How I discovered – Miles Davis – and love at first sight ! ! !

The Wonderful Miles Davis

The Wonderful Miles Davis

Do you believe in love at first sight ? ? ?

I do ! ! !

My dear friend Mitsui san was the owner of a bar in the “Golden Gai” a small neighborhood in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo.

Shinjuku developed from the black market after the war fueled by the trade in stolen US army supplies of food and equipment and the need to “entertain” GIs with not much time and a lot of money.

Skyscrapers and modern buildings, bright lights and fancy department stores, gourmet restaurants and hip bars fill Shinjuku these days

The Golden Gai is only six alleyways ! ! !

The Golden Gai is only six alleyways ! ! !

Today it is a thriving business and entertainment area, but somehow in the middle of all the modernity is the pre war neighborhood of the “Golden Gai”

This area of only 6 tiny alleyways escaped the firestorm of the Tokyo bombing and is one of the few areas of modern Tokyo that today keep the character of prewar Tokyo.  It is a popular night life area with artists, musicians, and writers.

One night when I still an undergraduate and only 18 years old, I was walking to Shinjuku station and decided to take a short cut through Kabukichou ( Tokyo’s most notorious red light districts )  and the Golden Gai.

It was exactly midnight and the hour that Mitsui san opened his bar.  As I walked through the alley way, a tall, older gentleman with an impressive moustache  and dressed like an extra from a Yakuza movie appeared before me ! ! !

He was opening his bar and putting the sign outside and as the alley way was so narrow we had to meet.

In that moment our eyes met and we both knew that this was a fateful meeting ! ! !

He half bowed, looked at me and smiled and invited me in to his bar ! ! !

golden gai 3His bar was more or less the size of my kitchen and had only eight seats.  On the walls were posters of Jazz musicians and old movies and behind the bar was a record player and his collection of Jazz records.

We started talking about music, at first Soul and Blues, and then my very limited knowledge of Jazz and and Mitsui san began to tell me about the greats of Jazz and the wonderful Blue Note label and their host of stars.

It soon became clear that to have seat at Mitsui san’s bar was really something special.  Actors, musicians, writers and artists came asked to come in, some were admitted but many were not.  The customers asked who I was and Mitsui san said I was his friend, daughter, wife or girlfriend depending on how he felt ! ! !

Mitsui san kept the bar for more than 40 years and he was around 80 years old when he died last year. There was always a young sparkle in his eye and his love of life and music that shone  through everything ! ! !

As an undergraduate, I soon became a regular at Mitsui san’s bar and early evening during the week days ( between 12 midnight and 1 in the morning ) when the bar was quite, we would talk and he would play me his favorite Jazz records.

Drinking beer and listening to Jazz with Mitsui became something special for me.

I was new in Tokyo and felt alone and sometimes lost.  Sitting early in the evening in his bar listening to his stories with a sound track of mellow Jazz became a symbol that this city somehow still had a heart.  He never asked me anything, but he could feel my mood and would be funny, attentive or considerate depending on how I felt, but best of all,  he could feel when I just need to be alone and silent with him for a while.  He was a remarkable man and a wonderful friend ! ! !

I still go occasionally to the Golden Gai, and whenever I go I am treated like a princess and honored guest as the bar owners there still remember me and my friendship with Mitsui san.

His favorite Jazz musician was Miles Davies, as long ago, when Mitsui still had teeth, he played the trumpet.   He introduced me not just to Miles Davies but a whole world of Jazz ! ! !

Somehow, I know, when I am reborn I will meet him again ! ! !

Miles Davis – Blue In Green

23 thoughts on “How I discovered – Miles Davis – and love at first sight ! ! !

  1. Somehow, I know, when I am reborn I will meet him again ! ! !

    A lot of people in my life have been like this. Either that, or i already knew them in my last life.

    • Hi Amy ! ! !

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment, I wanted to write about the Golden Gai, but I could not stop myself writing about Mitsui san! ! ! !

      • I have to say that i still haven’t taken to Miles Davis yet. Infinite respect, the guy is flat out brilliant, but i really can’t yet sit and listen to it and enjoy it. Closest i get is Shhh / Peaceful – Nilpf got me that far at least.

    • Hi Carol

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. The Golden Gai is a unique neighborhood and does have a wonderful atmosphere.

  2. My brother gave me Miles Davis and Gil Evans playing Porgy and Bess for Christmas when I was 15. The following summer I bought Sketches of Spain with my first pay as a waitress.

    • Porgy and Bess is a great recording, but of the Gil Evans/Miles collaborations I think the first one, variously titled Miles Ahead/Miles + 19, is the greatest. It works brilliantly as a suite, the individual tracks are short, sharp and sufficiently varied, Miles’ playing (unusually, on flugelhorn) is sublime, and the band is sharp and the arrangements deliciously concise. The latter- in my opinion- can’t be said for large parts of Sketches of Spain, which for my tastes drifts aimlessly for long periods when Miles isn’t playing.

    • Hi Mnemosene ! ! !

      Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Sketches of Spain is fantastic but I do not know Porgy and Bess. I will definitely try and find it ! ! !

  3. I’m very jealous, Sakura. No kindly, knowledgeable, attractive older person of the opposite sex ever took me under their arm and exposed me to great music ! ! !

    My favourite Miles album is Miles Smiles, I think. Which is yours?

    • He tried to do more than just expose me to great music from time to time also ! ! ! But he was a great friend and notable character in that neighborhood ! ! !

  4. Late one Saturday afternoon sometime in the late 80’s we were at home in LA listening to a friend who did a jazz radio show. Out of the blue he announced that Miles was performing that evening at a local outdoor amphitheater and that he had some free tickets for listeners, I promptly called him and scored a couple. We didn’t have much time to grab a bite and to get ready but we did and as we went out of the door I grabbed my camera bag. When we got there I showed my photo ID and was given a spot immediately in front of the stage, I pulled out my Nikon to load it and discovered to my horror that I had hardly any film in my bag, actually I had several rolls but only one was usable for shooting an illuminated stage, the rest were very slow Kodachrome, suitable for bright outdoor sunshine! Damn!
    The concert started and Miles in typical fashion hid at the back of the stage in the shadows, I only had the first three numbers to shoot him [venue policy] so I fired one off everytime he faced the audience but I wasn’t getting anything worthwhile. I finished that one roll of film and all I had left were the Kodachromes, so I loaded one. At that point Miles changed dramatically, he came to the front of the stage, stood about 6-8 ft from me and played EXCLUSIVELY for ME! He looked directly at me and pointed his horn at me all the time, I’d switched from a telephoto lens to a faster wide angle and so I was able to get what seemed like decent shots though many were exposed at very slow shutter speeds, ie fifteenth of a second and thereabouts! Not good!
    When they were processed many were unsharp but there were just a few that were usable one of which made the cover a music magazine doing a Miles feature. So it was a case of ‘All’s well that ends well’. A lesson learned, always check your gear. I did shoot him a couple of times after that but he’s usually a very tough guy to photograph, I don’t have a very good selection of Miles pics.
    Favorite Miles? probably the ones with Coltrane and Cannonball, Kind of Blue’s good plus the 1950’s Columbia album ‘Miles and Coltrane’.

    • Thank you GF I really love hearing your memories of the things you did and people you met in your career and travels ! ! ! I get quite jealous sometimes ! ! !

  5. Hi there Hoshino Sakura, another wonderful post, very well written and extremely interesting.

    You are very fortunate to have found such a friend and benefitted from his knowledge.

    I do like jazz though I profess that I prefer saxophone to trumpet led numbers and my favourite sax player is Ben Webster. Do you know his stuff?

    Here’s my favourite piece: Chelsea Bridge

    • Many thanks Leaveitallbehind ! ! !

      It was you who encouraged me to write about the Golden Guy a few weeks ago so I am pleased you liked the post, even though it became more about Mitsui san than the neighborhood.

  6. Have you thought about writing a screenplay for this story? It’s very cinematographic, thanks for sharing and here’s one of my waymarkers on the miles of Miles.

    • Thank you for your kind words ! ! ! I do want to become a writer at some point and I took creative writing course when I was studying in the US. I have started and stopped ( and started and stopped again ) a fiction book based a little on my Grandmothers early life but somehow it does not seem to flow. Maybe one day ! ! !

    • Great clip. Am currently blissing out to the new Live at Fillmore- Bootleg Vol. 3 release, recorded a couple of months earlier with the same band minus Bartz + Grossman.

  7. Lovely story, with a mythical quality to it, and which shows that it’s good to take a chance sometimes. Porgy and Bess is lovely, I’m sure you’d like it. “Bess You Is My Woman Now” I like especially.

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