Jazz : Miles Davis

Stanley By Stanley, 2nd Feb 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/1d1qsv70/
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Music>Jazz

This sample covers the basic details about Jazz, and goes in depth about one of its most well known icons, Miles Davis.

Jazz and the importance of Miles Davis

What is jazz? Jazz is an art form which originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the American South. Jazz, in a sense is America’s classical music, blending both African and European musical traditions. Most of pop music we hear today is based on the melodies and harmonies played by early jazz musicians. Jazz used blue notes, syncopation, swung notes, comping and many more techniques to express their sound. One artist who was exceptional at what he did and in my opinion expressed his emotion best though an instrument was Miles Davis. Very few can match his speed, sound and ability to improvise. Songs from “All Blues” and “Blue in Green” are just some examples of his sheer genius.
Miles Davis was born in the St. Louis suburb of Alton, Illinois. He was the son of a successful dental surgeon, Dr. Miles Henry Davis, who was a prominent figure in his town. His mother, Cleota Mae, played the piano and violin but kept this fact hidden from her son. Davis’s father pushed miles to receive tutoring on the trumpet at the early age of thirteen. No one could have anticipated the impact he would later have on the world of music. In 1942, Davis joined Eddie Randle’s Blue Devils, most of the members of which were his classmates in high school. At the age of eighteen Davis witnessed Billy Eckstine’s ensemble which included big names Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. After one of the trumpet players from Eckstine’s ensemble fell ill, Davis was there to serve as an impromptu replacement. After an invite, Davis accompanied them back to New York where he played for three weeks as a backup trumpet player. After Davis completed high school, he traveled to New York to study classical music at Juilliard.
While studying at Julliard, Davis became part of a society of musicians that centered on jam sessions in popular Harlem night scenes. Some of the musicians surrounding Davis included Fats Navarro, J.J Johnson, Thelonious Monk and Freddie Webster. These musicians were future protagonists in the bebop era. After a few years at Julliard, Davis decided to drop out of school with his father’s permission. He criticized Julliard for overemphasizing European classical music and the “white” repertoire. In 1945 Davis recorded his first studio album as a member of the Herbie Davis group. Davis was mostly a sideman until 1946 when he led the group “Miles Davis Sextet plus Earl Coleman and Ann Hathaway” to their first album. Jazz writer Nat Hentoff identified the fundamental elements of Davis’ style: “sparseness, evocative use of space, intense lyricism, and deep fire underneath it all. The innovations he brought to jazz in the second half of the 20th century were profound in their scope and consequences” (“Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” 1).
In 1948 Davis took an active role in a project to create a new style of jazz. His goal was to achieve new and distinct sounds similar to a human voice over arranged competitions and a melodic approach. Musicians have been growing with the increasingly virtuosic instrumentalism that dominated the bebop scene—something that Miles wanted to change. In 1949 Davis put together his nonet and signed a contract with Capitol Records. They granted him many recording sessions between 1949 and 1950, and the songs were released on an album called “Birth of the Cool.” This album accompanied the cool jazz movement that had been previously started. He was so passionate about his new project that he even turned down a role in Duke Ellington’s orchestra. Being invited to play with the Duke was considered an honor, and the fact that Davis declined this offer is proof of his dedication to what he felt.
With stardom came all of the bad aspects of living in that culture. In the early 1950’s Davis became a heroin addict. Surrounding himself with people like Charlie “The Bird” Parker just made the situation worse. Davis’s describes Charlie in his autobiography: “Bird could be a lot of fun to be around, because he was a real genius about his music, and he could be funnier than a motherfucker, talking in his British accent. But he still was hard to be around because he was always trying to con or beat you out of something to support his drug habit. He was always borrowing money to from me and using it to buy heroin or anything he wanted at the time. One time I left him in my apartment and when I got back home the motherfucker had pawned my suitcase and was sitting on the floor nodding after a shoot up” (Miles Davis 65).
Davis changed his style of play in the mid fifties with “Walking,” which is a bluesier, more muscular effort that ushered in hard-bop music. He formed an innovative quintet featuring big names like Red Garland, Philly Joe Jones and John Coltrane. They went on to create the monumental album Round about Midnight and Miles Ahead. The quintet used many sounds depicted in the Great American Songbook and music that was played in the pre-bop era. Dan Morgentern describes Davis’s nature: “Miles was by nature not a patient man and I think he got impatient with himself just as he did with other people. When he had found something to play in a fresh new way, it would run its course, and then he'd become bored with it and he would want something else” (Dan Morgenstern). The quintet was disbanded in 1957 due to personal problems, including the drug addiction that plagued the band. Davis’s innovation surged through the fifties and into the sixties.
In March of 1959, Davis entered the studio with his band to begin working on “Kind of Blue.” He called back Bill Evans, a remarkable jazz pianist, to add the right sound to the album. “Kind of Blue” was released on August 17, 1959 on Columbia Records. The artists included in the album were Jimmy Cobb, Paul Chambers, John Coltrane, and Julian Adderley. “Kind of Blue” became the best-selling jazz album of all time, going quadruple platinum. The album’s influence was enormous. So much of the jazz, rock, and classical music has been recreated though Davis’s work. It is regarded as being Davis’s masterpiece and is thought to be one of the best albums ever. The album was composed as a series of modal sketches, which the performer receives a set of scales to help them improvisation styles. The innovation it provided was what made it so popular. After the album, Davis continued his pursuit of finding the most talented musicians. He ended up choosing Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams and George Coleman to join his quintet.
Although the 1950’s and 60’s were the height of Davis’s career, he still made strides to create new and innovative music. He started to play with his back to the audience. Many viewed this as pure arrogance, but in reality he was doing it to give a more precise queue to his band mates. To me, that is a sign of a person who does not go on stage to steal the spotlight, but a musician that actually cares for the music he is putting out, which is something one just doesn’t see nowadays. Music was Davis’s language, and that is how it stayed until the day he died of a stroke in 1991.
Miles Davis was a trend setter and a pop idol. He released over 100 albums, most being ground breaking pieces of work that captured the hearts of America and the World. He dated beautiful women, played wonderful music, and was always setting the style trends. He was a pop star then and still is because his music is the basis of today’s musical style.

"Miles Davis." Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2006): 1. Web. 29 Oct 2009. <http://www.rockhall.com/inductee/miles-davis>.
Davis, Miles. Miles: The Autobiography. NY, New York: Simon and Shuster, 1989. 65. Print.
Luce, Jim. "Miles' Style." NPR JAZZ (2009): 2. Web. 23 Oct 2009. <http://www.npr.org/programs/jazzprofiles/archive/miles_styles.html>.

"Miles Davis Discography." n. pag. Web. 29 Oct 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miles_Davis_discography>.


Bebop, Concert, Cool Jazz, Hard Bop, Jazz, Miles Davis, Music, Musician, Trumpet

Meet the author

author avatar Stanley
I am a junior Computer Science major at SUNY Binghamton. I love to read, play sports and play video games. Most of my writing explains injustices about certain topics.

Share this page

moderator Chief Nut moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


Add a comment
Can't login?