Miles Davis, Artist and Friend

On May, 26, 2016,  Terrie Williams emailed a message to her friends and associates commemorating what would have been the 90th birthday of her friend, jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. The message included a photo of Tattoo, a painting by Miles Davis (shown below).  

Miles Davis, Blue & Green, 1987, acrylic on canvas, 84 x 60.” Courtesy of Miles Davis Properties, LLCPrincipal of the Terrie Williams Agency, a NYC public relations and communications firm, Williams also is an advisor to the IRAAA. So I contacted her to  find out more about her relationship with Davis — particularly the painter — and to tell her about the IRAAA’s coverage of Miles Davis’ art work.

Williams said that Tattoo is one of two paintings that Davis gave her as a gesture of friendship and she sent an image of the other painting, an untitled, signed impression of a nude.

Miles Davis, Red Skin/My Hand, 1998, acrylic on canvas, 102 x 54She also said that Davis was the consummate artist all the time, not just when he was performing or painting. For example, she recalls that Davis was a basketball fan and when they went to basketball games, he noticed the screeching sound of the players running up and down the court: “Do you hear that?,”  he asked her.  “He heard music in that sound,” says Williams.  

In 1997, the IRAAA published Joanne Nerlino’s article, “The Visual Art of Miles Davis." Nerlino owned and operated Nerlino Gallery Inc., New York, where she represented the art of Miles Davis for the last two years of his life.

In the article, Nerlino explains that Miles Davis began painting in 1982 after a stroke left his right hand partially paralyzed, limiting his musical dexterity. His doctor suggested drawing as a physical therapy for the hand.  Not only did Davis begin drawing and painting, he became obsessed with it, she says.

“(In 1989) Miles had invited me to look at this work after receiving several catalogues from my gallery,” Nerlino recalls. “Expecting a fairly small inventory, I instead found a treasure. There were over one hundred paintings and drawings from the past six years that were sophisticated and challenging, and stacks of sketch books filled by the mind of a genius and the agile hands of a musician.”

Nerlino describes Davis’ evolution as a visual artist, how his artwork can be viewed as a “hidden diary” of his life, the influence of women on his work, the painters he admired, the deep connection between Davis and artist  Jean-Michel Basquiat, the critical response to Davis’ work and the international market for it. The article is illustrated with seven Miles Davis paintings (including the two shown here*) and a photo of Davis by Anthony Barboza. (“The Visual Art of Miles Davis,"IRAAA, 1997, v. 14, no. 3)  

Terrie Williams’ Recalls Her Friend, Miles Davis, on His Birthday

Terrie Williams, Erin Davis (Miles' son) and Miles Davis.  Photo: Collection of Terrie WilliamsToday, May 26, Miles Davis, the iconic, one-of-a-kind jazz artist, would have celebrated his 90th birthday. Those who loved and appreciated his musical genius - and there are countless millions of fans around the world would, undoubtedly, share their own personal stories of Miles. There would be tales of how the power of his music would
soothe, comfort and inspire his listeners. Fellow musicians would recount his indomitable spirit of creativity and daring - traits that would encourage them to dig deeper in order to realize the full measure of their God-given talent.

I have my own story about Miles. It is one that changed my life.

Miles Davis, Tattoo, acrylic on canvas. Collection of Terrie Williams. Courtesy of Miles Davis Properties, LLCBack in the day, at the tender age 23, I thought I had it all figured out. I had graduated from Brandeis University, received a degree in social work from Columbia University and landed a job at New York Hospital.

One day, the hospital staff was buzzing with excitement — word got out that Miles had been admitted. He wasn't on my floor, but I just made it my business to pay him a visit to let him know I'd be checking on him from time to time in case he needed anything. We had a very pleasant exchange one day, and as I was about to leave he said to me in that raspy voice of his: "You don't belong here-there's something else you're supposed to be doing."

Miles Davis, Untitled, acrylic on canvas. Collection of Terrie Williams. Courtesy of Miles Davis Properties, LLCHis words awakened something in me that I wasn't aware of at the time. And they were words that gave me pause to reflect on the career choice I had made. Before Miles left the hospital, he told me to keep in touch.

A while later, and after some soul searching — remembering what Miles told me — I decided to step outside my comfort zone and I enrolled in a public relations course at the New School in Manhattan. Shortly after completing the course — and with the help of the contacts I had made while working for Essence Communications — I opened The Terrie Williams Agency, a public relations firm. Eddie Murphy, the number-one box office star in the world, became my first client! When I shared the exciting news with Miles, he said he also wanted to be on board with me and my new agency.

The rest, as they say, is history! I went on to represent such luminaries as Anita Baker, Janet Jackson, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Fortune 100 companies and many others.

On his birthday, I'm celebrating Miles in a way I believe he would truly appreciate. I will be listening to his music and admiring the original works of art that he gifted to me. I will relish the memories of the incredible journey I was able to take because he saw something in me that I was unable to see. And I feel incredibly blessed to have had the privilege to work with my friend — an American icon!

I miss Miles AND I wish him a very Happy Birthday. He changed the world of music in a way that will never be forgotten. He also changed my life with a few simple words.

That, too, will never be forgotten.

*The Miles Davis Black & Green and Red Skin/My Hand paintings were photographed from the pages of the 1997 IRAAA article and thus are diminished, second generation images.