Miles Davis

by Vinyl Renewal

Who? Miles Davis (Miles Dewey Davis III)

When? 26/05/1926 – 28/9/1991)

What? American jazz musician, trumpeter, band leader and composer.

Legacy? Widely considered to be one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century, for he was at the forefront in several major changes in the face of jazz music. These include: bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, and jazz fusion. In his memory, on 05/10/2009, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan sponsored a measure in the U.S. House of Representatives to recognise and commemorate the album ‘Kind of Blue’ on its 50th anniversary. The measure affirmed jazz as a national treasure and is purported to encourage ‘United States government to preserve and advance the art form of jazz music.’

If you like…: jazz, r n’ b, soul.

What you need to know:

  • Key figure in the history of jazz.
  • Davis’ was acutely attuned to his environment and he once remarked, “We play what the day recommends.”

1942: joined Eddie Randle’s Blue Devils and played with them throughout high school.

1945: Davis joined Parker’s quintet and made his recording debut as a bandleader two years later.

1949 and 1950: With The Birth of the Cool, a series of sessions cut with a nine-piece band, Davis tempered bop’s heat with a more supple, serene lyricism.

Mid-Fifties: Formed a legendary quintet that included pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, drummer Philly Joe Jones and a young saxophonist named John Coltrane. Davis followed this with the ambitious Miles Ahead (1957), credited to “Miles Davis + 19.”

1960s: Davis worked in a sextet that included pianist Bill Evans and saxophonists Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. He recorded the famous Kind of Blue in the spring of 1959.

Davis also led a quintet that included tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and drumming prodigy Tony Williams (who was only seventeen when he first performed with Davis).

Davis expressed a desire to form “the world’s baddest rock band.” He didn’t literally do that, but he did bring a fiery, rock-inspired sensibility to Bitches Brew (1969), Jack Johnson (1971) and Live-Evil (1972).

Mid-Eighties: Davis continued to push the envelope with such albums as Tutu (1986) and Siesta (1986). In 1989, Davis published a frank, uncensored memoir entitled Miles: The Autobiography, which made the best-seller lists. Davis’ final studio project, Doo Bop, found him collaborating with Brooklyn rapper Easy Mo Bee on a synthesis of hip-hop, doo-wop and be-bop. Unsurprisingly, he was still forging new connections and avenues of expression until the very end of his life.

Davis succumbed to a combination of pneumonia, stroke and respiratory failure at a hospital in Santa Monica, California, in 1991. In the flood of tributes that followed, Vernon Reid (of Living Colour) perhaps stated it best: “Miles shares with a handful of artists of this century the ineffable mystery of creation at its highest level.”

“The way you change and help music is by tryin’ to invent new ways to play.”