Miles Davis turned to Nancy Reagan and said...

In 1987, he was invited to a White House dinner by Ronald Reagan. Few of the guests appeared to know who he was. During dinner, Nancy Reagan turned to him and asked what he'd done with his life to merit an invitation. Straight-faced, Davis replied: "Well, I've changed the course of music five or six times. What have you done except fuck the president?"

Miles Davis: his wardrobe, his wit, his way with a basketball [The Guardian] (via Reddit)


  1.  You’ve got to admit this about Miles Davis: he sure did blow his own trumpet.

    wah wah waaaaaaaaah

  2. Ooooooh ZING!  But yeah, he did overstate matters a bit, I’d say he did it twice (Kind Of Blue, Bitches Brew).
    Which is kind of like the guy playing chess with his dog, somebody walks up and says “That’s incredible!”, the guy says “Not really, he only beats me once every ten games or so.”

    1. Well, he may be taking some credit for bebop (he was there at the beginning, though it wasn’t his baby), plus the “Birth of the Cool” album which was another direction too. And arguably he was doing the same stuff as Ornette when he recorded the “Lift to the Scaffold” soundtrack, but unlike Ornette he thought it was a musical dead end.

      1.  1) His pre-LP work with Charlie Parker (1945). Donna Lee, etc.
        2) Birth of the Cool (1949). Also pre-LP, but later released as an album.
        3) First quintet (Cookin’, Steamin’, Workin’ etc.) Early 50s.
        4) Kind of Blue (1959).
        5) “The Quintet” (early/mid 60s).
        6) The Gil Evans collaborations — Sketches of Spain, etc. (60s)
        7) Fusion — Filles de Kilimanjaro thru Big Fun (incl. Bitches Brew).

        I used to say, “It’s no accident that  Alan Freed invented Rock ‘n’ Roll at precisely the moment that Miles Davis stopped smiling.”

  3. This is why, if you were to ask who my heroes are, I would put Miles as #1. Because of statements like this and 1 million other things and then also the small matter of some of the greatest music ever.

    @niktemadur I think he prob changed music 5x with Bitches Brew alone…

    1. I think he prob changed music 5x with Bitches Brew alone…

      Kind of like the german band Neu! with their first album, but c’mon dude, each album counts once.

      But you know who I’d put as my #1?  John Coltrane, I play “A Love Supreme” slightly more often than “Kind Of Blue” (on which Coltrane also played, WTF).  Oh, and “Coltrane’s Sound” when I get the itch for that classic bebop.

      The other Miles Davis album I absolutely love is “Sketches Of Spain”, another work of insane genius. I’ve also got, but haven’t yet gotten around to listening to, “Filles De Kilimanjaro” and “In A Silent Way”.

  4. I’ve heard a couple versions of this story, usually one where he says to an anonymous white woman “I’ve changed the course of music 2 or 3 times.  What have you done, besides be born white?”  So… not sure if legit.

    1.  your version is the one he recounts in his as-told-to bio, the posted quote is made up.

      1. We were at the brink of Nuclear holocaust as it was. As a general rule, you don’t want the paranoid lunatic a the finger on the button to be more stressed out than he has to be.

        1. Reagan’s brinksmanship has long been lost in the fog surrounding the Cult of St. Ronnie. 

    1. Having seen Nancy Reagan close up, I’d be surprised if she had spoken to him in the first place.

      1.  That’s true for British tabloids – but UK newspapers cover an incredible spectrum of quality. Guardian’s ok.

          1.  It’s okay in what it’s trying to do, but I don’t think the articles are any more accurate than any other British paper.  It’s pretty remarkable how little fact-checking there is.

      2. I’d take most British broadsheet over most American ones.  Three reasons: 

        a) There’s no pretense at political impartiality, so you know where you are.
        b) They don’t feel the need to start otherwise perfectly interesting articles with a report of someone’s personal experience.
        c) If they start an article on the front page, they often finish it there too.    

  5. true or not, it fits. what makes it extra delicious is that he’s saying it t Nancy Reagan!

        1. Oh, I see now.  Mannnnnnn I thought I was obscure and obtuse, but this takes the cake.  I have some improving to do.

  6. Really unfortunate that Cory did not read the comment thread on the Guardian article, in which this particular urban legend is partially (but thoroughly) debunked, c/o Mile’s own autobiography.

    1. Strange stuff in that Village Voice article:

      (speaking of oral sex)
      “Those who perfect their technique are considered to have a power lock on men, despite–or because of?–the act’s association with homosexuality.”


    2. Strange stuff in that Village Voice article:

      (speaking of oral sex)
      “Those who perfect their technique are considered to have a power lock on men, despite–or because of?–the act’s association with homosexuality.”


      1. There was me thinking that blow jobs just feel great. How naive; I should have studied pop psychology.

    3. It sounds like the US isn’t so averse to monarchs as I thought, just their selection criteria…

  7. What he actually said was “My policy, when asked if I am a heroin addict, is to just say ‘no.’

    The rest is history.

  8. Yeah this is quite inaccurate, the real quote isn’t hard to find and involves a much better dissection of privilege. Also, isn’t a funny coincidence that the fake quote is the one that makes the black man seem angry, crude and threatening to white women?

    1. The fake quote is totally apropos……  I’m so tired of the expectation of deference and fealty and the sanctimonious indignation when it is not expressed….  Nancy Reagan was a bitch….! 

  9. Soooo close to the actual quote… but not quite.

    Still gotta be Reason # Infinity + 1 for loving Miles Davis…

  10. Does “what have you done with your life to merit an invitation” sound like a likely sentence to be spoken by a first lady, or anyone?  More likely “so who might you be”. But awesome story anyway since he was mean to an old white Republican woman, I guess.

  11. Looking forward to a misspelt version of this, incongruously made using a ‘keep calm and carry on’/demotivational poster parody generator, being shared 12767313 times from a facebook account called ‘ITS NOT PC LOL FUNNAY PICTURES BECAUSE ITS TRUE’ or some such. (-_-;)

  12. Judging by the experience of a friend of mine (told to me first hand) Nancy’s question is not an uncommon one among ‘first ladies…’ He was at the Bushes (bush 1) for a bar-b-q, i think in Maine, cuz he was mixing sound for some big artist, and Barbara looked at him (a long haired roundish asian) and asked him, “And what do YOU do?” 
    Inexplicably, he didn’t lose his appetite, and he also said he thought she was nice. Go fig.

    1. How a privileged person speaks to someone else is an immediate indicator of their assumptions about that person.  They judge instantaneously, then they modify their speech to match.  How you dress can be enough to throw their assumptions off.  This is something I play with, and find the results to be quite informative.  (It’s like going undercover to find out what kind of person they really are.  Very useful.)

      Your friend may have been socialized to believe that a powerful person even noticing he existed as an individual was a positive thing.  Which is sort-of true: it’s better than not even being noticed, let alone spoken to.  There are many political functions these days where that would still be the norm.  So…glass half full.

  13. Within ten seconds anyone with half a brain would know that this story is made up. Apparently that doesn’t matter to Cory, or some of the commenters.

  14. Cory: can you source this piece of apocrypha? I realize it wasn’t your article to begin with but it is being widely debunked around the web (after your post made its rounds) via Miles’ autobiography.

  15. When Richard Nixon honored Duke Ellington at the White House, Duke greeted him by kissing him twice on the left side of his face and twice on the right.  Nixon was puzzled and asked, “Why four kisses?”  Duke answered, “One for each cheek.”

    1. These legends are silly, but this one moreso, why wouldn’t he be having Nixon kiss ~his~ ass instead of kissing Nixon’s ass?

  16. A paraphrase of a misquote from an autobiography. Read pp. 378-381 of Miles’ autobiography . He said something similar to this, but not to Nancy Reagan. Why the author of that Guardian piece would misquote things like that when the story — or at least a first-hand version — is widely available, who knows. But it’s pretty sloppy journalism.

  17. In the vein of just making stuff up – here is my modern version – at a Romney fundraiser, Ann asks one of the chauffeurs/limo drivers “What do you do???”  After a pause, he responds: “The same thing as you, I drive Cadillacs…”

  18. Just a day after I saw the Reddit post of Miles Davis & John Lennon playing a little b-ball. He just gets cooler, and more badass, each day.

  19. I was sitting outside an Orlando water park about 10 years ago, wearing my Miles Davis t-shirt (A picture of later-day day Miles, holding one of his fingers up to his lips in a ‘Shhhh’ position), when a vacationing British family wandered by, single file.

    (I assume they were British, based on their coarse jabbering and their accents)

    They made me think of the Simpsons, only Cockney. Black sleeveless t-shirts with knockoff Disney characters on them, weird floral swim trunks, black socks and black sneakers, with the limbs alternately flashing bone-china white or lobster-red, depending on which side of the sunburns I was seeing; Exhausted Father, Mother, oldest daughter, middle daughter trudging along – And then the son, about six years old and looking like a pee-wee cross between Junior Samples and  Eric Cartman – Who stopped dead in his tracks, eyed my shirt and yelled “Bloody ‘Ell – That’s Moiles Dayvis !”

    I was speechless. Shit, what would you have said ? I finally said “Right! Well Done, Young Man!”, and he ran off to catch up with the rest of his family.

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