artist profile: Miles Davis

© Herman Leonard
Birth: Alton, IL, 25 July 1926
Professional Career: Charlie Parker Band (1945-48), Miles Davis All Stars (1947), Miles Davis Nonet (collaboration w/ Gil Evans 1948-50), Miles Davis Quintet / Sextet (personel 1955-68: Red Garland, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderly, Bill Evans (ii), Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Sonny Stitt, Jimmy Heath, Hank Mobley, George Coleman, Sam Rivers, Wayne Shorter), Miles Davis Band (personel 1969-75: Chick Corea, Joe Zawinal, Keith Jarrett, John McLaughlin, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Bill Cobham, Al Foster, Airto Moreira), Miles Davis Band (personel 1975-85: Branford Marsalis, Bob Berg, John Scofield, Robert Irving III, Bill Evans (iii), Al Foster)
Selected Recordings: Birth of the Cool(1950), Relaxin(1956), Kind of Blue(1959), Seven Steps To Heaven(1963), Bitches Brew(1969)

Miles Davis was one of the most diverse innovators of modern jazz. While his career began absorbing the sounds of bebop, he progressed to initiate many other styles of music including cool-jazz, modal jazz, and fusion. Davis's solo ideas incorporated lyricism and subtle phrases that richly contrasted the interpretations of Parker and Coltrane. He was also well known for assembling all-star musicians to perform on memorable recordings including Kind Of Blue that featured John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Cobb, Bill Evans, and Paul Chambers. He popularized the sound of the harmon mute, played the Flugle Horn on select recordings, and defined an era of music. By and large, Miles Davis brought a new dimension to jazz.

Miles Davis grew up in a wealthy, middle-class home in St. Louis where he began playing the trumpet at the age of 13. In 1945, he enrolled into Julliard with the support of his parents. However, Davis cultivated his musical skills while working on 52nd street and playing with such musicians as Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker. These encounters with Parker eventually led to recording dates and performances that spanned between the years of 1945 to 1948. He went on to begin his own bop groups in 1948 and collaborated with arranger Gil Evans in a nonet group including Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, and Johnny Carisi, which recordings were later dubbed Birth of the Cool. After a performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1955, his popularity grew and the Miles Davis Quintet was born. This group including Red Garland, Philly Joe Jones, Paul Chambers, and John Coltrane recorded Workin', Steamin', Cookin', Relaxin' which proved to be the classic albums of the decade. A few years later, Davis experimented with a different selection of scales presented in George Russell's book The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization and applied this modal approach in the album Kind Of Blue. His next musical venture arose from combining elements of rock and jazz that later was known as fusion. This new direction in music appeared on the historical album Bitches Brew, which became his biggest hit. Serious ailments and a car accident in the mid-1970's forced him to retire for five years. However, Davis was back again in 1980 and even further expanded his repertoire by including pop tunes such as Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" and Michael Jackson's "Human Nature" on the album You're Under Arrest. Throughout the course of his career, Miles Davis constantly headed the movement and creative spirit of jazz.

transcribed from Milestones

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