One of the most popular jazz musicians of all time is Miles Davis. Davis brought many new sounds and sights to the world of jazz. In his time, he had influence as an innovative bandleader, as well as a composer. Davis’s pure sound was a major part of his unparalleled success. Miles Davis was born on May 26, 1926. He spent his childhood years in East St. Louis. His father was tough, but seemed to have Miles’ best interests in mind. As for his mother, she seemed to be less understanding of her son. Racism was an inevitable factor in the times that Miles was growing up.
Because white students got the first opportunity at a position to play, a status as the best trumpet player in high school was still not good enough. Davis’s first job was with a jumping small band called Eddie Randall’s Blue Devils. He was only 15 at the time, but this brought him local recognition. Davis caught a big break in the summer of 1944 when the Billy Eckstines big band came to St. Louis without a trumpet player. Davis filled in the trumpet slot and got his first taste of playing in the spotlight with a big-time band. Later that year, in the fall, Davis made his way to New York City to study at the Juilliard School of Music.
Davis learned the teachings of Thelonious Monk. Monk had a great influence on him and motivated him to learn his rhythms, his dramatic use of space in solos, and his insistence on melody. Davis found favor with older musicians. He sat in with the likes of Coleman Hawkins and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis on 52nd Street. Davis considered his first recordings to be mostly inaudible. He felt that one could barely hear him playing in the recordings. Despite his insistence that he couldnt be heard, he did a second recording featured himself with Charlie Parker.
This recording took place on November 26, 1945, by the still unsure 19-year-old kid, who obviously lacked the agility of a mature musician. Davis faced some harsh reviews towards his early recordings, mainly the reviews having to do with his sometimes rusty and underdeveloped playing. Despite the early critics, Davis began tapping into his own original idea: a mellower sonority for modern jazz. Two years later, at the age of 21, Davis recorded four of his own tunes for Savoy; however, this time Parker was a sideman on the tenor saxophone.
Davis found a niche for his trumpet sound in compositions like “Milestones” and “Sippin’ at Bells. ” These songs were darker in texture than comparable Charlie Parker arrangements. Davis began to develop a distinctive voice as a player. This distinction was shown on ballads such as the 1947 “My Old Flame” and “Out of Nowhere,” played with Parker. Davis consistently played with Parker between 1945 and 1949. Unfortunately, by 1949 he became irritated by Parker’s “irresponsibility” to the band. Parker was eager to try his hand a different kind of music called “bebop.
Frustratingly enough, Davis continuously received comparison in ability to his contemporary Dizzy Gillespie. Despite such a comparison Davis matured to a point that he was able to do things that Gillespie only dreamed. By the 1950s, Davis possessed a blues sound so rich, it had a down-home quality. Gillespie was quoted as saying, “Miles is deep. ” Gillespies quote points directly to Davis’s sophisticated new sound to modern jazz. Critics praised the vibrant tone of Davis, while criticizing the apparently thin tone of Gillespie.
Critics and audiences alike said that Davis’s music aroused an instant passion for the listener. Soon, Gillespie’s music became a type of music that one had to eventually develop a liking for over time. With such comparisons to Gillespie, critics painted Davis as the more modern and aggressive musician with substance to fully become immersed in the music. He had passion. As was the case for many musicians of his time, Miles also ran into a drug problem. Between the years of 1951 and 1954, Davis fumbled. He played less and less in New York, and he did not record as frequently as in the past years.
Before the drug problem became too intense, Davis signed a contract with Prestige and recorded his first date on January 17, 1951, with Sonny Rollins. After, Davis recorded two more Prestige sessions. With each session, he seemed to get better and better. He played magnificently with a mature sound. On his track “It’s only a Paper Moon,” he laid out the melody with both sublime bounciness, and good cheer that established his image as uniformly intense. Davis’s drug addiction eventually dwindled and turned bad. In 1952 and 1953, he wandered and his playing was inconsistent.
He appeared for occasional recording sessions, but nothing consistent. Determined to cure his drug problem, he went home to St. Louis and locked himself in a room until he felt he was cured. Such an extreme action only serves to represent Daviss desire to take hold of his life and find a cure. After his self-adjustment, he moved to Detroit to avoid the temptations that still badgered him in New York. On April 29, 1954, Davis assembled a group that included drummer Kenny Clarke and pianist Horace Silver. Together, the group recorded “Blue ‘n’ Boogie” and “Walkin’.
In regards to this recording session, Davis said: “Man, that album turned my whole life and career around. ” Although Davis returned to the old fire and improvisations of bebop, he also while progressed his music into a more funky type of blues. On December 24, 1954, Davis led a session that surpassed all the previous ones. The notable Thelonious Monk was a privileged part of this session due to his earlier influence on the Davis. Along with Monk, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist Perry Heath and drummer Kenny Clarke all were part of the group.
They recorded six tracks including the best tracks “Bag’s Groove” and “The Man I Love. ” Now fully matured as a musician, Davis had both a tone that was lustrous, and a placement of phrases that was flawless. “The Man I Love” demonstrated a deep mature sound of the trumpeter, while exhibiting Daviss creation of long deep melodies with sincere. The first recording of “Bag’s Groove” is one of jazz’s greatest recordings. The first take clearly shows Davis more relaxed with lyrics that move more steadily with a developed internal logic. Jazz continued to change over the years, as music always does.
New technology enabled the editing of tapes, which was a huge breakthrough at the time. Editing changed the way that music was recorded. One would think that the musicians would be thrilled with the emergence of such technological advancement, but that was not the case. Davis and other musicians felt that editing took away from the spontaneity of jazz. He believed mistakes as much as the creations were very much a part of jazz and should not be subject to tampering. Back at the top of the Jazz world in 1956, his new recordings helped him break back into the spotlight.
He even made an appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival of 1955. Davis also recorded his last tune for Prestige in October of 1956 and from there went on to record tracks for Columbia Records. Davis racked up a jukebox hit with “Round Midnight. ” In this tune, Davis leaves long and unexpected silences similar to his predecessor Monk, which in turn means that the theme is never stated. Although success was booming, Davis experienced yet another hardship with the death of his father in 1962. The spirit of his music was fading away. He recorded a session with Gil Evans that year called Quiet Nights.
This session was a great disappointment. In an attempt to get back on his feet, Davis hired a new and fresher group of musicians. In 1963, Davis established his new group with tenor player George Coleman, bassist Ron Carter, trumpeter Art Farmer, 17-year-old drummer from Boston, Tony Williams, and pianist Herbie Hancock. Tony Williams was an excellent drummer who played fast and explosive tempos that were unmatched at that time. During live performances, all members introduced new ideas and while picking up and playing off each others new rhythms and innovations.
After the collective improvisation of a piece, Davis broke into great solos to bring the band back together. This new style was innovative and led to the great success of the band. By the time the sixties rolled around, jazz faced a new type of music: rock and roll. Rock and Roll spread like a plague and quickly consumed America. While other jazz musicians ignored the new popular sound, Davis embraced it. He genuinely admired artists like Jimi Hendrix and James Brown. Also, Davis knew that the rock business was becoming very lucrative, and thus was appealing.
Davis loved the good life, which to him consisted of fancy cars and other such luxury items. Such an appeal meant that Davis would be able to sustain a type of lifestyle he in which he grown accustomed. He began to implement some electric pop sounds into his recordings. He created and dabbled to his hearts content with all the new innovations that technology would allow. The new age of technology took over and Davis went along. He continued to record hits all the way into the 1980s. Miles Davis accomplished an incomparable amount over his career.
One cannot blame him for changing with the times and subjecting himself to what was necessary to survive in the business. Miles Davis died in Santa Monica, California on September 28, 1991, at the age of 65. He had a stroke earlier and was battling pneumonia. His music still lives on today in many the many classic recordings he has left for us to enjoy. But more importantly, both the innovativeness and desire of Davis to constantly search and experiment serves as a shining example to future young musicians of all genres. Such a legacy is incomparable and, thus, establishes Davis as arguably the greatest jazz musician of the time.