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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Miles Davis Series : A History of Miles Davis

Miles Davis on Rainy Days is a trending post on Set List.  I feel compelled to write a series about Miles Davis - a brief bio and the history of the iconic Kind of Blue.  In this post, I will write about the history of Miles Davis as a jazz trumpet musician.

Miles Dewey Davis III was born on May 26, 1926 in Alton, Illinois. 

In 1927, Miles and his family moved to East St. Louis, Illinois.

At the age of 13, Miles's father introduced him to the trumpet and arranged for lessons.  (Note of interest - The choice of trumpet may have been to spite Miles's mother, who despised the sound of the trumpet and actually played the piano.)

At the age of 16, Miles was a member of the music society in his high school and played professionally at the local Elks Club in East St. Louis.

At the age of 17, Miles was offered the chance to join the Tiny Bradshaw band.  However, his mother wanted her son to graduate from high school.  Miles graduated from East St. Louis Lincoln High School in 1944.

In 1944, Miles Davis had a brief opportunity to play with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in the Billy Eckstine band in East St. Louis.  After this first opportunity, Miles moved to New York City to study at the Juilliard School of Music.  While in New York, Miles sought out Charlie Parker and held nightly jam sessions in Harlem nightclubs.  He was joined by Fats Navarro, Freddie Webster, J. J. Johnson (all future leaders of the bebop revolution), Thelonious Monk, Kenny Clarke, and many others.

At this point, Miles dropped out of Juilliard, citing his main reason as "centering too much on the classical European and "white' repertoire."  However, he did admit his improving trumpet playing technique and valuable grounding in music theory.

In 1945, Miles experienced being in a recording studio for the first time, as part of Herbie Field's group.

In 1946, Miles recorded in a studio as leader for an occasional Miles Davis Sextet.  He was also a member of the Charlie Parker Quintet, where he was in the studio often and went on national tours.  Miles left in 1948 due to growing tension and confrontation with Charlie Parker.

In 1948, Miles Davis took on a nonet project that included himself, Max Rouch (on drums), Gerry Mulligan (on baritone sax), Bill Barber (on tuba), and Lee Konitz (on alto sax).  A critical member that lasted throughout the better part of Miles's career was Gil Evans - a Canadian composer and arranger.

The nonet project emphasized relaxed, melodic approach to improvisations.

The nonet project landed the members a Capitol Records contract offering recording from January 1949 to April 1950.  The resulting album, Birth of the Cool, released in 1956, honored the cool jazz movement.  The project was ultimately not a success commercially.  The cool jazz movement was only later appreciated by white musicians.

In the early to mid-1950s, Miles Davis went through personal severity.  In 1949, he went on a Paris tour and found himself in a relationship with French actress and singer, Juliette Greco.  On return to New York, he fell into a deep depression.

Top reasons for Miles's depression include his separation from Greco and feeling under-appreciated by critics.  Miles also suffered from a heroin addiction lasting four years.  In 1953, his drug addiction sorely impacted his playing.  Miles was also arrested for drug possession in Los Angeles while on tour.

In 1954, Miles returned to St. Louis to live with his father and, more specifically, lock himself in a room to go through withdrawal and finally end his addiction.

Miles went on to play in Midwestern towns where there was little to no drug activity.

In 1951, a Prestige Records contract was landed and the primary members for recording sessions were Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Art Blakey.  During this time, Miles created his signature trumpet sound - a Harmon mute held close to the microphone, which allows space, melody, and relaxed tone.  This signature has impacted jazz trumpet players since.

A point of interest took place in 1955 - Miles had throat surgery and absolutely could not talk for ten days.  Miles got into an argument with someone while healing and yelled in anger.  This caused permanent damage to his vocal cords, causing the raspy voice well-known.

In 1955, Miles performed at the Newport Jazz Festival and received great praise by critics as the "return of Miles Davis."

At this time, Miles created his "first great quintet" - himself, John Coltrane (on tenor sax), Red Garland (on piano), Paul Chambers (on bass), and Philly Joe Jones (on drums).  Ironic note - Outside of Miles, no one else was known.

The "first great quintet" landed a Columbia Records contract with debut success in the name of 'Round About Midnight.

In 1956, Miles followed through with his remaining obligation to Prestige Records.  The ensuing albums include:

Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet*
*Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet is a feature promotion in the Miles Davis on Rainy Days post (refer to the link in the opening of this post).

Steamin' with the Miles Davis Quintet

Workin' with the Miles Davis Quintet

Cookin' with the Miles Davis Quintet

All four albums had the "structure and feel of a live performance, with several first takes on each album."  (This is indeed true as I own the Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet album.  There is a sense of being in the recording studio with a few tracks incorporating background talk.)

The albums established the "first great quintet" as one of the best in jazz.  In 1957, however, the quintet split due to problems that Miles blamed the drug addiction of the other members.

In 1958, a sextet was formed - Miles Davis, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley (on alto sax), John Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones, Red Garland, and Paul Chambers.  Milestones as an album suggested a new direction in Miles's music.  The sextet was short-lived - Garland and Jones were fired & Bill Evans (on piano) and Jimmy Cobb (on drums) replaced the former two.  Ironic note - Bill Evans left only eight months into the sextet tour.

From 1957 to 1963, Miles Davis worked closely with Gil Evans.  Miles Ahead included jazz big band, classical music, and orchestral passages between tracks.  In 1958, Porgy and Bess was arranged from the work of George Gershwin.  In 1959 to 1960, Sketches of Spain was produced.

In 1964, the "second great quintet" was formed with Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter (on sax), Herbie Hancock (on piano), Ron Carter (on bass), and Tony Williams (on drums).

In the 1960s, Miles was influenced by rock and funk.  He adapted to electric instruments for live and studio works.

In 1969, In a Silent Way was produced.  In 1976, Bitches Brew was produced and went Gold certified.  Both albums were the first fusion of jazz and rock in being commercially successful.

(Source:  Wikipedia)

A full list of Miles Davis albums can be found here:  Wikipedia.

Miles Davis held an honorable career over the course of 30+ years.  In a soon coming post to follow, I will list a few out of several honors received.

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