Eric Siems Final Project
Miles Davis and his impact on
The son of a prosperous dental surgeon and a music teacher, musician,
composer, arranger, producer, and band leader Miles Davis was born Miles
Dewey Davis III on May 26, 1926, in Alton, Illinois. Davis grew up in a supportive
middle-class household, where he was introduced by his father to the trumpet at
age 13. Davis quickly developed a talent for playing the trumpet under the
private tutelage of Elwood Buchanan, a friend of his father who directed a music
school. Buchanan emphasized playing the trumpet without vibrato, which was
contrary to the common style used by trumpeters such as Louis Armstrong, and
which would come to influence and help develop the Miles Davis style. A child
prodigy, his mastery of the instrument accelerated as he came under the spell of
older jazzmen Clark Terry, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine, and
other jazz greats who passed through Alton.
Miles Davis' Early Years
Davis played professionally while in high school. When he was 17 years
old, Davis was invited Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker to join them
onstage when the famed musicians realized they needed a trumpet
player to replace a sick band mate.
Miles meets Dizzy and Charlie
Soon after, in 1944, Davis left Illinois for New York, where he would soon enroll
at the Juilliard School (known at the time as the Institute of Musical Art). While
taking courses at Juilliard, Davis sought out Charlie Parker and, after Parker
joined him, began to play at Harlem nightclubs. During the gigs, he met several
musicians whom he would eventually play with and form the basis for bebop, a
fast, improvisational style of jazz instrumental that defined the modern jazz era.
In 1945, Miles Davis elected, with his father's permission, to drop out of Juilliard
and become a full-time jazz musician.
Miles enrolls in Juilliard and
heads for New York
A member of the Charlie Parker Quintet at the time, Davis made his first
recording as a bandleader in 1946 with the Miles Davis Sextet. Between 1945
and 1948, Davis and Parker recorded continuously. It was during this period that
Davis worked on developing the improvisational style that defined his trumpet
He can be heard on sessions led by Parker that were released on Savoy in 1945
(with Max Roach), ’46 (with Bud Powell), ’47 (with Duke Jordan and J.J.
Johnson), and ’48 (with John Lewis). In 1947, the Miles Davis All-Stars (with
Bird, Roach, Lewis, and Nelson Boyd) debuted on Savoy. His years on 52nd
Street during the last half of the 1940s brought him into the bop orbit of
musicians whose legends he would share before he was 25 years old.
Click to listen to Miles Davis' Savoy Sessions from 1947
Miles Davis on 52 Street
In 1949, Davis formed a nine-piece band with uncommon additions, such as the
French horn, trombone and tuba. He released a series of singles that would later
be considered a significant contribution to modern jazz. These singles and his
associations with Gerry Mulligan and Gil Evans ushered in a new album and era
in jazz called Birth of the Cool (Capitol). The Birth of the Cool movement
challenged the dominance of bebop and hard-bop. Miles’ subsequent record
dates as leader in the early ’50s (on Blue Note, then Prestige) helped introduce
Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean, Horace Silver, and Percy Heath, among many
others, establishing Miles’ role as the premier jazz talent scout for the rest of his
Click to listen to Boplicity from Birth of The Cool
Early 50s and Birth of the Cool
Miles' historic set at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1955 resulted in George
Avakian signing Miles to Columbia Records, and led to the formation of his socalled “first great quintet,” featuring John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul
Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones (the ’Round About Midnight sessions). Miles’
30 years at Columbia was one of the longest exclusive signings in the history of
jazz, and one that spanned at least a half-dozen distinct generations of changes
in the music – virtually all of which were anticipated or led by Miles or his former
Click to listen to Round Midnight
Miles signs with Columbia
Davis recorded several albums with his sextet during the 1950s, including
Porgy and Bess and Kind of Blue, his final album of the decade, released in
Indisputably the coolest jazz album ever recorded, Kind of Blue was done in
1959 with the second edition of Miles’ “first great quintet” – principally Coltrane,
Chambers, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, and Jimmy Cobb – who stayed
together until 1961.
Now considered one of the best jazz albums ever recorded, Kind of Blue is
credited as the largest-selling jazz album of all time, selling more than 2 million
Click to listen to Blue In Green from Kind of Blue
Kind of Blue
Davis continued to be be successful throughout the 1960s. His band
transformed over time, largely due to new band members and changes in style.
The various members of his band went on to become some of the most
influential musicians of the jazz fusion era. After several intermediate groups
(which featured such giants as Hank Mobley, Wynton Kelly, Victor Feldman, and
George Coleman), Miles’ “second great quintet” slowly coalesced over 1963-64,
into the lineup of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony
Williams (who was 17 years old when he joined Miles). They recorded with
producer Teo Macero and toured around the world together until 1968,
achieving artistic and commercial success that was unprecedented in modern
Click to listen to the Miles Davis Quintet Live in Stockholm 1963
Miles' 2 Greatest Quintet
1968 was a cataclysmic year of sea change for Miles and for America, a year of upheaval
– the escalation of the war in southeast Asia, the assassinations of Martin Luther King
and Robert Kennedy, and the rise of the Black Power movement were among the factors
that pushed Miles’ music toward a more insistent electric (amplified) pulse.
At the same time, Miles dug the triple-whammy he heard in the music of James Brown,
Jimi Hendrix, and Sly Stone. What began in 1968 with Miles’ quintet quietly adopting
electric piano and guitar, blew up into a full-scale rock band sound on 1969’s
breakthrough double-LP Bitches Brew (which landed him on the cover of Rolling Stone,
the first jazzman to appear on the magazine’s front-page.
Bitches Brew soon became a best-selling album. For his traditional fans, this change of
style was not welcome, but it exemplifies Davis's ability to experiment and push the limits
of his own music style.
At the core of Bitches Brew, whose sessions took place the week after the
Woodstock festival in August 1969, there was the final small group known as the
“third great quintet” – Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette
– augmented by John McLaughlin, Larry Young, Joe Zawinul, Bennie Maupin,
Steve Grossman, Billy Cobham, Lenny White, Don Alias, Airto Moreira, Harvey
Brooks, and former quintet members Hancock and Carter..
Click here to listen to Miles' Isle of Wright Festival Performance in 1970
Six months later in February 1970, Miles kicked off the Jack Johnson sessions,
shuffling many of those same players over the next two months, plus Sonny
Sharrock, Steve Grossman, Michael Henderson, Keith Jarrett and others. In no
uncertain terms, the jazz-rock fusion movement had been launched full-tilt, and
the spirit of Miles permeated the three dominant bands who rocked the stages
(as he did) of the Fillmores East and West (et alia) through the ’70s and beyond
– Weather Report, Return To Forever, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
The Birth of Fusion Jazz
Miles Davis' freewheeling lifestyle and high-energy forays into funk and R&B
grooves somehow dovetailed with a period of declining health in the early ’70s,
until Miles finally went underground in 1975, after playing (what turned out to be)
his final gig at New York’s Central Park Music Festival that summer. A series of
live LPs (domestic and imported from Japan) and other archival releases from
the ’50s and ’60s were made available over the next five years to fill the void.
Early 70s - Miles on hiatus
Into the ’80s, Miles’ reputation as talent scout extraordinaire went unquestioned.
He surfaced stronger than ever in 1981 on The Man With the Horn with a toptier lineup of young players – Mike Stern, Marcus Miller, Bill Evans (no relation),
Al Foster, and Mino Cinelu (all of whom went on to successful careers).
Miles’ final album for Columbia Records was released in 1985, the cryptically
titled You’re Under Arrest. The album debuted two ballads that would be staples
of Miles’ performances for the rest of his career, Michael Jackson’s “Human
Nature” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.”
It was around this time that Davis developed a feud with fellow trumpeter
Wynton Marsalis. Marsalis publicly criticized Davis's work in jazz fusion, claiming
that it wasn't "true" jazz. Subsequently, when Marsalis attempted to join Davis
onstage without invitation at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival in 1986,
Davis requested that he leave the stage, using strong language. To this day, the
quarrel between the musicians has been credited with making the International
Jazz Festival famous.
Miles in the early 80s
A year later Miles reinvented himself yet again, and began recording for Warner
Bros., a prolific period that yielded one new album every year. The album Tutu,
produced by Marcus Miller, incorporated synthesizers, drum loops and samples.
It was well-received and garnered Davis another Grammy Award.
This was followed by the release of Aura, an album that Davis had created in
1985 as a tribute to the Miles Davis "aura," but wasn't released until 1989. Davis
won yet another Grammy for this project.
Other albums from this era included Music From Siesta (1987, a film soundtrack
collaboration with Miller), Live Around the World (1988), Amandla (1989),
Dingo (1990, an orchestral collaboration with Michel Legrand), and his final
Miles in the mid to late 80s
Miles Davis' final studio album, the hip-hop informed Doo-Bop's (1991), title tune
gave Miles a posthumous Rap/R&B hit single in 1992.
Honoring his body of work, in 1990, Miles Davis received a Lifetime
Achievement Grammy Award. In 1991, he played with Quincy Jones at the
Montreux Jazz Festival. The two performed a retrospective of Davis's early
work, some of which he had not played in public for more than 20 years.
Later that same year, on September 21, 1991, Davis succumbed to pneumonia
and respiratory failure, dying at the age of 65. Fittingly, his recording with Quincy
Jones would bring Miles Davis his final Grammy, awarded posthumously in
1993. The honor was just another testament to the musician's profound and
lasting influence on jazz.
2006 – The year in which Miles Davis was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall
Of Fame on March 13th – is a land- mark year, commemorating the 80th
anniversary of his birth on May 26, 1926, and the 15th anniversary of his death
on September 28, 1991.
Miles Davis' Legacy