Miles Davis, who over the decades has filled great auditoriums from here to Tokyo, will be facing a more intimate crowd tonight, at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.
He doesn't see anything remarkable in this. "I've worked there before," he said. "There's nothing wrong with playing a more intimate place once in a while."
The one-night stand will be a passing moment in a whirlwind tour that will see him off to Europe in 10 days. He stopped off in New York last week to receive the prestigious Governor's Award of the New York Council on the Arts.
"Gov. (Mario) Cuomo gave it to me," he said. "There were 12 of us, and I was the only musician."
Back at his home in Malibu, Davis had three days for the Coach House gig, Arsenio Hall's TV show and several interviews to promote his Warner Bros. album, "Amandla." The record is dedicated to Gil Evans, whose death last year ended a collaboration and close friendship that began in 1948.
"Nobody can ever replace Gil," Davis said. "I have Marcus Miller with me now doing arrangements, but you can't compare them. Marcus plays a lot, which helps him to understand what players need. Gil wasn't that much of a player, but he had an instinct. He could really get into what you wanted."
Evans will play a prominent role in Davis' autobiography, which Simon & Schuster will publish in September. "I've been working on it with Quincy Troupe," he said. "We met when he did a magazine interview with me a few years ago. It's about a lot of things that happened to me when I was a kid."
"No, just music. Following music around, hearing things that I liked and showing how they led to others. It's really a book about music."
Not about your family?
"Naah," said Miles, "they didn't do nothing." (Davis' father was a well-to-do dental surgeon and landowner. The disclaimer can be taken with a large grain of salt.)
It is clear, however, that Davis has never been a family man. Old friends such as Evans have always been closer than blood relatives. Asked about his children and grandchildren, he hesitated a moment before answering: "I guess I have about three grandchildren. One with my daughter, Cheryl, and my son, Gregory, has two, though he may have more by now; he doesn't speak to me. My son, Miles IV, has none."
Painting, long a Davis avocation, is becoming a profitable sideline. In collaboration with his girlfriend, Jo Gelbard, he did the artwork for his new album; the cover is an impressive self-portrait using the reds and greens he seems to favor.
"Lionel Richie and some other entertainers have bought my paintings," he said. "A magazine called Du in Zurich bought some of my sketches for a special edition they're putting out on me."
Some of his art will be seen in a CBS "60 Minutes" segment in preparation.
Though the Davis sounds of the 1980s represent his taste in personal performance, he does not reject his entire past, contrary to popular belief. There will be a reminder of the early, pre-electric Miles when he performs next week at Avery Fisher Hall in New York opposite the Wynton Marsalis group.
"Wynton's good," he said. "He's a perfect trumpet player."
Yes, but isn't it true that he's basically playing 1960s Miles?
"Sure, I know."
You don't mind that?
"Uh-uh. There's no problem with Wynton; I think he's good, and Wynton knows he's good."
Asked about a story a couple of months ago in one of the more questionable checkout magazines, alleging that he has acquired immune deficiency syndrome, Davis said: "No, I decided not to sue. It's better to ignore it. I was just in the hospital to have some nodes removed from my throat. You know, I think one of my ex-wives or ex-girlfriends may have started that story."
Miles Davis today is in seemingly splendid health. Living close to Pepperdine University, which has a capacious pool, he took to working out there during a vacation last year.
Do you still work out? Still go swimming?
"I'm leaving right now. Bye."
Miles Davis plays tonight at 8 and 10:30 at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. Admission: $29.50. Information: (714) 496-8930.