Miles Davis is best known for being an American composer, band leader, and trumpeter. He is considered to be one of the most influential musicians in all of the 20th century. Davis was also in the lead during major developments in jazz music. He was at the forefront of the developments of cool jazz, bebop, hard bop, jazz fusion, and modal jazz. Davis died on September 28, 1991.
Miles Davis was born Miles Dewey Davis III on May 26, 1926 in Alton, Illinois. Davis was introduced to the trumpet at the age of thirteen, and this event launched him on his musical studies. Later in his adolescence, Davis started receiving trumpet lessons from a local musician by the name of Elwood Buchanan. When he turned sixteen years old, he was playing professionally when school was not interfering with his dreams. At age seventeen, Davis received an offer to join a band that was passing through his town, but he surrendered to his mom’s insistence to finish high school first.
Davis shaped his musical style by rebelling against the convention of what he was being taught at the prestigious Juilliard school. His primary gripe was that the Juilliard school was too focused on the Caucasian and European style of classical repertoire. After leaving Juilliard, Davis began playing with Eddie Davis (no relation) and Coleman Hawkins in several clubs in Manhattan. Towards the late 1940s, Davis was active in the development of “cool jazz,” a new jazz movement. Although, jazz movements are usually associated with black jazz musicians, this movement involved white jazz players also. “Cool Jazz” was characterized by the avoidance of bebop tempos ,which were aggressive; innovative forms and arrangements flourished. During this period, Davis collaborated with many jazz players like Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, and Freddie Webster.
Throughout his long career, Davis recorded 67 studio albums, an extraordinary amount. His first significant album was 1957’s Birth of the Cool. It was critically acclaimed because of its unorthodox instrumentation, the inclusion of guest players, remarkable arrangements inspired by jazz music, and its focus on post-bebop jazz. The history of this album goes back to the late 1940s when composer Gil Evans organized recording sessions for New York jazz musicians; the sessions for Birth of the Cool became a collection from different recordings of those late-1940s sessions. The most successful Davis album was 1959’s King of Blue, which went four times platinum with four million copies sold. It is seen as Davis’s masterpiece record and best-selling album due to its centering on modality. This contrasted with his earlier works that featured the harder bop style of jazz. King of Blue was recorded in just two sessions and featured Davis’s trademark style of refusing multiple rehearsals before the actual recording.
Davis was not well-known for being a painter, yet in the twilight of his career, in the 1980s, he started to focus on painting. He did not possess as sound of an educational background in art as he did in music, but he was inspired by the Milan-based art movement called “Memphis.” His love for this art form transferred onto his musical stage presence, as he often wore bright-colored clothing that was consistent with his “Memphis” art style. His paintings are still appearing at galleries and auctions even today, years after his death.
Death and Impact on Jazz
On September 28, 1991, Davis finally died from the combined effects of respiratory failure, pneumonia, and stroke when he was only 65 years old. Called one of the great innovators in jazz music, Davis has been credited by major magazines like Rolling Stone for being involved in major developments of jazz since the mid-1940s onwards. His music has influenced scores of musicians from diverse genres. Just some of those musicians are Joe Bonner, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Lalo Schifrin, Michael Franks, Lydia Lunch, Frank Zappa, Radiohead, Prince, Jerry Garcia, and Bill Evans.
• Miles Davis Biography
• The Life of Miles Davis
• Complete History of Jazz Music