In the Room With Miles

In the Room With Miles

Written by Ken Sander

In the early ’70s I was doing a stint at Elektra Records when Jac Holzman, the president, asked me to accompany him to a small event for Miles Davis. This was not a request; after all, Jac was the boss. I didn’t mind. Who wouldn’t want to meet Miles Davis? A few hours later we left the Gulf and Western building (located on the north side of Columbus Circle), got into his newly-acquired mousey-brown Porsche Targa 911, and drove north to the George Washington Bridge. Our destination was a private residence in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.

There wasn’t much traffic, so it was a quick 45-minute drive up Route 17. We arrived at the designated location. A nice house, not a mansion, but good-sized. We were escorted to the back yard, where there was a pool. Next to the pool stood a small stage with about 30 folding chairs set up in the front. On the other side of the pool was an open bar. It was a cloudy spring day, not warm enough for swimming. No matter, this was not a pool party. There were middle-aged guys in polyester suits milling around holding drinks. Everyone knew Jac and when they came up to say hello, he would introduce me. Not that I impressed anyone. I believe most of the attendees were distributors, with a few record company executives, possibly from Atlantic and Warner’s.

A short time later everyone was asked to be seated, and a small ceremony began. The whole thing was leading up to an award presentation. I zoned out and have no memory of what transpired till Miles Davis appeared on the stage to accept the award. After a moment of Miles thanking everyone, the awards part was over.

Miles stayed and for about 15 minutes he hung out, meeting and greeting. He was shaking hands with everyone there. Then when all the chit chat was done, Miles was due to leave. He was escorted back into the house. Jac came up to me and said, “why don’t you go hang out with Miles for a bit?” “I thought he was leaving,” I said. “No,” replied Jac, “he has to wait for his ride back to the city.” “Oh, okay,” I said. He walked me into the house and introduced me to Miles. There were two cute teenage girls who were also standing there. One of the girls invited us upstairs to her room and the four of us climbed the stairs. It was a typical teenage girl’s bedroom with a window facing the back yard and the pool.

We were just standing around and I asked the girls who they were, and one said, “I live here, and my dad is the host.” The other girl was her best friend. Miles and I looked at each other. Miles asked if there were any “party favors” and they shook their heads. He looked at me and said, “do you have anything?” “No,” I answered, “I was not expecting to be here.” I asked the girls if they could get something, and they could not, and the thought crossed my mind that they probably did not even know what we were talking about.

So, we sat, and I took the seat by the window. I saw the suits still wandering around with drinks in their hands. We began talking and I told Miles about touring with Patti LaBelle and opening for Al Green. He was interested and of course he had met them. I was thinking he was a jazz artist and Labelle’s kind of music wasn’t his bag, but he liked their music. He then asked me about Sly Stone. I had never met Sly or the Family Stone, but I loved their music. He did too and he told me he listened to R&B often and had quite a record collection. He knew Jimi Hendrix and I asked him if he ever played with Hendrix, and he said no. “Why not?” I asked, and he said scheduling mostly.

At the time Miles was in his 40s and looked a little grisly. I was in my early 20s, but no worries. I thought to myself, “he is pretty cool.” Some folks in his position would be annoyed having to wait for their ride, but he was fine, patient even. No complaints, no attitude.

A few months later Jac asked me to drive his Porsche to Los Angeles. Jac was dividing his time between New York City and L.A. Elektra had opened a West Coast office out there in L.A. In New York Jac did not get a chance to drive much, whereas in L.A. that was the only way to get around. To some, making that coast-to-coast drive might be seen as a chore. To me it was a paid vacation.

I had just met Sheri who was a Playboy bunny. That is a story. One of my best friends, Lanny had just gone back home to Chicago for a visit. For his return trip back to New York he fell into the unusual opportunity to drive a decommissioned police car back to New York, gas included. He could cash in his airline ticket and save the airfare. A plane ticket cost as much 50 years ago as it does today. As luck would have it the drive was not trouble-free. The retired black and white broke down an hour out of Chicago in Indiana. Accompanying Lanny was Sheri, a gal he met in Chicago.

A few days after she and Lanny arrived back in the city. I hooked up with them while the two of them were having a drink at Dr. Generosity’s and the attraction was mutual. Sheri decided to stay with me for a couple of weeks till she returned to Chicago. Just a few days into her stay with me Jac asked me to transport his car and Sheri had her ride home. It is great when timing works.

The next Wednesday morning Sheri and I went to Elektra’s office to pick up the Porsche and some expense money. Then we headed west on Route I-80. Traffic was moving nicely and by the time we reached Pennsylvania we were averaging around 80 miles an hour. Not too fast but moving. In western Pennsylvania a Corvette whizzed by. Well, alrighty, stepping on the gas there was no problem keeping up. We were leapfrogging each other when in mid-Ohio a muscle car – a Pontiac Firebird – joined us, making a caravan of sorts. The three of us kept changing the lead and we were averaging a hundred miles an hour. Hot dang this was fun, and I figured there was safety in numbers. How could the police pull all three of us over? We traveled that way till we neared Detroit where they both exited the highway. I slowed back down to my cruising speed of 80 miles per hour and we made it into Chicago around 10 p.m. I never did see a cop car.

We checked into the Holiday Inn on Lake Shore Drive (my then-favorite Chicago hotel) had dinner and went to bed. In the morning, after breakfast Sheri wanted to say an extra-special goodbye so we went back up to the room. Afterwards we checked out and I drove her to the Playboy Mansion. She told me to wait, and she went in and came back in five minutes with a goodie bag of party favors. We kissed goodbye and she gave me directions to I-80 West.

The original Playboy Mansion in Chicago, now a condominium complex. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Zol87. The original Playboy Mansion in Chicago, now a condominium complex. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Zol87.

A little after ten, I was cruising along at 80 MPH in very light traffic on Interstate 80 just past the border in Iowa. A thunderstorm hit. No big deal, so I thought. A new experience was in the offering: hydroplaning. I was motoring along in the right-hand lane of the two-lane highway when the Porsche began spinning to the left. It spun around two times, crossing the highway into the valley of the grassy meridian, finally coming to a stop at the lowest point in the meridian between the West and East lanes of the highway. The car was facing backwards towards Chicago. Luckily I was wearing my seat belt. My left hand was on the steering wheel and my right hand was holding the round wooden handgrip on the gear shift. I had squeezed the bulb-like handle so hard that I broke the grip off.

Stuck in the wet grass, I took stock of my situation. I was okay, the car was upright. I was amazed that I had spun out at 80 mph. With my breathing slowly returning to normal, I wondered how I was able to break the handle of the stick shift off. I looked back at my skid marks. The ripped-up soaked grass. A couple of more deep breaths and I turned the key. The Targa started right up. Releasing the clutch, I was able to drive forward a foot or so. But the tires were spinning and unable to get enough traction to get out of the meridian’s valley.

I also had the concern that I had some party favors on me (even though I had not partaken). That reality made me want to depart the scene without any official inquiries.

Trying to drive up the right side of the meridian, I couldn’t gain much traction with the tires spinning and slipping. But I had some success by putting it into reverse to back up the other side. I was in effect creating a rocking motion, back and forth, getting a little higher each time. It took some time, maybe 20 minutes or so, but eventually I made it to the top and my momentum took me right onto the westbound I-80, where I barely missed being broadsided by a big, horn blowing semi-tractor trailer.

A Porsche 911 coupe similar to the one Ken drove for Jac Holzman. Courtesy of Clemmensen. A Porsche 911 coupe similar to the one Ken drove for Jac Holzman. Courtesy of Clemmensen.

Back on the Interstate, I wanted to make sure that the car was all right. Once moving, I settled into third gear going slowly, maybe 30 miles an hour. The rain had passed, and I wanted to see if there were any issues with the Porsche. I saw a sign that said there was a rest stop about five miles away.

Everything still seemed okay for those few miles to the rest stop. Once there, I parked and did a walk-around inspection. No scratches or obvious issues, muddy but no visible problems. There were no steering issues or strange noises. The only apparent damage was the wooden hand grip on the gearshift. I could still use it though. It would stay on, loosely, but workable.

Back on the highway I was regaining my confidence. I was still hoping to make Denver that night. I had only lost an hour or so.

Part Two, “Miles and Miles,” will appear in an upcoming issue.

Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/JPRoche.

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