Jazz: Miles Dewey Davis III

The beginning of Miles Davis:

Miles Davis was born on May 26, 1926, in Alton, Illinois, and died on September 28, 1991. He began studying trumpet in his early teens; fortuitously, in light of his later stylistic development, his first teacher advised him to play without vibrato. Davis played with jazz bands in the St. Louis area before moving to New York City in 1944 to study at the Institute of Musical Art (now the Juilliard School).

The style of Music that Miles Davis Portrayed:

Davis’s early playing was sometimes tentative and not always fully in tune, but his unique, intimate tone and his fertile musical imagination outweighed his technical shortcomings. By the early 1950s, Davis had turned his limitations into considerable assets. Rather than emulate the busy, wailing style of such bebop pioneers as Gillespie, Davis explored the trumpet’s middle register, experimenting with harmonies and rhythms and varying the phrasing of his improvisations. With the occasional exception of multi-note flurries, his melodic style was direct and unornamented, based on quarter notes, and rich with inflections. The deliberation, pacing, and lyricism in his improvisations are striking. His music mainly consisted of cool jazz, modal jazz, free jazz, and fusion.


Davis won several Grammy Awards during this period for such albums as We Want Miles (1982), Tutu (1986), and Aura (1989). One of the most memorable events of Davis’s later years occurred at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1991 when he joined an orchestra conducted by Quincy Jones to perform some of the classic Gil Evans arrangements of the late 1950s. Davis died less than three months later. His final album, Doo-Bop (1992), was released posthumously. Critics dismissed much of the music Davis released after Bitches Brew, his excursions helped keep jazz popular with mainstream audiences. In later years he ignored the critics, and he defied convention by wandering around the stage, often playing with his back to the audience. In his much-praised and revealing autobiography, Miles (1989; with Quincy Troupe), he wrote frankly of his hedonistic past and of the racism he saw in the music industry. Along with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Charlie Parker, Davis is regarded as one of the four most important and influential musicians in jazz history, as well as the music’s most eclectic practitioner.

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