By Jueseppi B.
Miles Dewey Davis III (May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991) was an American jazz musician, trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. Widely considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, Miles Davis was, with his musical groups, at the forefront of several major developments in jazz music, including bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, and jazz fusion.
On October 7, 2008, his 1959 album Kind of Blue received its fourth platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), for shipments of at least four million copies in the United States. Miles Davis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. Davis was noted as “one of the key figures in the history of jazz”. On December 15, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a symbolic resolution recognizing and commemorating the album Kind of Blue on its 50th anniversary, “honoring the masterpiece and reaffirming jazz as a national treasure.”
||Miles Dewey Davis III
||May 26, 1926
Alton, Illinois, United States
||September 28, 1991 (aged 65)
Santa Monica, California, United States
||Jazz, hard bop, bebop, cool jazz, modal,
fusion, third stream, jazz-funk, jazz rap
||Bandleader, composer, trumpeter, artist
||Trumpet, flugelhorn, piano,organ
Warner Bros.Dial Records
||Billy Eckstine, Charlie Parker,
Miles Davis Quintet, Gil Evans
Early life (1926–44)
Miles Dewey Davis was born on May 26, 1926, to an affluent African American family in Alton, Illinois. His father, Miles Henry Davis, was a dentist. In 1927 the family moved to East St. Louis, Illinois. They also owned a substantial ranch in northern Arkansas, where Davis learned to ride horses as a boy.
Davis’ mother, Cleota Mae (Henry) Davis, wanted her son to learn the piano; she was a capable blues pianist but kept this fact hidden from her son. His musical studies began at 13, when his father gave him a trumpet and arranged lessons with local musician Elwood Buchanan. Davis later suggested that his father’s instrument choice was made largely to irk his wife, who disliked the trumpet’s sound. Against the fashion of the time, Buchanan stressed the importance of playing without vibrato; he was reported to have slapped Davis’ knuckles every time he started using heavy vibrato. Davis would carry his clear signature tone throughout his career. He once remarked on its importance to him, saying, “I prefer a round sound with no attitude in it, like a round voice with not too much tremolo and not too much bass. Just right in the middle. If I can’t get that sound I can’t play anything.” Clark Terry was another important early influence.
By age 16, Davis was a member of the music society and playing professionally when not at school. At 17, he spent a year playing in Eddie Randle’s band, the Blue Devils. During this time, Sonny Stitt tried to persuade him to join the Tiny Bradshaw band, then passing through town, but Davis’ mother insisted that he finish his final year of high school. He graduated from East St. Louis Lincoln High School in 1944.
In 1944, the Billy Eckstine band visited East St. Louis. Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were members of the band, and Davis was brought in on third trumpet for a couple of weeks because the regular player, Buddy Anderson, was out sick. Even after this experience, once Eckstine’s band left town, Davis’ parents were still keen for him to continue formal academic studies.
New York and the bebop years begin (1944–48)
In the fall of 1944, following graduation from high school, Davis moved to New York City to study at the Juilliard School of Music.
Upon arriving in New York, he spent most of his first weeks in town trying to get in contact with Charlie Parker, despite being advised against doing so by several people he met during his quest, including saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. Finally locating his idol, Davis became one of the cadre of musicians who held nightly jam sessions at two of Harlem‘s nightclubs, Minton’s Playhouse and Monroe’s. The group included many of the future leaders of the bebop revolution: young players such as Fats Navarro, Freddie Webster, and J. J. Johnson. Established musicians including Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke were also regular participants.
Davis dropped out of Juilliard after asking permission from his father. In his autobiography, Davis criticized the Juilliard classes for centering too much on the classical European and “white” repertoire. However, he also acknowledged that, in addition to greatly improving his trumpet playing technique, Juilliard helped give him a grounding in music theory that would prove valuable in later years.
Davis began playing professionally, performing in several 52nd Street clubs with Coleman Hawkins and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. In 1945, he entered a recording studio for the first time, as a member of Herbie Fields‘s group. This was the first of many recordings Davis contributed to in this period, mostly as a sideman. He finally got the chance to record as a leader in 1946, with an occasional group called the Miles Davis Sextet plus Earl Coleman and Ann Hathaway—one of the rare occasions when Davis, by then a member of the groundbreaking Charlie Parker Quintet, can be heard accompanying singers. In these early years, recording sessions where Davis was the leader were the exception rather than the rule; his next date as leader would not come until 1947.
Around 1945, Dizzy Gillespie parted ways with Parker, and Davis was hired as Gillespie’s replacement in his quintet, which also featured Max Roach on drums, Al Haig (replaced later by Sir Charles Thompson and Duke Jordan) on piano, and Curley Russell (later replaced by Tommy Potter and Leonard Gaskin) on bass.
With Parker’s quintet, Davis went into the studio several times, already showing hints of the style he would become known for. On an oft-quoted take of Parker’s signature song, Now’s the Time, Davis takes a melodic solo, whose unbop-like quality anticipates the “cool jazz” period that followed. The Parker quintet also toured widely. During a stop in Los Angeles, Parker had a nervous breakdown that landed him in the Camarillo State Mental Hospital for several months, and Davis found himself stranded.
He roomed and collaborated for some time with bassist Charles Mingus, before getting a job on Billy Eckstine‘s California tour, which eventually brought him back to New York. In 1948, Parker returned to New York, and Davis rejoined his group. The relationships within the quintet, however, were growing tense. Parker’s erratic behavior (attributable to his well-known drug addiction) and artistic choices (both Davis and Roach objected to having Duke Jordan as a pianist and would have preferred Bud Powell) became sources of friction. In December 1948, disputes over money (Davis claims he was not being paid) began to strain their relationship even further. Davis finally left the group following a confrontation with Parker at the Royal Roost.
For Davis, his departure from Parker’s group marked the beginning of a period when he worked mainly as a freelancer and sideman in some of the most important combos on the New York jazz scene.
Birth of the Cool (1948–49)
In 1948 Davis grew close to the Canadian composer and arranger Gil Evans. Evans’ basement apartment had become the meeting place for several young musicians and composers such as Davis, Roach, pianist John Lewis, and baritone sax player Gerry Mulligan who were unhappy with the increasingly virtuoso instrumental techniques that dominated the bebop scene. Evans had been the arranger for the Claude Thornhill orchestra, and it was the sound of this group, as well as Duke Ellington‘s example, that suggested the creation of an unusual line-up: a nonet including a French horn and a tuba (this accounts for the “tuba band” moniker that became associated with the combo).
Davis took an active role in the project, so much so that it soon became “his project”. The objective was to achieve a sound similar to the human voice, through carefully arranged compositions and by emphasizing a relaxed, melodic approach to the improvisations.
The nonet debuted in the summer of 1948, with a two-week engagement at the Royal Roost. The sign announcing the performance gave a surprising prominence to the role of the arrangers: “Miles Davis Nonet. Arrangements by Gil Evans, John Lewis and Gerry Mulligan.” It was, in fact, so unusual that Davis had to persuade the Roost’s manager, Ralph Watkins, to word the sign this way. He prevailed only with the help of Monte Kay, the club’s artistic director.
The nonet was active until the end of 1949, along the way undergoing several changes in personnel: Roach and Davis were constantly featured, along with Mulligan, tuba player Bill Barber, and alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, who had been preferred to Sonny Stitt (whose playing was considered too bop-oriented). Over the months, John Lewis alternated with Al Haig on piano, Mike Zwerin with Kai Winding on trombone (Johnson was touring at the time), Junior Collins with Sandy Siegelstein and Gunther Schuller on French horn, and Al McKibbon with Joe Shulman on bass. Singer Kenny Hagood was added for one track during the recording.
The presence of white musicians in the group angered some black jazz players, many of whom were unemployed at the time, but Davis rebuffed their criticisms.
A contract with Capitol Records granted the nonet several recording sessions between January 1949 and April 1950. The material they recorded was released in 1956 on an album whose title, Birth of the Cool, gave its name to the “cool jazz” movement that developed at the same time and partly shared the musical direction begun by Davis’ group.
For his part, Davis was fully aware of the importance of the project, which he pursued to the point of turning down a job with Duke Ellington‘s orchestra.
The importance of the nonet experience would become clear to critics and the larger public only in later years, but, at least commercially, the nonet was not a success. The liner notes of the first recordings of the Davis Quintet for Columbia Records call it one of the most spectacular failures of the jazz club scene. This was bitterly noted by Davis, who claimed the invention of the cool style and resented the success that was later enjoyed—in large part because of the media’s attention—by white “cool jazz” musicians (Mulligan and Dave Brubeck in particular)
This experience also marked the beginning of the lifelong friendship between Davis and Gil Evans, an alliance that would bear important results in the years to follow.
Hard bop and the “Blue Period” (1950–54)
The first half of the 1950′s was, for Davis, a period of great personal difficulty. At the end of 1949, he went on tour in Paris with a group including Tadd Dameron, Kenny Clarke (who remained in Europe after the tour), and James Moody. Davis was fascinated by Paris and its cultural environment, where black jazz musicians, and African Americans in general, often felt better respected than they did in their homeland. While in Paris, Davis began a relationship with French actress and singer Juliette Gréco.
Many of his new and old friends (Davis, in his autobiography, mentions Clarke) tried to persuade him to stay in France, but Davis decided to return to New York. Back in the States, he began to feel deeply depressed. He attributes the depression to his separation from Gréco, his feeling under-appreciated by the critics (who hailed his former collaborators as leaders of the cool jazz movement)—and to the unraveling of his liaison with a former St. Louis schoolmate who lived with him in New York, with whom he had two children.
Davis blames these factors for the heroin habit that deeply affected him for the next four years. Though he denies it in his autobiography, it is also likely that the environment he lived in played a role. Most of Davis’ associates at the time—some perhaps imitating Charlie Parker—had drug addictions of their own. These included sax players Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon, trumpeters Fats Navarro and Freddie Webster, and drummer Art Blakey). For the next four years, Davis supported his habit partly with his music and partly by living the life of a hustler. By 1953, his drug addiction began to impair his playing ability. Heroin had killed some of his friends (Navarro and Freddie Webster). He had been arrested for drug possession while on tour in Los Angeles, and his drug habit became public in a devastating Down Beat interview of Cab Calloway.
Realizing his precarious condition, Davis tried several times to end his drug addiction, finally succeeding in 1954 after returning to his father’s home in St. Louis for several months and locking himself in a room until he had gone through a painful withdrawal. During this period, he avoided New York and played mostly in Detroit and other Midwestern towns, where drugs were then harder to come by. A widely related story, attributed to Richard (Prophet) Jennings was that Davis, while in Detroit playing at the Blue Bird club as a guest soloist in Billy Mitchell‘s house band along with Tommy Flanagan, Elvin Jones, Betty Carter, Yusef Lateef, Barry Harris, Thad Jones, Curtis Fuller and Donald Byrd stumbled into Baker’s Keyboard Lounge out of the rain, soaking wet and carrying his trumpet in a paper bag under his coat, walked to the bandstand and interrupted Max Roach and Clifford Brown in the midst of performing Sweet Georgia Brown by beginning to play My Funny Valentine, and then, after finishing the song, stumbled back into the rainy night. Davis was supposedly embarrassed into getting clean by this incident. In his autobiography, Davis disputed this account, stating that Roach had requested that Davis play with him that night, and that the details of the incident, such as carrying his horn in a paper bag and interrupting Roach and Brown, were fictional and that his decision to quit heroin was unrelated to the incident.
Despite all the personal turmoil, the 1950–54 period was actually quite fruitful for Davis artistically. He made quite a number of recordings and had several collaborations with other important musicians. He got to know the music of Chicago pianist Ahmad Jamal, whose elegant approach and use of space influenced him deeply. He also definitively severed his stylistic ties with bebop.
In 1951, Davis met Bob Weinstock, the owner of Prestige Records, and signed a contract with the label. Between 1951 and 1954, he released many records on Prestige, with several different combos. While the personnel of the recordings varied, the lineup often featured Sonny Rollins and Art Blakey. Davis was particularly fond of Rollins and tried several times, in the years that preceded his meeting with John Coltrane, to recruit him for a regular group. He never succeeded, however, mostly because Rollins was prone to make himself unavailable for months at a time. In spite of the casual occasions that generated these recordings, their quality is almost always quite high, and they document the evolution of Davis’ style and sound. During this time he began using the Harmon mute, held close to the microphone, in a way that became his signature, and his phrasing, especially in ballads, became spacious, melodic, and relaxed. This sound became so characteristic that the use of the Harmon mute by any jazz trumpet player since immediately conjures up Miles Davis.
The most important Prestige recordings of this period (Dig, Blue Haze, Bags’ Groove, Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants, and Walkin’) originated mostly from recording sessions in 1951 and 1954, after Davis’ recovery from his addiction. Also of importance are his five Blue Note recordings, collected in the Miles Davis Volume 1 album.
With these recordings, Davis assumed a central position in what is known as hard bop. In contrast with bebop, hard bop used slower tempos and a less radical approach to harmony and melody, often adopting popular tunes and standards from the American songbook as starting points for improvisation. Hard bop also distanced itself from cool jazz by virtue of a harder beat and by its constant reference to the blues, both in its traditional form and in the form made popular by rhythm and blues. A few critics go as far as to call Walkin’ the album that created hard bop, but the point is debatable, given the number of musicians who were working along similar lines at the same time (and of course many of them recorded or played with Davis).
Also in this period, Davis gained a reputation for being distant, cold, and withdrawn, and for having a quick temper. Factors that contributed to this reputation included his contempt for the critics and specialized press, and some well-publicized confrontations with the public and with fellow musicians.
A near fight with Thelonious Monk during the recording of Bags’ Groove, received wide exposure in the specialized press.
Davis had an operation to remove polyps from his larynx in October 1955. Even though he was not supposed to speak at all for ten days, he had an argument with somebody and raised his voice. This outburst damaged his vocal cords forever, giving him the characteristic raspy voice that came to be associated with him. “[...] in February or March 1956, that I had my first throat operation and had to disband the group while recovering. During the course of the conversation I raised my voice to make a point and f***ed up my voice. I wasn’t even supposed to talk for at least ten days, and here I was not only talking, but talking loudly. After that incident my voice had this whisper that has been with me ever since.”
The “nocturnal” quality of Davis’ playing and his somber reputation, along with his whispering voice, earned him the lasting moniker of “prince of darkness”, adding a patina of mystery to his public persona.
First great quintet and sextet (1955–58)
Back in New York and in better health, in 1955 Davis attended the Newport Jazz Festival, where his performance (and especially his solo on “‘Round Midnight“) was greatly admired and prompted the critics to hail the “return of Miles Davis”. At the same time, Davis recruited the players for a formation that became known as his “first great quintet”: John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums.
None of these musicians, with the exception of Davis, had received a great deal of exposure before that time; Chambers, in particular, was very young (19 at the time), a Detroit player who had been on the New York scene for only about a year, working with the bands of Bennie Green, Paul Quinichette, George Wallington, J. J. Johnson, and Kai Winding. Coltrane was little known at the time, in spite of earlier collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Bostic, and Johnny Hodges. Davis hired Coltrane as a replacement for Sonny Rollins, after unsuccessfully trying to recruit alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley.
The repertoire included many bebop mainstays, standards from the Great American Songbook and the pre-bop era, and some traditional tunes. The prevailing style of the group was a development of the Davis experience in the previous years—Davis playing long, legato, and essentially melodic lines, while Coltrane, who during these years emerged as a leading figure on the musical scene, contrasted by playing high-energy solos.
With the new formation also came a new recording contract. In Newport, Davis had met Columbia Records producer George Avakian, who persuaded him to sign with his label. The quintet made its debut on record with the extremely well received ‘Round About Midnight. Before leaving Prestige, however, Davis had to fulfill his obligations during two days of recording sessions in 1956. Prestige released these recordings in the following years as four albums: Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, Steamin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, and Cookin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet. While the recording took place in a studio, each record of this series has the structure and feel of a live performance, with several first takes on each album. The records became almost instant classics and were instrumental in establishing Davis’ quintet as one of the best on the jazz scene.
The quintet was disbanded for the first time in 1957, following a series of personal problems that Davis blames on the drug addiction of the other musicians. Davis played some gigs at the Cafe Bohemia with a short-lived formation that included Sonny Rollins and drummer Art Taylor, and then traveled to France, where he recorded the score to Louis Malle‘s film Ascenseur pour l’échafaud. With the aid of French session musicians Barney Wilen, Pierre Michelot, and René Urtreger, and American drummer Kenny Clarke, he recorded the entire soundtrack with an innovative procedure, without relying on written material: starting from sparse indication of the harmony and a general feel of a given piece, the group played by watching the movie on a screen in front of them and improvising.
A performance of the Ballets Africans from Guinea in 1958 sparked Davis’s interest in modal music. This music, featuring the kalimba, stayed for long periods of time on a single chord, weaving in and out of consonance and dissonance. It was a very new concept in jazz at the time, then dominated by the chord-change based music of bebop.
Returning to New York in 1958, Davis successfully recruited Cannonball Adderley for his standing group. Coltrane, who in the meantime had freed himself from his drug habits, was available after a highly fruitful experience with Thelonious Monk and was hired back, as was Philly Joe Jones. With the quintet re-formed as a sextet, Davis recorded Milestones, an album anticipating the new directions he was preparing to give to his music.
Almost immediately after the recording of Milestones, Davis fired Garland and, shortly afterward, Jones, again for behavioral problems; he replaced them with Bill Evans—a young white pianist with a strong classical background—and drummer Jimmy Cobb. With this revamped formation, Davis began a year during which the sextet performed and toured extensively and produced a record (1958 Miles, also known as 58 Sessions). Evans had a unique, impressionistic approach to the piano, and his musical ideas had a strong influence on Davis. But after only eight months on the road with the group, he was burned out and left. He was soon replaced by Wynton Kelly, a player who brought to the sextet a swinging, bluesy approach that contrasted with Evans’ more delicate playing.
Recordings with Gil Evans (1957–63)
In the late 1950′s and early 1960′s, Davis recorded a series of albums with Gil Evans, often playing flugelhorn as well as trumpet. The first, Miles Ahead (1957), showcased his playing with a jazz big band and a horn section arranged by Evans. Songs included Dave Brubeck‘s “The Duke,” as well as Léo Delibes‘s “The Maids of Cadiz,” the first piece of European classical music Davis had recorded. Another distinctive feature of the album was the orchestral passages that Evans had devised as transitions between the different tracks, which were joined together with the innovative use of editing in the post-production phase, turning each side of the album into a seamless piece of music.
In 1958, Davis and Evans were back in the studio to record Porgy and Bess, an arrangement of pieces from George Gershwin‘s opera of the same name. The lineup included three members of the sextet: Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley. Davis called the album one of his favorites.
Sketches of Spain (1959–1960) featured songs by contemporary Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo and also Manuel de Falla, as well as Gil Evans originals with a Spanish flavor. Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall (1961) includes Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, along with other compositions recorded in concert with an orchestra under Evans’ direction.
Sessions with Davis and Evans in 1962 resulted in the album Quiet Nights, a short collection of bossa novas that was released against the wishes of both artists: Evans stated it was only half an album, and blamed the record company; Davis blamed producer Teo Macero, whom he didn’t speak to for more than two years. This was the last time Evans and Davis made a full album together; despite the professional separation, however, Davis noted later that “my best friend is Gil Evans.”
Kind of Blue (1959–64)
In March and April 1959, Davis re-entered the studio with his working sextet to record what is widely considered his magnum opus, Kind of Blue. He called back Bill Evans, months away from forming what would become his ownseminal trio, for the album sessions, as the music had been planned around Evans’ piano style. Both Davis and Evans were personally acquainted with the ideas of pianist George Russell regarding modal jazz, Davis from discussions with Russell and others before the Birth of the Cool sessions, and Evans from study with Russell in 1956. Davis, however, had neglected to inform current pianist Kelly of Evans’ role in the recordings; Kelly subsequently played only on the track “Freddie Freeloader” and was not present at the April dates for the album. ”So What” and “All Blues” had been played by the sextet at performances prior to the recording sessions, but for the other three compositions, Davis and Evans prepared skeletal harmonic frameworks that the other musicians saw for the first time on the day of recording, to allow a fresher approach to their improvisations. The resulting album has proven both highly popular and enormously influential. According to the RIAA, Kind of Blue is the best-selling jazz album of all time, having been certified as quadruple platinum (4 million copies sold) In December 2009, the US House of Representatives voted 409–0 to pass a resolution honoring the album as a national treasure.
The trumpet Davis used on the recording is currently displayed in the music building on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. It was donated to the school by Arthur “Buddy” Gist, who met Davis in 1949 and became a close friend. The gift was the reason why the jazz program at UNCG is named the “Miles Davis Jazz Studies Program.”
In 1959, the Miles Davis Quintet was appearing at the famous Birdland nightclub in New York City. After finishing a 27 minute recording for the armed services, Davis took a break outside the club. As he was escorting an attractive blonde woman across the sidewalk to a taxi, Davis was told by Patrolman Gerald Kilduff to “move on.” Davis explained that he worked at the nightclub and refused to move. The officer said that he would arrest Davis and grabbed him as Davis protected himself. Witnesses said that Kilduff punched Davis in the stomach with his nightstick without provocation. Two nearby detectives held the crowd back as a third detective, Donald Rolker, approached Davis from behind and beat him about the head. Davis was then arrested and taken to jail where he was charged with feloniously assaulting an officer. He was then taken to St. Clary Hospital where he received five stitches for a wound on his head. Davis tried to pursue the case in the courts, but eventually dropped the proceedings in a plea bargain so he could recover his suspended Cabaret Card and return to work in New York clubs.
Davis persuaded Coltrane to play with the group on one final European tour in the spring of 1960. Coltrane then departed to form his classic quartet, although he returned for some of the tracks on Davis’ 1961 album Someday My Prince Will Come. After Coltrane, Davis tried various saxophonists, including Jimmy Heath, Sonny Stitt, and Hank Mobley. The quintet with Hank Mobley was recorded in the studio and on several live engagements atCarnegie Hall and the Black Hawk jazz club in San Francisco. Stitt’s playing with the group is found on a recording made in Olympia, Paris (where Davis and Coltrane had played a few months before) and the Live in Stockholm album.
In 1963, Davis’ longtime rhythm section of Kelly, Chambers, and Cobb departed. He quickly got to work putting together a new group, including tenor saxophonist George Coleman and bassist Ron Carter. Davis, Coleman, Carter and a few other musicians recorded half the tracks for an album in the spring of 1963. A few weeks later, seventeen-year-old drummer Tony Williams and pianist Herbie Hancock joined the group, and soon afterward Davis, Coleman, and the new rhythm section recorded the rest of Seven Steps to Heaven.
The rhythm players melded together quickly as a section and with the horns. The group’s rapid evolution can be traced through the Seven Steps to Heaven album, In Europe (July 1963), My Funny Valentine (February 1964), and Four and More (also February 1964). The quintet played essentially the same repertoire of bebop tunes and standards that earlier Davis bands had played, but they tackled them with increasing structural and rhythmic freedom and, in the case of the up-tempo material, breakneck speed.
Coleman left in the spring of 1964, to be replaced by avant-garde saxophonist Sam Rivers, on the suggestion of Tony Williams. Rivers remained in the group only briefly, but was recorded live with the quintet in Japan; this configuration can be heard on Miles in Tokyo! (July 1964).
By the end of the summer, Davis had persuaded Wayne Shorter to leave Art Blakey‘s Jazz Messengers and join the quintet. Shorter became the group’s principal composer, and some of his compositions of this era (including “Footprints” and “Nefertiti”) have become standards. While on tour in Europe, the group quickly made their first official recording, Miles in Berlin (September 1964). On returning to the United States later that year, ever the musical entrepreneur, Davis (at Jackie DeShannon‘s urging) was instrumental in getting The Byrds signed to Columbia Records.
By 1979, Davis had rekindled his relationship with actress Cicely Tyson. With Tyson, Davis would overcome his cocaine addiction and regain his enthusiasm for music. As he had not played trumpet for the better part of three years, regaining his famed embouchure proved particularly arduous. While recording The Man with the Horn (sessions were spread sporadically over 1979–1981), Davis played mostly wahwah with a younger, larger band.
The initial large band was eventually abandoned in favor of a smaller combo featuring saxophonist Bill Evans (not to be confused with pianist Bill Evans of the 1958-59 sextet), and bass player Marcus Miller, both of whom would be among Davis’s most regular collaborators throughout the decade. He married Tyson in 1981; they would divorce in 1988. The Man with the Horn was finally released in 1981 and received a poor critical reception despite selling fairly well. In May, the new band played two dates as part of the Newport Jazz Festival. The concerts, as well as the live recording We Want Milesfrom the ensuing tour, received positive reviews.
By late 1982, Davis’s band included French percussionist Mino Cinelu and guitarist John Scofield, with whom he worked closely on the album Star People. In mid-1983, while working on the tracks for Decoy, an album mixing soul music and electronica that was released in 1984, Davis brought in producer, composer and keyboardist Robert Irving III, who had earlier collaborated with him on The Man with the Horn. With a seven-piece band, including Scofield, Evans, keyboardist and music director Irving, drummer Al Foster and bassist Darryl Jones (later of The Rolling Stones), Davis played a series of European gigs to positive receptions. While in Europe, he took part in the recording of Aura, an orchestral tribute to Davis composed by Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg.
You’re Under Arrest, Davis’ next album, was released in 1985 and included another brief stylistic detour. Included on the album were his interpretations of Cyndi Lauper‘s ballad “Time After Time“, and Michael Jackson‘s pop hit “Human Nature“. Davis considered releasing an entire album of pop songs and recorded dozens of them, but the idea was scrapped. Davis noted that many of today’s accepted jazz standards were in fact pop songs from Broadway theater, and that he was simply updating the “standards” repertoire with new material. 1985 also saw Davis guest-star on the TV show Miami Vice as pimp and minor criminal Ivory Jones in the episode titled “Junk Love” (first aired November 8, 1985).
You’re Under Arrest was Davis’ final album for Columbia. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis publicly dismissed Davis’ more recent fusion recordings as not being “‘true’ jazz,” comments Davis initially shrugged off, calling Marsalis “a nice young man, only confused.” This changed after Marsalis appeared, unannounced, onstage in the midst of Davis’ performance at the inaugural Vancouver International Jazz Festival in 1986. Marsalis whispered into Davis’ ear that “someone” had told him to do so. Davis responded by ordering him off the stage.
Davis grew irritated at Columbia’s delay releasing Aura. The breaking point in the label-artist relationship appears to have come when a Columbia jazz producer requested Davis place a goodwill birthday call to Marsalis. Davis signed with Warner Bros. Records shortly thereafter.
Davis collaborated with a number of figures from the British new wave movement during this period, including Scritti Politti. At the invitation of producer Bill Laswell, Davis recorded some trumpet parts during sessions for Public Image Ltd.‘s Album, according to Public Image’s John Lydon in the liner notes of their Plastic Box box set. In Lydon’s words, however, “strangely enough, we didn’t use [his contributions].” (Also according to Lydon in the Plastic Box notes, Davis favorably compared Lydon’s singing voice to his trumpet sound.)
Having first taken part in the Artists United Against Apartheid recording, Davis signed with Warner Brothers records and reunited with Marcus Miller. The resulting record, Tutu (1986), would be his first to use modern studio tools—programmed synthesizers, samples and drum loops—to create an entirely new setting for his playing. Ecstatically reviewed on its release, the album would frequently be described as the modern counterpart of Sketches of Spain and won a Grammy in 1987.
He followed Tutu with Amandla, another collaboration with Miller and George Duke, plus the soundtracks to four movies: Street Smart, Siesta, The Hot Spot (with bluesman John Lee Hooker), and Dingo. He continued to tour with a band of constantly rotating personnel and a critical stock at a level higher than it had been for 15 years. His last recordings, both released posthumously, were the hip hop-influenced studio album Doo-Bop and Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux, a collaboration with Quincy Jones for the 1991 Montreux Jazz Festival. For the first time in three decades, Davis returned to the songs arranged by Gil Evans on such 1950s albums as Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain. This album was also the last album recorded by Davis. It left a lot of people who had been disappointed with his newer, more experimental works happy that he had ended his career on such way.
The grave of Miles Davis in Woodlawn Cemetery
In 1988 he had a small part as a street musician in the film Scrooged, starring Bill Murray. In 1989, Davis was interviewed on 60 Minutes by Harry Reasoner. Davis received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990.
In early 1991, he appeared in the Rolf de Heer film Dingo as a jazz musician. In the film’s opening sequence, Davis and his band unexpectedly land on a remote airstrip in the Australian outback and proceed to perform for the surprised locals. The performance was one of Davis’s last on film.
During the last years of Miles Davis’s life, there were rumors that he had AIDS, something that he and his manager Peter Shukat vehemently denied. Even though it was not publicly known, by that time Davis was taking azidothymidine (AZT), a type of antiretroviral drug used for the treatment of HIV/AIDS.
Davis died on September 28, 1991 from the combined effects of a stroke, pneumonia and respiratory failure in Santa Monica, California, at the age of 65. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
Views on his earlier work
Late in his life, from the ‘electric period’ onwards, Davis repeatedly explained his reasons for not wishing to perform his earlier works, such as Birth of the Cool or Kind of Blue. In Davis’ view, remaining stylistically static was the wrong option. He commented: ” “So What” or Kind of Blue, they were done in that era, the right hour, the right day, and it happened. It’s over. What I used to play with Bill Evans, all those different modes, and substitute chords, we had the energy then and we liked it. But I have no feel for it anymore, it’s more like warmed-over turkey.” When Shirley Horn insisted in 1990 that Miles reconsider playing the ballads and modal tunes of his Kind of Blue period, he demurred. “Nah, it hurts my lip,” was the reason he gave.
Other musicians regretted Davis’s change of style, for example, Bill Evans, who was instrumental in creating Kind of Blue, said: “I would like to hear more of the consummate melodic master, but I feel that big business and his record company have had a corrupting influence on his material. The rock and pop thing certainly draws a wider audience. It happens more and more these days, that unqualified people with executive positions try to tell musicians what is good and what is bad music.”
Legacy and influence
Miles Davis is regarded as one of the most innovative, influential and respected figures in the history of music. He has been described as “one of the great innovators in jazz”. The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll noted “Miles Davis played a crucial and inevitably controversial role in every major development in jazz since the mid-’40s, and no other jazz musician has had so profound an effect on rock. Miles Davis was the most widely recognized jazz musician of his era, an outspoken social critic and an arbiter of style—in attitude and fashion—as well as music”. His album Kind of Blue is the best-selling album in the history of jazz music. On November 5, 2009, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan sponsored a measure in the United States House of Representatives to recognize and commemorate the album on its 50th anniversary. The measure also affirms jazz as a national treasure and “encourages the United States government to preserve and advance the art form of jazz music.” It passed, unanimously, with a vote of 409–0 on December 15, 2009.
As an innovative bandleader and composer, Miles Davis has influenced many notable musicians and bands from diverse genres. Many well-known musicians rose to prominence as members of Davis’s ensembles, including saxophonists Gerry Mulligan, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, George Coleman, Wayne Shorter, Dave Liebman, Branford Marsalis and Kenny Garrett; trombonist J. J. Johnson; pianists Horace Silver, Red Garland, Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea,Keith Jarrett and Kei Akagi; guitarists John McLaughlin, Pete Cosey, John Scofield and Mike Stern; bassists Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Dave Holland, Marcus Miller and Darryl Jones; and drummers Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Cobb, Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, and Al Foster. Miles’ influence on the people who played with him has been described by music writer and author Christopher Smith as follows:
- Miles Davis’ artistic interest was in the creation and manipulation of ritual space, in which gestures could be endowed with symbolic power sufficient to form a functional communicative, and hence musical, vocabulary. [...] Miles’ performance tradition emphasized orality and the transmission of information and artistic insight from individual to individual. His position in that tradition, and his personality, talents, and artistic interests, impelled him to pursue a uniquely individual solution to the problems and the experiential possibilities of improvised performance.
His approach, owing largely to the African American performance tradition that focused on individual expression, emphatic interaction, and creative response to shifting contents, had a profound impact on generations of jazz musicians.
In 1986, the New England Conservatory awarded Miles Davis an Honorary Doctorate for his extraordinary contributions to music. Since 1960 the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) has honored him with eight Grammy Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and three Grammy Hall of Fame Awards. In 2010, Molde jazz premiered a play called Driving Miles, which focused on a landmark concert Davis performed in Molde, Norway, in 1984.
- Winner; Down Beat Reader’s Poll Best Trumpet Player 1955
- Winner; Down Beat Reader’s Poll Best Trumpet Player 1957
- Winner; Down Beat Reader’s Poll Best Trumpet Player 1961
- Grammy Award for Best Jazz Composition Of More Than Five Minutes Duration for Sketches of Spain (1960)
- Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance, Large Group Or Soloist With Large Group for Bitches Brew (1970)
- Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Soloist for We Want Miles (1982)
- Sonning Award for Lifetime Achievement In Music (1984; Copenhagen, Denmark)
- Doctor of Music, honoris causa (1986; New England Conservatory)
- Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Soloist for Tutu (1986)
- Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Soloist for Aura (1989)
- Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Big Band for Aura (1989)
- Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1990)
- Australian Film Institute Award for Best Original Music Score for Dingo, shared with Michel Legrand (1991)
- Knight of the Legion of Honor (July 16, 1991; Paris)
- Grammy Award for Best R&B Instrumental Performance for Doo-Bop (1992)
- Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance for Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux (1993)
- Hollywood Walk of Fame Star (February 19, 1998)
- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction (March 13, 2006)
- Hollywood’s Rockwalk Induction (September 28, 2006)
- RIAA Quadruple Platinum for Kind of Blue
- St. Louis Walk of Fame
Miles Davis - Pharaoh’s Dance (Bitches Brew)
Miles Davis - Bitches Brew (Bitches Brew)
Miles Davis - In A Silent Way [Full Album HD]
Miles Davis - Sorcerer [Full Album HD]
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