East St. Louis Celebrates Miles Davis' Birthday with Jazz, Poetry -- and Cake

click to enlarge Miles Davis on a cake! - Christian Schaeffer
Christian Schaeffer
Miles Davis on a cake!

Earlier this afternoon, East St. Louis Mayor Alvin L. Parks threw a party to commemorate the 84th birthday of Miles Dewey Davis III, known to most as Miles Davis. The event, which took place in Parks' office, honored the jazz legend and paid tribute to the role the city played during his formative years. Davis was born in Alton but grew up in East St. Louis, where he attended Lincoln High School and played in its band. Some of Davis' classmates, as well as several generations of East St. Louis citizens, attended the gathering.

Standing before a sheet cake emblazoned with a picture of Bitches Brew-era Miles, Parks welcomed the crowd and commented on the legacy left by Davis, who died in 1991. "Though he is no longer with us in person, we certainly know that his spirit lives with us," Parks said. "One of the reasons that East St. Louis is so strongly known for music is that Miles Davis hails from East St. Louis, Illinois.

"So we say not only happy birthday to Miles Davis today, but thank you, Miles Davis, for putting East St. Louis even further on the map and making this known as a place that you can say, 'We know music, we know arts, we know artistic expression because Miles Davis blew his horn first in East St. Louis, Illinois.'"

A three-piece jazz combo, led by Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville faculty member Reggie Thomas, played a selection of Davis' better-known tunes, starting with the Kind of Blue classic "Freddie Freeloader." Trumpeter Brady Lewis, a sophomore at East St. Louis Senior High School, was tasked with taking Miles' role and did a fine job; he even faithfully recreated the original trumpet solo. Lewis and his classmate, bassist Marvin Cooper, are getting used to the spotlight: Their school jazz combo just returned from a trip to the Monterey Jazz Festival's Next Generation Festival in California, further evidence that East St. Louis' jazz heritage extends well beyond the city limits.

click to enlarge Pianist Reggie Thomas and trumpeter Brady Lewis - Christian Schaeffer
Christian Schaeffer
Pianist Reggie Thomas and trumpeter Brady Lewis

The band then played a muted version of "All Blues" as East St. Louis' poet laureate, Dr. Eugene B. Redmond, read the prologue to his poem, "Milestone: The Birth of an Ancestor," which he had written after Davis' death and read at a memorial service at Lincoln High. Before reading the poem, he related a story of hearing of Davis' death while shopping in the Delmar Loop. Instinctively, Redmond sought out Davis' star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame and paid tribute with a group of European tourists, who had likewise sought out the trumpeter's star.

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