Home » Who was Miles Davis and why was he such an important element in the music of Jazz

Who was Miles Davis and why was he such an important element in the music of Jazz

Miles Davis, as we would know him, was born Miles Dewey Davis in Alton, Illinois on the 25th of May 1926 to a middle-class black family.. A couple of years later, Miles went on to St. Louis where he grew up. Since he was a youngster, Miles’ hobby was to collect records and play them over without getting tired of them. Since his family knew Miles was so interested in the music of his time, primarily Jazz, for his thirteenth birthday Miles received his first trumpet, although he had been playing since the age of nine.

With this Miles began to practice and play his trumpet along with his records. Who would have known that just three years later, at the age of 16, Miles was offered his first job with Billy Eckstine’s band to replace their ill horn player. In this band that Miles was recruited into were two of Jazz’s most famous players: Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie “Bird” Parker. Nobody would have guessed that this would be the start of it all. This small inexperienced child, who was picked up by chance, would re-invent Jazz like no one could imagine!

After successfully completing high school and playing for his high school band, Miles went on to New York to Julliard to study music. Although Miles was very involved and interested in his schoolwork, it turns out that he spent more time on 52nd street than in college. 52nd street was the Jazz filled street in New York that included all the hip night clubs of the time. Meant for both white and black people, 52nd street was all about Jazz and alcohol and it was the happenin’ place to be, especially if you wanted to be discovered as a Jazz musician.

This all led to Miles’ dropping out of school and playing with the big guys on 52nd street to be discovered. In no time Davis was playing regularly with Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker. At this time Miles, 19, moved up in the history of Jazz by recording his first album in New York along side of Hawkins, “Rubberlegs” Williams, and of course Parker. A few months after Parker and Gillespie went to California, Miles got together with Benny Carter’s Orchestra and traveled all the way to California as well.

Again, while in California, Parker asked Miles to record another album and as a result ‘Bird’ decided to form a quintet with Miles as a key member. All of this without doubt launched the career of a lifetime, a career that little Miles Davis would have never expected, much less the public. Then by 1949 was when the real business started. Miles went solo. With the tremendous amount of experience he accumulated, the recordings he had made, the people he knew, and with the ‘hook-ups’ Miles developed, he should not find any difficulty finding success in the evolution of Jazz.

Before even hitting a year as a soloist, Miles Davis put out his first album as a soloist named Birth of the Cool. This was definitely something to be marked down on the timeline of Jazz. The album was accurately named, being responsible for the stardom of Cool Jazz, a movement that the very new to the Jazz movement, Miles Davis, invented within his first year of success. The Cool Jazz, which featured Gil Evans, first appeared in the latter days of 1949. A while after discovering Cool Jazz, Davis moved on to change his style into Hard Bop.

During this period of his life, Miles suffered from heroine drug addiction and that was the cause for his irregular work schedule. It finally hit Miles that he must overcome his addiction if he wanted to continue to work as a musician. So Miles took all he had left and began a new life, drug-free. This was when his classic song “Walkin'” was released. 1955 is known to be Miles’ ‘breakthrough’ year. The indication of his rising again in music was clearly stated at his performance in the Newport Jazz Festival.

Davis continued to record and release and popularize himself in the next couple of years and this is the point in his life that Miles was labeled as a celebrity in music. Some albums that he recorded at the start of his celebrity life include Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain. By 1958 Miles came up with quite a bright idea. He called up a few of his fellow Jazz buddies and band of his own, a sextet, which included John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, and of course himself.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, the band did not continue with its original cats, Evans and Jones were replaced by Wynton Kelly and Jimmy Cobb. All of these musicians put all they were worth, worked to their full potential, and were successful in coming up with two incredible albums which are still classics to this day. These albums are Milestones and Kind of Blue which introduced the ‘modal or scalar’ improvisation of Jazz. From 1960 to 1963 Miles took a short vacation, but sure enough he came back well rested and better than ever.

One year later he had brilliant players such as Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams playing in his rhythm section. Together they brought forth the invention of Funky Soul Jazz with George Coleman as the tenor, which Wayne Shorter later came to replace. Very predictable of Miles, he changed his style again, this time a unique mix between Hard Bop and Free Jazz. After this movement was fully established by Miles, surprisingly enough, he changed again, he just could not keep a straight pace. He brought in Chick Corea, electric keyboards, and doubled up sopranos as rock influenced his new style better known as Fusion.

Two of Miles’ albums which marked the Fusion period were In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Due to bad health, sickle cell anemia to be more specific, Miles took a long break from which nobody could predict his return, if even a possible return. Throughout this time Miles wrote his autobiography entitled Miles and put out the uncensored version of his life story to the public. After not hearing from Miles for about a decade or so, he could not keep away from the love of his life any longer so he took all the energy he saved up and used it to play his trumpet until the day he died.

Miles went on tour and reached out to his fans through interviews and public appearances, something Miles would have never done in his younger days. After 65 long years, Miles Davis rested in peace. He left over 120 recordings and a legacy in the music of Jazz that will never be forgotten or replaced. Davis left an image that probably no Jazz musician will be able to live up to. Or will someone in the near future be able to surprise us the way Miles unexpectedly did so? Learning about Miles Davis’ life was just as interesting as evaluating one of his famous record albums.

I chose the very ironic title Miles To Go and it was soothing to hear some of the sounds and instruments I had studied previously. In this album you will find the following songs: So What, ‘Round Midnight, Back Seat Betty, My Funky Valentine, and Oleo. The first three songs are found on the first side and it starts off with a slow, romantic, good for a candle light dinner with one from the opposite sex song by the title of So What. The two major instruments heard in this piece are of course the trumpet, played by Miles Davis and Bill Evans on the piano.

Also making an appearance on this song are “Cannonball” Adderly the alto saxophonist and James Cobb on the drums. Although not danceable, this song sets a nice, relaxing tone that soothes every part of your body throughout its long lasting nine and a half minutes. This song is taken from the album “Kind of Blue” mentioned earlier. Towards the end of the tune I noticed that he began to play a familiar tune comforting to the ear. As we move on the next tune is short, compared to the others, and goes by the title of Round Midnight.

It begins with a very slow, mellow, and mysterious sound and you may notice that throughout the song the sound continues to be very serious and dangerously romantic. This piece was taken from the album title Round About Midnight and features John Coltrane as the tenor, Red Garland on the piano, Paul Chambers playing bass, Philly Joe Jones on the drums, and Miles. The last tune on the first side of the album is called Back Seat Betty and this happened to be my least favorite song due to the fact that it was too long and had a lot of piercing sounds.

The very begining as well as the ending of the son were quite shocking and more modern than the rest of the tunes. It sounded electronic and as if the beat on it was rock oriented. It did have a faster beat than the rest, but I guess you can say I enjoy the more relaxing tunes that Miles plays. Next was My Funny Valentine. These long 15 minutes of constant rhythm changing made it kind of hard for me to follow, but I do congratulate Miles Davis for being such a genius in creating this sort of sound.

At first it began very slow and the trumpet and piano held the major lead, but before I knew it, the beat began to burst and the song continued like this for a while. Then all of a sudden it became very silent and only soft whispering instruments were heard. In my opinion, it was way too long and a bit repetitive, but for those who enjoy it I do have to mention that the artists were magnificent. Tony Williams (drums) and George Coleman (sax) did an awesome job alongside Miles. This last tune Called Oleo, had a quick beat and the trumpet sounds were amazing, but towards the middle-end of the song I began to wander off.

This was probably because I still stick to the first two song which I enjoyed greatly. One thing about this particular song though, was the end. What an end! In conclusion to this whole research paper, I can say that I have learned a lot and heard a lot, most of which I have enjoyed. Miles was definitely a milestone in the evolution of Jazz and although he is no longer with us, he left an untouchable mark in music and music lovers of all sorts of music, this mainly due to the taste of all the sounds he invented, reinvented, and mixed throughout his days in the business. Miles Davis will truly be remembered and missed.

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