How I Met Miles Davis and Became the Editor of His Bestselling Autobiography

Malaika Adero
October 1 2014

Malaika Adero, an independent publishing consultant, content developer and writer, is publisher of Home Slice Magazine, an online lifestyle publication and marketplace. She is the author of Up South: Stories, Studies and Letters of This Century’s African American Migrations and coauthor of Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston with Dr. Lucy Hurston. She edited award-winning and bestselling books for Simon and Schuster for more than 18 years, including Miles: The Autobiography. Here, she tells the story of how she met Miles Davis and became his editor—when she was just an assistant. 

My connection to an entertainment lawyer representing Miles Davis got me an exclusive opportunity to publish Miles: The Autobiography. There was no proposal, no writer attached. But Miles was ready to tell his story.

David Franklin, the senior half of Franklin & Axam law firm in Atlanta was known not only as an important force behind the scenes in Atlanta politics, but also represented some of the most successful artists in entertainment, including Donny Hathaway, Richard Pryor, Roberta Flack, and Cecily Tyson. They consequently handled some business matters for Tyson’s then husband Miles Davis, including the shopping of his memoir. Soon after graduating from Clark College in Atlanta, I worked for David’s firm researching, writing and doing paper trail work on behalf of their clients and cases, both criminal and business—a perfect training ground for the young professional.

I kept in touch with the mentors and friends I made at the firm even after I moved to New York and took a career turn to book publishing. On one of David’s trips to New York, he invited me to lunch, an opportunity that became a turning point in my young career. He gave me a head start above others in publishing to secure a deal, knowing that I was not yet a full editor, but rather was assistant to Bob Bender, a senior editor at Simon & Schuster.

Bob said yes to the idea of doing a book with Miles Davis, but we’d have to get the legend to a sit-down meeting with him and other colleagues. Miles was not going to come to our offices, so the meeting ended happening at the home of our company president Joni Evans and CEO Dick Snyder, who were married at the time.

I was a nervous wreck that day, as I was responsible for a meeting at the home of my bosses—and on their wedding anniversary—with a potential author whose notorious reputation—not to mention international and legendary fame—included showing up late and sometimes not at all.

But, it happened.  Miles showed up without handlers, in a limo, and with all of that mystery and magnetism you expect for a person regarded as a star and a legend, among the most famous in the world. He talked about why he wanted to do a book and who he would or wouldn’t like as a collaborator. No jazz critics, but he would consider a writer who interviewed him recently for Spin magazine: Quincy Troupe, celebrated poet.

At the end of the meeting, Miles offered me a ride in his limo. He had the driver drop him off at his 57th street apartment then take me home to Harlem. I was beside myself of course. For all the talk of Miles being rude and aloof, he treated me with warmth and respect. I would be in his presence again a few times by the time the book was published and have great memories and stories to tell about my beginner’s luck as an editor-to-be: a New York Times bestseller in the mid 1980s, that is still bought, read and talked about to this day.

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