MILES DAVIS

 

Instrumental in the development of jazz, Miles Davis is considered one of the top musicians of his era. Born in Illinois in 1926, he traveled at age 18 to New York City to pursue music. Throughout his life, he was at the helm of a changing concept of jazz. Winner of nine Grammy awards, Miles Davis died on September 21, 1991 from respiratory distress in Santa Monica, California.

Early Life

 

The son of a prosperous dental surgeon and a music teacher, Miles Davis was born Miles Dewey Davis III on May 26, 1926, in Alton, Illinois. Davis grew up in a supportive middle-class household, where he was introduced by his father to the trumpet at age 13. Davis quickly developed a talent for playing the trumpet under the private tutelage of Elwood Buchanan, a friend of his father who directed a music school. Buchanan emphasized playing the trumpet without vibrato, which was contrary to the common style used by trumpeters such as Louis Armstrong, and which would come to influence and help develop the Miles Davis style.

Davis played professionally while in high school. When he was 17 years old, Davis was invited by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker to join them onstage when the famed musicians realized they needed a trumpet player to replace a sick bandmate. Soon after, in 1944, Davis left Illinois for New York, where he would soon enroll at the Juilliard School (known at the time as the Institute of Musical Art).

While taking courses at Juilliard, Davis sought out Charlie Parker and, after Parker joined him, began to play at Harlem nightclubs. During the gigs, he met several musicians whom he would eventually play with and form the basis for bebop, a fast, improvisational style of jazz instrumental that defined the modern jazz era.

Musical Beginnings: 1940s – 1960s

 

 

 

In 1945, Miles davis elected, with his father’s permission, to drop out of Juilliard and become a full-time jazz musician. A member of the Charlie Parker Quintet at the time, Davis made his first recording as a bandleader in 1946 with the Miles Davis Sextet. Between 1945 and 1948, Davis and Parker recorded continuously. It was during this period that Davis worked on developing the improvisational style that defined his trumpet playing.

In 1949, Davis formed a nine-piece band with uncommon additions, such as the French horn, trombone and tuba. He released a series of singles that would later be considered a significant contribution to modern jazz. They were later released as part of the album The Birth of Cool.

In the early 1950s, Davis became addicted to heroin. While he was still able to record, it was a difficult period for the musician and his performances were haphazard. Davis overcame his addiction in 1954, around the same time that his performance of “‘Round Midnight” at the Newport Jazz Festival earned him a recording contract with Columbia Records. There, he also created a permanent band, comprised of John Coltrane, Paul Chambers and Red Garland.

Davis recorded several albums with his sextet during the 1950s, including Porgy and Bess and Kind of Blue, his final album of the decade, released in 1959. Now considered one of the best jazz albums ever recorded, Kind of Blue is credited as the largest-selling jazz album of all time, selling more than 2 million copies.

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