Musical firebrands Miles Davis and Prince link on the previously unheard “Can I Play With U” (Extended). The track written by Prince and recorded for Davis’ 1986 Tutu LP was later scrapped. The result of a chance meeting at the airport in Los Angeles, the song’s genesis and ultimate absence from the project is detailed by Prince’s former tour manager Alan Leeds in an excerpt from author George Cole‘s book The Last Miles: The Music of Miles Davis (1980-1991)
TLM: Can you explain how “Can I Play With U?” happened?
AL: I’m basing this on my files and Eric’s journals and his recollections. Shortly after the meeting at the airport, they swapped numbers and I’m sure they talked about Prince submitting some material for the first Warner Bros album. As I said, there might even have been conversations before they met Tommy LiPuma [then head of Warner Bros jazz] and the Warner Bros people. So it was already in our mind that ‘Miles was on Warner and you guys are going to end up doing something together.’ Now, they’ve met and swapped numbers, it was more imminent. And once Prince has got a passion for something, he jumps right on it.
Within a couple of weeks, Prince was in the studio and he recorded the initial track was on the 26th and 27th of December 1985. Eric was in Florida on holiday with our parents and he got a call from Prince saying ‘hey you gotta come round here.’ Prince did the basic track on the 26th and Eric overdubbed his horn on the 27th. Eric recalls Prince intending to take the tape to Miles in Malibu and Prince said to Eric; “I’m going to take this tape to Miles in Malibu. Do you want to go?’ And Eric was well up for it! I don’t know why, but that meeting never happened but they sent the tape by messenger. In January  Prince sent the multi-track tape to Miles for him to do whatever overdubs he wanted to do. This didn’t happen until February and March. Prince was never present at any of those overdub sessions – he had absolutely nothing to do with them. He was enamored with Miles but I don’t know how ambitious Prince was about working with Miles.
TLM: Prince pulled the track from the album.
AL: I remember Prince’s reaction when he got the tape back – he wasn’t enthralled with it. Not so much because of what Miles had done with it. But he just lived with the song long enough and realised that there wasn’t really anything brilliant about it. It was something that had been hastily and impulsively done. I feel certain that Prince felt that if there was going to be a collaboration that was officially released, it should be something more significant than what that track was. That wasn’t a reflection of Miles’s playing, but more about the composition and the significance of the quality of the track in itself. He seemed to lose interest in that track and the fact that album ended up going in a different direction [Marcus Miller took charge of the album that became Tutu]. I think if Tommy LiPuma or Miles had gone back to Prince and said ‘look this track isn’t great. Let’s do more and let’s make an album together,’ I think Prince would have probably submitted twenty tracks. I don’t think it would have changed his MO or his willingness to spend a lot of time in the studio together, but I think he would have been interested in submitting tons of tracks in the hope of making an album. But that didn’t happen. Whether he was hurt by that, I don’t know, but I know he just seemed to lose interest.
Though Prince felt the track missed the mark, the bold recording suggests that the pair were truly cut from the same funky cloth. Check the track below to listen to “Can I Play With U” (Extended).
Spotted at BB.