of the great legends of Jazz died on this day, September 28, 1991, twenty-one
years ago. Considered one of the
most influential musicians of the 20th Century, Miles Davis altered
the direction of jazz several times with the introduction of bebop, cool jazz, hard
bop, modal jazz, and jazz-fusion.
|Davis House in Alton, Illinois|
Dewey Davis III was born on May 26, 1926 in Alton,
Illinois. His father, Miles Henry
Davis, was a dentist. His mother,
Cleota Mae Henry Davis, was an accomplished blues pianist, a fact she kept
hidden from her son.
grew up in East St. Louis. At the
age of thirteen, his father gave him a trumpet and arranged lessons with local
musician, Elwood Buchanan. By the
time Miles was 16, he was a member of the music society and was playing
professionally. He was offered a
chance to play with the Tiny Bradshaw Band and tour around the country, but his mother
insisted that he finish high school.
He graduated in 1944 and moved to New York to study at the Juilliard
School of Music. Within a year, he had dropped out and was playing
professionally in the 52nd Street clubs in New York.
|Charlie Parker & Miles Davis|
|Charlie Parker Album|
1946, Davis recorded his first album with his group, the Miles Davis
Sextet. That same year he was
hired to replace Dizzy Gillespie in the Charlie Parker Quintet. He stayed with Parker for
two years, until the situation became too tense. Parker was suffering from mental and physical
problems due to his drug addiction, and the group began slowly falling apart.
spent the rest of 1948 and 1949 developing the sounds of Cool Jazz. His approach to this new style
was to create music that sounded like the human voice through specifically
arranged compositions that stressed melodic improvisations. In 1956, Capitol Records released Birth of the Cool which was a compilation of several recording sessions from
January 1949 to April 1950 by Davis’s nine-member group. This is the album that
ushered in the Cool Jazz era.
1950, Davis was experiencing problems in his personal life, and felt
unappreciated by the media critics for his breakout music style. Thus began his first major drug
addiction to heroin, which would affect the rest of his life. In 1953, his addiction began to
seriously affect his ability to perform.
Although he tried several times to kick his habit, he didn’t succeed
until 1954, when he went back home to his parent’s in St. Louis.
|Miles Davis Backstage|
regardless of his problems, Davis was still able to create yet another form of Jazz
during this period – Hard Bop.
Hard Bop jazz was the result of slowing down the tempo, as compared to
bebop music, and approaching more of a bluesy feel. Many times performers would begin with a popular tune and
improv into hard bop.
1955 to 1958, Davis formed his first popular quintet. During these years, the group released five acclaimed
albums; Round Midnight, Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, Steamin’ with the Mile Davis Quintet, Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, and Cookin’ with the Miles Davis
Quintet. It appeared that Davis
had his groove back. But by 1958,
the quintet disbanded and Miles began experimenting with modal music.
|Kind of Blue Awards|
of Blue was released in 1959 and brought the modal jazz sound to the
mainstream. This album is considered to be one of the all-time greatest jazz recordings. Kind of Blue is the best-selling jazz
album of all time, having sold over 4-million copies, according to the Record
Industry Association of America. And, in 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives
voted 409 – 0 to pass a resolution honoring this album as a national treasure.
also helped make orchestral jazz acceptable when he and three of his former
sextet members recorded a jazzy version of Porgy and Bess in 1958, and again, with Sketches of Spain in 1961.
1964, Davis put together his ‘second great quintet.’ Their sound became known as free bop because they improvised
in a less conventional manner. Miles was now on his way to introducing Fusion Jazz.
|Miles Playing Fussion|
1968, electric instruments were a part of Davis’s sound. With this change, he introduced the
world to jazz/rock fusion with In a Silent Way, released in 1968, and Bitches
Brew in 1969.
|Miles and his Trumpet|
in July 1975, citing health issues from hip surgery, sickle-cell anemia,
and depression, along with drug and alcohol addictions, Miles Davis retired from the music
He stayed out of the public
eye for six years. During that period, he was
inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame.
1981, Miles had returned to the jazz scene. In 1985, he released, You're Under Arrest, an album that included
his jazz interpretations of current pop songs. During the 80’s, he collaborated
on four movie soundtracks, Street Smart, Siesta, Hot Spot, and
|Betty Marby Davis|
was married three times, first to Frances Davis from 1958 – 1968. He was then married to Betty Mabry for
a short time from 1968 to 1969.
And in 1981, he married Cicely Tyson. He credited
Tyson with helping him kick his drug and alcohol dependencies, and for getting him
back on the stage. They divorced in 1988.
|Cicely Tyson & Miles Davis|
1990, Miles Davis received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Through his music, he influenced hundreds of artists and
helped many rise to prominence in the industry. Miles summed
up his attitude toward life best when he said, “You should never be
comfortable, man. Being comfortable fouled up a lot of musicians."
Davis died in L.A. on September 28, 1991
of a stroke and respiratory failure.
He was 65 years old. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the
Bronx, New York.
|Miles Davis Grave|
Excellent biography! I have always wanted to know more about him. Guess it's time to start studying his music...!ReplyDelete
Thanks! I'll warn you now, Miles can still cast a musical spell... : )Delete
I found myself becoming anxious for want of Davis' grave photo, but of course it was right where it should be. Despite my anticipation, I learned a great deal from this well written sketch of Miles Davis.ReplyDelete
Thanks for hanging in there Mark! I used to write news and documentaries, so I always go chronologically.... ; )Delete
Great article on Miles Davis...one of my favorite jazz men of all times. He produced some of his greatest sounds when he played with John Coltrane and company!ReplyDelete
Totally agree! That's the music I love!!Delete