'He was a real Giacometti, with a face of great beauty' ... Miles Davis
Like every young person of my generation, I immersed myself in jazz. I met the greatest musicians - Charlie Parker, the Modern Jazz Quartet, most often at the Club Saint-Germain with Sacha Distel, and Dizzy Gillespie when he came to Tabou. All that happened over the space of two or three years, a mythical period that today feels as though it lasted 20 years. They arrived after the war, we welcomed them, we listened to them fervently, we loved them, and in a way they transformed our ideas about what jazz was - what we already knew, we'd picked up almost by accident. During the Occupation, if you tried to listen to jazz, you risked punishment. So we listened to The Lambeth Walk - for us, the ultimate trip. But above all there was Django Reinhardt, again someone who had arrived from another world.
I always loved it when I was taken to places where I could learn things. I was like a little sister to [the writer and musician] Boris Vian, who was very protective towards me. The first time Miles Davis came to Paris, it was at the Pleyel, a crumbling place. Recently, on a plane, I bumped into the man who ran the Pleyel and he said, "It's all changed, come and have a look." I was touched; it was very sweet. For it was there that I first met Miles, at his first concert in Paris.
There weren't any seats left - and anyway I wouldn't have been able to pay for one - so I was taken to watch from the wings by Michelle Vian, Boris's wife, who was looking after me. And there I caught a glimpse of Miles, in profile: a real Giacometti, with a face of great beauty. I'm not even talking about the genius of the man: you didn't have to be a scholar or a specialist in jazz to be struck by him. There was such an unusual harmony between the man, the instrument and the sound - it was pretty shattering. Miles was a spectacle in himself: he always dressed in a very classic way, not the way he dressed later on.
So I met this man, who was very young, as I was. We went out for dinner in a group, with people I didn't know. And there it was. I didn't speak English, he didn't speak French. I haven't a clue how we managed. The miracle of love.
I wasn't tempted to sing with Miles: why try to do badly, or less well, something that other people do so well? I'm not going to start singing jazz standards: it's not in my blood or my culture. Mind you, I have a deep affection and huge admiration for Ella Fitzgerald and a few others.
Miles didn't hear me sing until much later in New York, at the Waldorf-Astoria. Before that, to him, I was just me, a girl with a strange face, and it was me he loved, which made me happy. At that point I'd had only very limited success as an actress. I was becoming famous without really having done anything, which is a very uncomfortable position. I didn't talk much, only when I needed to ask questions - about existentialism, about things I'd read about without really understanding. One day [the philosopher] Maurice Merleau-Ponty spoke to me. He must have liked my face, because he invited me to dinner. We went dancing and he answered all my questions, which was magical. I was all curiosity but I felt I didn't have anything to give in return; I was at that age where all one does is take.
I'd heard of people like Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir when I was 14 or 15, through my sister who was a student, but I couldn't ever have imagined that one day I'd be close to them. Sartre said to Miles, "Why don't you and Juliette get married?" Miles said, "Because I love her too much to make her unhappy." It wasn't a matter of him being unfaithful or behaving like a Don Juan; it was simply a question of colour. If he'd taken me back to America with him, I would have been called names.
Years later at the Waldorf in New York, where I had a very nice suite, I invited Miles to dinner. The face of the maitre d'hotel when he came in was indescribable. After two hours, the food was more or less thrown in our faces. The meal was long and painful, and then he left.
At four o'clock in the morning I got a call from Miles, who was in tears. "I couldn't come by myself," he said. "I don't ever want to see you again here, in a country where this kind of relationship is impossible." I suddenly understood that I'd made a terrible mistake, from which came a strange feeling of humiliation that I'll never forget. In America his colour was made blatantly obvious to me, whereas in Paris I didn't even notice that he was black.
Between Miles and me there was a great love affair, the kind you'd want everybody to experience. Throughout our lives, we were never lost to each other. Whenever he could, he would leave messages for me in the places I travelled in Europe: "I was here, you weren't."
He came to see me at my house a few months before he died. He was sitting in the drawing room and at one point I went to the verandah to look at the garden. I heard his devilish laugh. I asked him what had provoked it. "No matter where I was," he said, "in whatever corner of the world, looking at that back, I'd know it was you."
· Interview by Philippe Carles; translation by Richard Williams.