There’s a lot of lore around famous jazz figures. From Sonny Rollins woodshedding on the Brooklyn Bridge to Keith Jarrett admonishing his audience members for coughing, certain oft-repeated stories come to represent specific individual musicians’ traits and, collectively, come together to form a commonly accepted history of jazz. But it’s always fun to come across lesser-known stories that add some color to these better-known narratives.

For example, Bob Gluck, a pianist and music professor whose forthcoming book (You’ll Know When You Get There: Herbie Hancock and the Mwandishi Band, which University of Chicago Press will publish later this summer) I’m greatly looking forward to, tells a great, little-known story about Herbie Hancock in a recent blog post. Herbie is of course famous for his pioneering synthesizer work beginning with the Headhunters in 1973, through the Rockit period, and continuing to today. Here he is dropping some science on Quincy Jones with a Fairlight synth in 1984:


But, as Gluck reports, it turns out that when, in 1969, Herbie was invited by Herb Deutsch, an associate of Bob Moog, to participate in one of the first public performances featuring Moog synthesizers as a live performance keyboard instrument, Herbie declined because he felt he didn’t know enough about synthesizers and electronic music to take part. There’s something I like about this picture of Herbie Hancock, one of the most brilliant jazz musicians of all time, a bit intimidated, walking away from an early opportunity to give a new Moog keyboard-operated synthesizer a spin only to then immerse himself in the world of synthesizers and, within a handful of years, become one of the best known synth players on Earth. Plenty of descriptions of Herbie Hancock suggest that he’s by nature studious and meticulous, but this little non-event paints such a great, real-life picture of those traits in action.

Similarly, it’s no secret that Miles Davis was, at least for most of his career, a very well-dressed man. I mean Esquire magazine publicly recognized this indisputable fact at least as early as 1960, when it placed him on its list of “Some of the Best-Dressed Men in the United States.” The article identified the tailor responsible for Miles’s look as “Emsley (New York).” As a man who has had a suit or two custom-made in the past and who also can’t help but seek out NYC spots with secret jazz histories, naturally the first thing I did after reading this blurb was google “Miles Davis Emsley New York.”

While it seems that Joe Emsley’s shop is long gone, it turns out that at least some of his creations for Miles live on, having been bought by artist and self-proclaimed “Thrift-Shop Diva” Grace Kirkwood. She happens to have bought several articles of his clothing from the owner of a thrift shop in the early 80s and has posted her story and pictures of the duds–from classic, slim-cut, Plugged Nickel-era suits to later, Prince-of-Darkness-era sheepskin and full-length leather coats–on her website. The kicker: neither she nor the thrift shop owner knew who Miles Davis was at the time, so she passed on several large moving boxes full of his clothes, which are now assumed lost to the ages. Even so, the pieces she did take are pretty awesome, as is the idea of owning even just a few of the everyday items that contributed to Miles’s larger-than-life persona.

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