was due to arrange the horn charts.
GP: Bobby Scott wasn’t present as far as I know. However, there were several people in the studio, so who knows? Eleana told me a few months later that he was going to arrange some horn parts or had done some work on it already. I don’t know if it was ever done or not.
TLM: Did the tune you recorded have a title?
GP: I remember Eleana also told me a few days after the session that they were thinking of calling the composition “Amanaura”. I don’t know if that was Miles’s idea or hers.
TLM: Who was at the session?
GP: There were quite a few people there – Miles, the whole band, Teo Macero, Eleana Steinberg and I think Julie Coryell was there if I remember correctly, Robert Altschuler, the head of publicity for Columbia Records was there. Other people were there, but I don’t know their names such as the sound engineer [probably Stan Tonkel].
TLM: What was the atmosphere like after the session?
GP: When we finally finished the recording, we all posed for pictures as a group. It was euphoric. It was a truly great uplifting feeling as we stood there with Miles. The photographer took many pictures of everyone together.
Session Group shot. Back row left to right: Robert Altschuler, Columbia’s head of publicity,
Masabumi Kikuchi, George Pavlis. Middle row left to right: TM Stevens, Al Foster, Teo Macero.
Front row left to right: Larry Coryell, Eleana Steinberg, Miles.
[© Photo Columbia Records/Sony Music. Courtesy George Pavlis and Wendy Simmons-Taylor]
TLM: Jazz Magazine reported at the time that a second session was planned.
GP: Eleana told me that everything was on hold because he had to go back in for more work on his legs. I guess if Miles hadn’t gone back into the hospital, we would have recorded some new music.
TLM: Were there any plans for the band to go on the road?
GP: Yes, there was talk of going on the road. When the session was over, I was moving my keyboards over to the elevator, and I heard Miles and Teo Macero talking while we all were waiting for the elevator. I only got bits and pieces of the conversation, but Teo was talking to Miles about taking this band on the road for a tour starting in Japan. Before we left, I was asked to fill out a form with my name, address, etcetera and what I was charging for the recording session. I had to keep in mind all of the rehearsals, driving into New York City with my equipment, and the session. So I spoke to Eleana after I had come up with what I thought was a fair dollar amount, and she thought it would be O.K. I tried to keep it as low as possible because I wanted to keep playing with Miles. It was five hundred and seventy two dollars. Taxes had been taken out when I got paid one month later, so it was in the four hundred dollar range. HEY, it was 1978! Back then, as a 21 year old, that was good bread. I was happy. What a great feeling when I was driving home. The sun was shining, and it was just an unbelievable experience recording with Miles. It really seemed like this band was going to continue recording and tour. I waited a week or two, and called Eleana to see if we were going to rehearse again. She told me that Miles had to go back into the hospital for another operation on his legs or his hip or something like that.
TLM: When did you see Miles again?
GP: The next time I saw Miles was right before The Man With The Horn was released [summer 1981]. I was in New York City with some musician friends one night, and I said: “Let’s go see Miles”. I had to see him again, and the energy of the city with all of its great music got us inspired. We went to his place on West 77th and rang the doorbell. I had two musician friends with me, Dan Pickering and Marion Meadows. We knew it was late, but it looked like Miles was awake because the lights were on in the brownstone building. We rang the doorbell and waited for a minute or two. All of a sudden the door opens up and there is Miles! Maybe he had a security camera and could see who was there. I don’t know, but it was the perfect night to visit him because he smiled, shook hands with us, and told us to come right in. He wanted to play us a tape of something he had recorded that I could tell he was excited about. It was so good to see him again.
TLM: What was Miles like?
GP: He had been lying on his bed listening to what looked like a Sony Walkman so he took us upstairs to hear the cassette tape. There was a chef cooking something which smelled incredibly delicious like steak and shrimp. Danny told me recently that this man was the owner of the building and a friend of Miles. When we got to Miles’s bedroom I was impressed by the cool ceiling. It looked like it was a plaster (or some kind of material) simulation of small stalactites like a cave. The room was neat and clean unlike the reports over the years about this time period. He lay down on the bed and picked up the tape recorder. Miles told me to put the earphones on and listen to this. I am almost positive that it was a tape of The Man With The Horn right before it was released. Miles had obviously been listening to it to make sure it sounded right before the release date. I was listening to this great music, and then Marion tapped me on the shoulder and said something like “Hey man, let me check it out”.
The next thing we knew, Marion was about to become the unfortunate victim of one of Miles’s “F” word tirades. I think Miles used the “F” word better than anyone I know. Maybe it was just a way of blowing off steam. Anyway, Marion just wanted to hear the part of the tape that I had just heard, so he hit stop, rewind, stop and play on the tape recorder. While he had the headphones on and was listening to the music, Miles said: “That motherfucker! I had it at the right spot, and he fucked it all up, that motherfucker!” I had to control myself so I wouldn’t start laughing. Then Miles said “All these motherfuckers keep calling me on the phone telling me they love me. I hate those motherfuckers!” Then Miles said to come with him. He took us to another room. I guess it was his music room. He showed me a large score that Wayne Shorter had sent to him. It was a composition by Wayne with a really cool name called “Twin Dragons”. It looked very intricate and difficult to play, but I am sure it sounded great. We all talked for a while, and then said goodnight. It was quite an evening and really good to see Miles again.
TLM: Did you see him again?
GP: I went to see him perform at the Avery Fisher Hall. It was an excellent show with Mike Stern on guitar. It was great the way Miles would play all of this great music, then just turn his back on the audience and wander off the stage! I loved it. That was Miles! Anyway, there was no way to get backstage after the show without a backstage pass, so I headed out the door. When I was on the street, I saw this large mobile recording truck parked there. As I was looking at this impressive professional recording studio on wheels, Teo Macero came out of the door at the back of the truck. He obviously had been recording the concert. We saw each other right away, and he said something like “George, where have you been? We’ve been looking for you.”
He was very busy at that moment, so we talked briefly. I think I said something at the end like: “I’ll call you”. We said goodbye, and I headed back home. It was great to see Teo again. I think I tried to call him at Columbia, but trying to get through to somebody like Teo or anyone important at a record company is like calling the White House and saying that you would like to set up a meeting with the President of the United States tomorrow afternoon. You are not going to get through to him!
A few more years went by, and I saw that Miles was performing in New Haven Connecticut at Woolsey Hall. The concert was great, and this time I made an effort to get backstage after the show. I didn’t have a backstage pass, so it was impossible to get back there. I remember a security guard saying that it was way too crowded back there anyway. They wouldn’t allow any more people to go through to the backstage area. I walked outside, and as I was about to go back to my car, I saw this black limousine parked at the side of the building with a group of people waiting there. I figured that I might as well wait a few minutes to see if Miles comes out of the side door of the building so that I can talk to him. As we were waiting, I noticed it was one of those strange Fall-like melancholy nights with that cool air and the sound of the wind blowing through the leaves in the trees. I had no way of knowing at the time, but as it turns out – this was the last time I saw Miles.
We stood there and waited a while, and then all of a sudden the door on the side of the building opened up and there were flashes of light everywhere from the paparazzi photographers. There was Miles looking totally cool as usual, and I think Cicely Tyson was with him as they walked down the stairs heading for the limousine. When Miles was on the sidewalk, I said something to get his attention like: “Miles, hey how ya doin’. It’s George Pavlis”. He recognized the voice right away and stopped walking. He then turned and looked right at me, smiled and said something like “George”. He started walking over to me leaving everyone standing there waiting for him. I remember it was quiet all of a sudden, and everyone in the crowd was probably thinking: “Who is this George guy?” Miles and I shook hands and I told him how great the concert was and how great he had played.
He hadn’t seen me in several years, and I was starting to take on a more middle aged mature look. Miles was still smiling, and then he raised his hands up and touched his face. He said: “Your face has changed”. I laughed and said something like: “Yeah, it’s been a few years”. We talked and then I said “Well, I guess you have to head back to the city now. They’re all waiting for you.” Miles said something like “Yeah, I gotta go back to the city”. We both said it was good to see each other again, and I think for some strange reason, we both knew that this would be the last time we would ever see each other. My father used to say “Time is passing.” Time was passing for Miles as it was for all of us.
I had one last contact with Miles and it was an indirect contact through a friend of mine in Los Angeles who drove a limo for Miles from Malibu to the Valley. Miles was going to a recording session. My friend finally got the chance to talk to him at the end of the drive out to the Valley. He said “Excuse me Mr. Davis, but do you remember a musician friend of mine from Connecticut. He’s a keyboard player named George Pavlis? Miles said “George, yeah – good musician, good musician man”.
Many thanks to George, Butch Taylor and Wendy Simmons-Taylor.