Miles Davis (1926–1991)
(Photo by Lajos Jardai at Colozine)
(Photo on right by Tom Palumbo)
“arguably the most influential jazz musician in the post-World War II period, being at the forefront of changes in the genre for more than 40 years.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
cool persona and dresser.“By 1960 Miles was a GQ fashion plate and on Esquire’s best-dressed list. Ever ahead of the pack, he’d already moved on to slim-cut European suits. Press releases for upcoming concerts detailed the sartorial as well as musical program.”“Throughout his four decades in jazz, in which he was at the forefront of every major innovation, Miles Davis always shunned the stale and the hackneyed—what he called “warmed-over turkey.” This artistic integrity, this determination to be unpredictable, to stand for the new and to take risks, is key to understanding Davis’s chameleon-like role as style icon.” (bold not in original)
“formed a nonet with arranger-pianist Gil Evans, saxophonists Gerry Mulligan and Lee Konitz, and pianist John Lewis to record his first major musical statement, "Birth of the Cool," using the standard piano, bass, and drums rhythm section, along with the nonet's horn section of French horn, tuba, trombone, and alto and baritone saxophones, lending the band a unique harmonic 'cool' sound”; (hence birth of the cool).”
in a professional career lasting 50 years, he was at the forefront of Bebop, cool, Hard bop, orchestral jazz (Third Stream), Modal jazz, Jazz-rock fusion and Techno-funk.
“played the trumpet in a lyrical, introspective, and melodic style, often employing a stemless Harmon mute to make his sound more personal and intimate.”
attended for a year the Institute of Musical Art in New York City (renamed Juilliard) in September 1944.
joined Benny Carter's band and made his first recordings as a sideman (1945).
recorded three sessions (Jan. 21 & Apr. 22, 1949; March 9, 1950) in New York City that became the "Birth of the Cool" compilation album released on Capitol Records (1957). Wikipedia: Birth of the Cool reports that the music featured “unusual instrumentation and several notable musicians, the music consisted of innovative arrangements influenced by classical music techniques such as polyphony, and marked a major development in post-bebop jazz.”
recorded the landmark modal jazz album "Kind of Blue" with his first great sextet Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, Miles on trumpet, John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, and Cannonball Adderly on alto saxophone. Wynton Kelly on piano only on the song "Freddie Freeloader", and Jimmy Cobb on drums (not seen in photograph). The album is ranked #12 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
formed his "second great quintet" of [reading left to right in photograph below] Herbie Hancock on piano/keyboards, Miles on trumpet,
recorded the album ESP (1965) that pointed the way to the fusion of jazz and rock.
together with producer Teo Macero made "the most hated album in jazz" thus having the distinction of making both the best liked album of all time (most sales) in "Kind of Blue" (1959) together with what was once considered the worst jazz album in "On The Corner" (1972). was or was not a 'sell out.'
What he did, says fellow trumpeter Lester Bowie (1941–1999), is play “completely different from anybody else in his era. The way he plays his intervals, the way he plays through chord changes, that’s what made him really different. Everybody else played sort of the same, up and down, musical passages, chord changes, in intervals of seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths, and sixths. But Miles plays in between all of that. He plays sideways. He runs through whole tunes sideways. It was really different from the way anybody else had ever approached the trumpet. It takes genius to come up with a different idea, a different way of doing something. Considering all the great trumpet players who had come before him, it took quite a bit for Miles to come up with a new and different approach. He was the innovator on the trumpet.” (bold not in original)
inducted into Downbeat magazine's Jazz & Blues Hall of Fame in Reader's Poll, 1962.
See the list of where Miles Davis is ranked as an artist (currently 16th greatest of all-time) and where his albums rank at AcclaimedMusic.net.
Read one of the best interviews ever on how Miles Davis made music at the end of his career from Marcus Miller being interviewed by Brett Premack, "Marcus Miller Remembers Miles Davis" (aka "Marcus Miller Spills the Tea on Miles Davis"), January 8, 1998.
- For musical examples see:
‣ "Essential Solos: 40 Great Improvisations: (100) Jazz artists and critics pick their favorite solos from the music's past and present," Jazz Times, November 2, 2017.
‣ "Perfect Jazz Recordings," Richard Brody, The New Yorker, September 23, 2014.
‣ Also see the Jazz Discography Project.
- NEA Jazz Masters Bio, opening sentence.
- 'Wikipedia: Cool aesthetic.
- Click on word "dresser" and see first definition in Wiktionary: dresser under "Etymology 2". The Guardian newspaper reports that “Davis was the best-dressed man of the 20th century. Starting out, he'd customise his pawnshop Brooks Brothers suits, cutting notches in the lapels in imitation of the Duke of Windsor. After 1949's Birth of the Cool, he favoured the Ivy League look of European tailoring. In the 60s he went for slim-cut Italian suits and handmade doeskin loafers. He was always the coolest-looking man in the room.” (bold not in original)
- Christian Chensvold, "Miles Ahead: Not just a jazz genius, Miles Davis was also a sartorial chameleon, easily carrying off the Ivy League Look and slim-cut European suits with ass-kicking charm," The Rake, originally published in Issue 6 of The Rake, May 2020.
- Christian Chensvold, "Miles Ahead: Not just a jazz genius, Miles Davis was also a sartorial chameleon, easily carrying off the Ivy League Look and slim-cut European suits with ass-kicking charm," The Rake: The Modern Voice of Classic Elegance, May, 2020.
- NEA Jazz Master bio, third paragraph.
- “Throughout a professional career lasting 50 years, Miles Davis played the trumpet in a lyrical, introspective, and melodic style, often employing a stemless Harmon mute to make his sound more personal and intimate. But if his approach to his instrument was constant, his approach to jazz was dazzlingly protean. To examine his career is to examine the history of jazz from the mid-'40s to the early '90s, since he was in the thick of almost every important innovation and stylistic development in the music during that period, and he often led the way in those changes, both with his own performances and recordings and by choosing sidemen and collaborators who forged new directions. It can even be argued that jazz stopped evolving when Davis wasn't there to push it forward. (AllMusic: "Miles Davis biography," William Ruhlmann, first paragraph)
- See the documentary on Teo Macero's accomplishments at "Play That, Teo."
- Quincy Troupe, "Miles Davis: Our 1985 Interview, Part One originally appeared in the November 1985 issue of SPIN magazine, reproduced September 28, 2019.