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First Posted: 10:26 pm - September 12th, 2015 - 3104 Views
By Scott Cousins - For The Telegraph
ALTON — Hundreds of people came out Saturday to the evening unveiling of a sculpture of jazz great Miles Davis, who was born in Alton; the bronze sculpture now stands on West Third Street.
Although more closely associated with East St. Louis, Davis was born in Alton and lived on Milnor Avenue for about a year there before his family moved.
Before his death in 1991, he was considered one of the most influential jazz musicians of the 20th century.
“His legacy is amazing,” said Patricia Ackman, co-chair of the Miles Davis Memorial Project.
The event featured the unveiling ceremony, jazz performances, as well as entertainment in the bars and restaurants. The crowd was estimated at between 350-400 people.
The program itself took slightly more than an hour.
Emcee James Killion called the unveiling, “A wonderful, great day for Alton.”
The program had 10 speakers, including former East St. Louis mayor and current City Manager Alvin Parks, who represented the Davis family; trumpet player Bobby Shew, and sculptor Preston Jackson.
After the speakers, the sculpture was unveiled and many in the crowd tried to get close to get a photo or talk to one of the participants.
JoAnn King, of St. Louis, was among many jazz fans that came out for the event.
“I’ve always been a jazz fan, and I’ve always loved Miles Davis. I didn’t realize until my friend sent me an email that he was from Alton. Jazz is important because it’s the foundation of all music,” she said. “All music is good music. On the Missouri side we have Chuck Berry’s statue in the Delmar Loop.”
After the ceremony, King planned to stay and listen to the jazz performances.
“I was looking at the lineup to make sure I didn’t miss anything,” she noted.
Roy Harrell, of St. Louis, met up with an old college friend, Jefferie Watkins, of Edwardsville. Both were Southern Illinois University Edwardsville students in Alton, and fans of Davis.
“When I was in high school, the band teacher was a big jazz player, and he turned us on to a lot of jazz… I didn’t know what jazz was at the time,” Harrell said.
He eventually became a fan, and then a fan of Davis.
In addition to being a fan, Watkins also knew Davis’ brother.
“Back in the day in the late ’60s when he was playing, you would see him around,” Watkins said. “I would see Miles playing.”
Before the formal ceremonies, Ackman said the evening appeared to be going very well.
“It’s going to identify Downtown Alton as an actual entertainment district. That can spur other things, other businesses that may want to come down here and become part of this. It’s going to bring tourism to the community and it’s a beautiful plaza.”
The project has been underway for about three years, including raising about $150,000 over the past two years.
Scott Cousins is a freelance writer and photographer for the Telegraph.