Ruff, Willie. A Call to Assembly.
At the same time, we were learning from the great jazz artists playing all over New York that season. At the Café Bohemia, we listened to Miles Davis's repertoire and paid attention to the kinds of music that attracted him and the way he made his choices of mate-rial to play and record. He would offer us repertoire suggestions. Enthusiastic about Mitchell's playing and the arrangements he made for our three instruments, Miles especially liked the Mitchell versions of such standards as "You're a Sweetheart,""My Heart Stood Still," and "Yesterdays," which feature quirky and totally unexpected key modulations. One evening at the Bohemia, before the room filled up, Miles stood next to the piano, watching Mitchell's hands as we played. Suddenly I was distracted by a question he asked Mitchell in his gravelly voice:
"Why did you go to that key, Dwike? Damn! I like that."
"From D major to A-flat minor," Mitchell said, "is a very natural shift for this piece."
After our set, Mitchell and I went to the bar. Miles came over and led Mitchell back to the piano. He wanted to see Mitchell modulate again. The Bohemia's Davis fans, much to [the Bohemia's owner] Jimmy Garofo-la's annoyance, were kept waiting while Miles and Mitchell explored key shifts.
Another night at the same club, Miles, Mitchell, and I had a conversation about Miles's preference and acknowledged genius for playing songs with words even though he never had a singer in his band.
"I'm the singer in my band!" he told us. "I always learn the words to a song before I play it. It gives me a feeling of what to do on my trumpet when I'm trying to phrase an idea. I go all over New York just listening to great singers. I even buy a lot of sing-ers' records." Then he looked directly at me. "Now, take your French horn, for example: its sound is very distinctive and voicelike: nobody says that you have to make it sound like a trumpet or a saxophone. Shit, you'd sound silly trying to sound like Dizzy, or Col-trane. It's just not that kind of an instrument. If I were in your place-I mean, starting out in jazz on an instrument like that-I'd listen to all the great sing-ers, like Mabel Mercer, Sarah Vaughn, Carmen McRae, and Billie Holiday: those people with that perfect and classy diction. Listen to the words and use that as your guide for shaping lines."