Friday, August 20, 2004


Last week we shelled out the big ducats to see a movie. Big ducats: if you don’t catch the bargain matinee, you will be paying $8.50 at the typical Atlanta theatre. I know there are other places where movies cost even more - New York comes to mind - but even at “only” eight and a half bucks for a single admission, you’re well north of a double sawbuck by the time you pay for a couple of tickets, a beverage or two, and the obligatory sack o’ popcorn. All this is a roundabout way of saying that we are very selective about the movies we see, especially if it’s on a weekend evening.

This time it was “Collateral,” a film that is noteworthy for (1) having Tom Cruise playing against type as a sociopathic hit man, and (2) being the vehicle that solidly establishes Jamie Foxx’s acting cred. It’s a sort of perverse buddy flick, except here, one “buddy” is trying to assassinate four key players in an upcoming drug trial, and the other is the cab driver who is unlucky enough to pick him up and have to schlep him around all night. Cruise is charming, menacing, nihilistically philosophical, and cold as gray steel, yet he offers life advice to Foxx as though he might actually allow the cabbie to survive the night once the four hits are done.

But for me the real treat was a scene that takes place in a jazz club. The club’s owner is onstage, jamming with the band, and he’s blowing a mean trumpet. The actor-musicians’ performance is so well choreographed that you might think they are actually playing the music. But they’re not.

The music is “Spanish Key,” from Miles Davis’s landmark jazz-funk fusion album Bitches Brew. Vintage 1969. Right off the grooves of the album.

[I guess there really are no more grooves anymore, are there? Just a bunch of microscopic pits in the surface of a thin metal layer inside a shiny plastic disc. No more big ol’ flat vinyl records. No more “albums,” for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, I love CD’s - but they’re just a different, newer technology.]

I actually saw Miles perform a lot of that material in November 1969, when his group played the top half of a double bill at Madison Square Garden. The bottom half of the bill was Simon and Garfunkel. Talk about odd couples - this was as weird as pairing Family Circus with Zippy the Pinhead. But that’s another story.

Back in the early 1970’s, when I was a young engineer just beginning my career with the Extremely Large International Petrochemical Corporation, I used to commute between Houston and Baytown, Texas. It was a hellish 75-mile daily round trip, but it did give me time to listen to music. And I must have played Bitches Brew hundreds of times. I knew every single note of “Spanish Key.” Still do.

Hearing it onscreen was an unexpected pleasure, even nicer than the bits and pieces of Davis’s On the Corner on the soundtrack of “Finding Forrester.”

Hell, I knew Miles before he was a block. Three guesses what’s playing in my car’s CD player today. Sure beats them old cassette tapes.

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