Miles Davis

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Miles Davis

Photo of Davis in 1955 taken by Tom Palumbo
Background information
Birth name Miles Dewey Davis III
Born May 26, 1926(1926-05-26)
Alton, Illinois, United States
Died September 28, 1991(1991-09-28) (aged 65)
Santa Monica, California, United States
Genres Jazz
Occupations Bandleader, composer, trumpeter, artist
Instruments Trumpet, flugelhorn, piano, organ
Years active 1944–75, 1980–91
Labels Columbia
Commodore
Decca
Verve
MGM
Associated acts Billy Eckstine, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis Quintet, Gil Evans

Miles Davis III (May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991) was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader and composer. He was very important to 20th century music and helped to develop several different styles of jazz, like cool jazz, hard bop, free jazz, and fusion. As a bandleader he worked with other famous musicians like John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Cannonball Adderley, Gerry Mulligan, Tony Williams, George Coleman, J. J. Johnson, Keith Jarrett, John Scofield and Kenny Garrett.

In 1959 he released an album called Kind of Blue which became very famous and popular. In 2008 it had sold 4 million copies.[1] In 2006 Davis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and described as "one of the key figures in the history of jazz".[1]

Early life[change | change source]

Miles Davis was born in 1926 in Alton, Illinois. His father, Dr. Miles Henry Davis, was a dentist. In 1927, the family moved to East St. Louis. They also owned a big ranch in northern Arkansas, where Davis learned to ride horses.

Davis's mother, Cleota Mae (Henry) Davis, wanted him to learn to play the piano. She was a good blues pianist but did not tell her son this. Davis started to learn music when he was 13, when his father gave him a trumpet and arranged for him to have lessons with local musician Elwood Buchanan. Buchanan taught Davis to play the trumpet without vibrato, and Davis always played like this. Buchanan was said to slap Davis's knuckles every time he started using heavy vibrato.[2] Davis later said "I prefer a round sound with no attitude in it, like a round voice with not too much tremolo and not too much Baseline bass. Just right in the middle. If I can’t get that sound I can’t play anything."[3]

When he was 16, Davis played the trumpet professionally when he was not at school. At 17, he played in bandleader Eddie Randle's band for a year. Saxophone-player Sonny Stitt tried to persuade Davis to join the Tiny Bradshaw band, but Davis's mother wanted Davis to finish his final year of high school.

In 1944, the Billy Eckstine band visited East St. Louis. Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were in the band, and Davis joined them as third trumpet player when trumpeter Buddy Anderson was out sick. When the band left to finish the tour, Davis' parents still wanted him to finish his studies.

New York years (1944–48)[change | change source]

After he graduated from high school in 1944, Davis moved to New York City to study at the Juilliard School of Music.

When he arrived in New York, he spent most of his time trying to get in contact with Charlie Parker, even though some people had told him that he should not.[2] When he found Parker, Davis became involved in jam sessions that took place every night in two of Harlem's night clubs, Minton's Playhouse and Monroe's. Other famous musicians like Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke also tookpart in these sessions.

Davis left Juilliard early, having first asked permission from his father. He did not like the classes at Juilliard because he thought they focused too much on classical European and "white" music. He also said that his Juilliard classes helped him to understand music theory.

He began playing professionally in many jazz groups, performing in several 52nd Street clubs with Coleman Hawkins and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. In 1945, he went into a recording studio for the first time, as a member of the group of Herbie Fields. In 1946 he made his first recording as a bandleader, with a group called "Miles Davis Sextet plus Earl Coleman and Ann Hathaway".[4] He did not make many recordings as a bandleader at this time.

Around 1945, Dizzy Gillespie stopped working with Parker and Parker hired Davis as Gillespie's replacement in his quintet. Also in the group were Max Roach at the drums, Al Haig (replaced later by Sir Charles Thompson and Duke Jordan) at the piano, and Curley Russell (later replaced by Tommy Potter and Leonard Gaskin) as bass player.

With Parker's quintet, Davis recorded several times. He had a solo on Parker's signature song, "Now's the Time". This solo led to the beginning of a style of jazz called "cool jazz". The group also toured the United States. During a tour in Los Angeles, Parker had a nervous breakdown and went to the Camarillo State Mental Hospital for several months. Davis found himself stuck in L.A. He stayed with, and played music with jazz musician Charles Mingus. Later he got a job with Billy Eckstine on a California tour that brought him back to New York.[5] In 1948, Parker returned from Los Angeles, and Davis joined his group again.

The musicians in Parker's group were not getting on very well. Parker's behavior was unpredictable because of his drug addiction. Davis and Roach did not agree with Parker hiring Duke Jordan as a pianist[2] and would have preferred Bud Powell). In December 1948, Davis left the group after an argument with Parker at the Royal Roost. He began to work more independently with different groups in New York.

Birth of the Cool (1948–49)[change | change source]

In 1948 Davis grew close to the Canadian composer and music arranger Gil Evans. Davis used to meet other musicians at Evans' house, like Roach, the pianist John Lewis and the baritone saxophone player Gerry Mulligan. Evans had been the arranger for the orchestra of Claude Thornhill and it was the sound of this group, as well as Duke Ellington's example, that inspired the creation of a large group including a french horn and a tuba.

Davis took a very active role in the project,[6] and it soon became "his project". They tried to achieve a sound similar to a human voice, over carefully arranged compositions.

The group first played in the summer of 1948 at the Royal Roost. They were active to the end of 1949 and had several changes of musician. There were many white musicians in the group and this made some African American jazz players angry. Many of them were unemployed at the time. Davis did not listen to them.[7]

The group got a recording contract with Capitol Records and they had several recording sessions between January 1949 and April 1950. This music was released on an album called Birth of the Cool. This album gave its name to a new style of jazz called "cool jazz". Davis knew how important his project was and even turned down a job with Duke Ellington's orchestra.[2] This group also led to the beginning of the lifelong friendship between Davis and Gil Evans.

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Miles Davis". The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc.. http://www.rockhall.com/inductee/miles-davis. Retrieved 2009-06-29.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe, Miles: The Autobiography, Simon and Schuster, 1989, ISBN 0671635042.
  3. Ashley Kahn Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece.
  4. See the Plosin session database [1].
  5. On this occasion, Mingus criticized bitterly Davis for abandoning his "musical father" (see Autobiography).
  6. "Miles, the bandleader. He took the initiative and put the theories to work. He called the rehearsals, hired the halls, called the players, and generally cracked the whip." Gerry Mulligan "I hear America singing".
  7. "So I just told them that if a guy could play as good as Lee Konitz played – that's who they were mad about most, because there were a lot of black alto players around – I would hire him every time, and I wouldn't give a damn if he was green with red breath. I'm hiring a motherfucker to play, not for what color he is." Miles Davis, Autobiography