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Throughout a professional career lasting 50 years, Miles Davis played the trumpet in a lyrical, introspective, and melodic style, often employing a stemless Harmon mute to make his sound more personal and intimate. But if his approach to his instrument was constant, his approach to jazz was dazzlingly protean. To examine his career is to examine the history of jazz from the mid-'40s to the early '90s, since he was in the thick of almost every important innovation and stylistic development in the music during that period, and he often led the way in those changes, both with his own performances and recordings and by choosing sidemen and collaborators who forged new directions. It can even be argued that jazz stopped evolving when Davis wasn't there to push it forward.
Davis was the son of a dental surgeon, Dr. Miles Dewey Davis, Jr., and a music teacher, Cleota Mae (Henry) Davis, and thus grew up in the black middle class of east St. Louis after the family moved there shortly after his birth. He became interested in music during his childhood and by the age of 12 began taking trumpet lessons. While still in high school, he started to get jobs playing in local bars and at 16 was playing gigs out of town on weekends. At 17, he joined Eddie Randle's Blue Devils, a territory band based in St. Louis. He enjoyed a personal apotheosis in 1944, just after graduating from high school, when he saw and was allowed to sit in with Billy Eckstine's big band, who was playing in St. Louis. The band featured trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Charlie Parker, the architects of the emerging bebop style of jazz, which was characterized by fast, inventive soloing and dynamic rhythm variations.
It is striking that Davis fell so completely under Gillespie and Parker's spell, since his own slower and less flashy style never really compared to theirs. But bebop was the new sound of the day, and the young trumpeter was bound to follow it. He did so by leaving the Midwest to attend the Institute of Musical Art in New York City (renamed Juilliard) in September 1944. Shortly after his arrival in Manhattan, he was playing in clubs with Parker, and by 1945 he had abandoned his academic studies for a full-time career as a jazz musician, initially joining Benny Carter's band and making his first recordings as a sideman. He played with Eckstine in 1946-1947 and was a member of Parker's group in 1947-1948, making his recording debut as a leader on a 1947 session that featured Parker, pianist John Lewis, bassist Nelson Boyd, and drummer Max Roach. This was an isolated date, however, and Davis spent most of his time playing and recording behind Parker. But in the summer of 1948, he organized a nine-piece band with an unusual horn section. In addition to himself, it featured an alto saxophone, a baritone saxophone, a trombone, a French horn, and a tuba. This nonet, employing arrangements by Gil Evans and others, played for two weeks at the Royal Roost in New York in September. Earning a contract with Capitol Records, the band went into the studio in January 1949 for the first of three sessions which produced 12 tracks that attracted little attention at first. The band's relaxed sound, however, affected the musicians who played it, among them Kai Winding, Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, J.J. Johnson, and Kenny Clarke, and it had a profound influence on the development of the cool jazz style on the West Coast. (In February 1957, Capitol finally issued the tracks together on an LP called Birth of the Cool.)
Davis, meanwhile, had moved on to co-leading a band with pianist Tadd Dameron in 1949, and the group took him out of the country for an appearance at the Paris Jazz Festival in May. But the trumpeter's progress was impeded by an addiction to heroin that plagued him in the early '50s. His performances and recordings became more haphazard, but in January 1951 he began a long series of recordings for the Prestige label that became his main recording outlet for the next several years. He managed to kick his habit by the middle of the decade, and he made a strong impression playing "'Round Midnight" at the Newport Jazz Festival in July 1955, a performance that led the major label Columbia Records to sign him. The prestigious contract allowed him to put together a permanent band, and he organized a quintet featuring saxophonist John Coltrane, pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones who began recording his Columbia debut, 'Round About Midnight, in October.
As it happened, however, he had a remaining five albums on his Prestige contract, and over the next year he was forced to alternate his Columbia sessions with sessions for Prestige to fulfill this previous commitment. The latter resulted in the Prestige albums The New Miles Davis Quintet, Cookin', Workin', Relaxin', and Steamin', making Davis' first quintet one of his better-documented outfits. In May 1957, just three months after Capitol released the Birth of the Cool LP, Davis again teamed with arranger Gil Evans for his second Columbia LP, Miles Ahead. Playing flügelhorn, Davis fronted a big band on music that extended the Birth of the Cool concept and even had classical overtones. Released in 1958, the album was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, intended to honor recordings made before the Grammy Awards were instituted in 1959.
In December 1957, Davis returned to Paris, where he improvised the background music for the film L'Ascenseur pour l'Echafaud (Escalator to the Gallows). Jazz Track, an album containing this music, earned him a 1960 Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Performance, Solo, or Small Group. He added saxophonist Cannonball Adderley to his group, creating the Miles Davis Sextet, who recorded the album Milestones in April 1958. Shortly after this recording, Red Garland was replaced on piano by Bill Evans and Jimmy Cobb took over for Philly Joe Jones on drums. In July, Davis again collaborated with Gil Evans and an orchestra on an album of music from Porgy and Bess. Back in the sextet, Davis began to experiment with modal playing, basing his improvisations on scales rather than chord changes.
This led to his next band recording, Kind of Blue, in March and April 1959, an album that became a landmark in modern jazz and the most popular disc of Davis' career, eventually selling over two million copies, a phenomenal success for a jazz record. In sessions held in November 1959 and March 1960, Davis again followed his pattern of alternating band releases and collaborations with Gil Evans, recording Sketches of Spain, containing traditional Spanish music and original compositions in that style. The album earned Davis and Evans Grammy nominations in 1960 for Best Jazz Performance, Large Group, and Best Jazz Composition, More Than 5 minutes; they won in the latter category.
By the time Davis returned to the studio to make his next band album in March 1961, Adderley had departed, Wynton Kelly had replaced Bill Evans at the piano, and John Coltrane had left to begin his successful solo career, being replaced by saxophonist Hank Mobley (following the brief tenure of Sonny Stitt). Nevertheless, Coltrane guested on a couple of tracks of the album, called Someday My Prince Will Come. The record made the pop charts in March 1962, but it was preceded into the bestseller lists by the Davis quintet's next recording, the two-LP set Miles Davis in Person (Friday & Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk, San Francisco), recorded in April. The following month, Davis recorded another live show, as he and his band were joined by an orchestra led by Gil Evans at Carnegie Hall in May. The resulting Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall was his third LP to reach the pop charts, and it earned Davis and Evans a 1962 Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Performance by a Large Group, Instrumental. Davis and Evans teamed up again in 1962 for what became their final collaboration, Quiet Nights. The album was not issued until 1964, when it reached the charts and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance by a Large Group or Soloist with Large Group.
In 1996, Columbia Records released a six-CD box set, Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings, that won the Grammy for Best Historical Album. Quiet Nights was preceded into the marketplace by Davis' next band effort, Seven Steps to Heaven, recorded in the spring of 1963 with an entirely new lineup consisting of saxophonist George Coleman, pianist Victor Feldman, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Frank Butler. During the sessions, Feldman was replaced by Herbie Hancock and Butler by Tony Williams. The album found Davis making a transition to his next great group, of which Carter, Hancock, and Williams would be members. It was another pop chart entry that earned 1963 Grammy nominations for both Best Instrumental Jazz Performance by a Soloist or Small Group and Best Instrumental Jazz Performance by a Large Group. The quintet followed with two live albums, Miles Davis in Europe, recorded in July 1963, which made the pop charts and earned a 1964 Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance by a Small Group or Soloist with Small Group, and My Funny Valentine, recorded in February 1964 and released in 1965, when it reached the pop charts.
By September 1964, the final member of the classic Miles Davis Quintet of the 1960s was in place with the addition of saxophonist Wayne Shorter to the team of Davis, Carter, Hancock, and Williams. While continuing to play standards in concert, this unit embarked on a series of albums of original compositions contributed by the band members, starting in January 1965 with E.S.P., followed by Miles Smiles (1967 Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance by a Small Group or Soloist with Small Group [7 or Fewer]), Sorcerer, Nefertiti, Miles in the Sky (1968 Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance by a Small Group or Soloist with Small Group), and Filles de Kilimanjaro. By the time of Miles in the Sky, the group had begun to turn to electric instruments, presaging Davis' next stylistic turn. By the final sessions for Filles de Kilimanjaro in September 1968, Hancock had been replaced by Chick Corea and Carter by Dave Holland. But Hancock, along with pianist Joe Zawinul and guitarist John McLaughlin, participated on Davis' next album, In a Silent Way (1969), which returned the trumpeter to the pop charts for the first time in four years and earned him another small-group jazz performance Grammy nomination. With his next album, Bitches Brew, Davis turned more overtly to a jazz-rock style. Though certainly not conventional rock music, Davis' electrified sound attracted a young, non-jazz audience while putting off traditional jazz fans.
Bitches Brew, released in March 1970, reached the pop Top 40 and became Davis' first album to be certified gold. It also earned a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Arrangement and won the Grammy for large-group jazz performance. He followed it with such similar efforts as Miles Davis at Fillmore East (1971 Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Performance by a Group), A Tribute to Jack Johnson, Live-Evil, On the Corner, and In Concert, all of which reached the pop charts. Meanwhile, Davis' former sidemen became his disciples in a series of fusion groups: Corea formed Return to Forever, Shorter and Zawinul led Weather Report, and McLaughlin and former Davis drummer Billy Cobham organized the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Starting in October 1972, when he broke his ankles in a car accident, Davis became less active in the early '70s, and in 1975 he gave up recording entirely due to illness, undergoing surgery for hip replacement later in the year. Five years passed before he returned to action by recording The Man With the Horn in 1980 and going back to touring in 1981.
By now, he was an elder statesman of jazz, and his innovations had been incorporated into the music, at least by those who supported his eclectic approach. He was also a celebrity whose appeal extended far beyond the basic jazz audience. He performed on the worldwide jazz festival circuit and recorded a series of albums that made the pop charts, including We Want Miles (1982 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance by a Soloist), Star People, Decoy, and You're Under Arrest. In 1986, after 30 years with Columbia, he switched to Warner Bros. Records and released Tutu, which won him his fourth Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance.
Aura, an album he had recorded in 1984, was released by Columbia in 1989 and brought him his fifth Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance by a Soloist (on a Jazz Recording). Davis surprised jazz fans when, on July 8, 1991, he joined an orchestra led by Quincy Jones at the Montreux Jazz Festival to perform some of the arrangements written for him in the late '50s by Gil Evans; he had never previously looked back at an aspect of his career. He died of pneumonia, respiratory failure, and a stroke within months. Doo-Bop, his last studio album, appeared in 1992. It was a collaboration with rapper Easy Mo Bee, and it won a Grammy for Best Rhythm & Blues Instrumental Performance, with the track "Fantasy" nominated for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo. Released in 1993, Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux won Davis his seventh Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance.
Miles Davis took an all-inclusive, constantly restless approach to jazz that had begun to fall out of favor by the time of his death, even as it earned him controversy during his lifetime. It was hard to recognize the bebop acolyte of Charlie Parker in the flamboyantly dressed leader with the hair extensions who seemed to keep one foot on a wah-wah pedal and one hand on an electric keyboard in his later years. But he did much to popularize jazz, reversing the trend away from commercial appeal that bebop began. And whatever the fripperies and explorations, he retained an ability to play moving solos that endeared him to audiences and demonstrated his affinity with tradition. At a time when jazz is inclining toward academia and repertory orchestras rather than moving forward, he is a reminder of the music's essential quality of boundless invention, using all available means.
Miles Dewey Davis III (May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991) was an American jazz musician, trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. Widely considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, Miles Davis was, together with his musical groups, at the forefront of several major developments in jazz music, including bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, and jazz fusion.
In 2006, Davis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which recognized him as "one of the key figures in the history of jazz". In 2008, his 1959 album Kind of Blue received its fourth platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), for shipments of at least four million copies in the United States. On December 15, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a symbolic resolution recognizing and commemorating the album Kind of Blue on its 50th anniversary, "honoring the masterpiece and reaffirming jazz as a national treasure".Fadoir, Nick, "Jazz and Hip Hop: You Know, for Kids", The Big Green, Michigan State University, October 15, 2009. Considine, J.D., "Jazz And Rap A Jarring Mix", The Baltimore Sun, July 6, 1992 Gerald Lyn, Early (1998). Ain't but a place: an anthology of African American writings about St. Louis. Missouri History Museum. p. 205. ISBN 1-883982-28-6. Cite error: The named reference Miles_Davis was invoked but never defined (see the help page). RIAA database – Gold & Platinum search item Kind of Blue. Recording Industry Association of America. Riaa.com. Retrieved on 2013-08-08. US politicians honour Miles Davis album. Radio Netherlands Worldwide
ContentsLife and career1.1 Early life (1926–44)1.2 New York and the bebop years begin (1944–48)1.3 Birth of the Cool (1948–49)1.4 Hard bop and the "Blue Period" (1950–54)1.5 First great quintet and sextet (1955–58)1.6 Recordings with Gil Evans (1957–63)1.7 Kind of Blue (1959–64)1.8 Second great quintet (1964–68)1.9 Electric Miles (1968–75)1.10 Later years and death
Life and career
Early life (1926–44)
Miles Dewey Davis was born on May 26, 1926, to an affluent African American family in Alton, Illinois. His father, Miles Henry Davis, was a dentist. In 1927 the family moved to East St. Louis, Illinois. They also owned a substantial ranch in the Delta region of Arkansas near the city of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where Davis's father and grandfather were from. It was in both East St. Louis, Illinois and near Pine Bluff, Arkansas that young Davis developed his earliest appreciation for music listening to the gospel music of the black church.
Davis' mother, Cleota Mae (Henry) Davis, wanted her son to learn the piano; she was a capable blues pianist but kept this fact hidden from her son. His musical studies began at 13, when his father gave him a trumpet and arranged lessons with local musician Elwood Buchanan. Davis later suggested that his father's instrument choice was made largely to irk his wife, who disliked the trumpet's sound. Against the fashion of the time, Buchanan stressed the importance of playing without vibrato; he was reported to have slapped Davis' knuckles every time he started using heavy vibrato. Davis would carry his clear signature tone throughout his career. He once remarked on its importance to him, saying, "I prefer a round sound with no attitude in it, like a round voice with not too much tremolo and not too much bass. Just right in the middle. If I can’t get that sound I can’t play anything." Clark Terry was another important early influence.
By age 16, Davis was a member of the music society and, when not at school, playing professionally first at the local Elks Club. At 17, he spent a year playing in Eddie Randle's band, the Blue Devils. During this time, Sonny Stitt tried to persuade him to join the Tiny Bradshaw band, then passing through town, but Davis' mother insisted that he finish his final year of high school. He graduated from East St. Louis Lincoln High School in 1944.
In 1944, the Billy Eckstine band visited East St. Louis. Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were members of the band, and Davis was brought in on third trumpet for a couple of weeks because the regular player, Buddy Anderson, was out sick. Even after this experience, once Eckstine's band left town, Davis' parents were still keen for him to continue formal academic studies.
New York and the bebop years begin (1944–48)
In the fall of 1944, following graduation from high school, Davis moved to New York City to study at the Juilliard School of Music. Upon arriving in New York, he spent most of his first weeks in town trying to get in contact with Charlie Parker, despite being advised against doing so by several people he met during his quest, including saxophonist Coleman Hawkins.Tommy Potter, Charlie Parker,Miles Davis, Duke Jordan, Max Roach, August 1947Coleman Hawkins and Miles Davis, c. September 1947
Finally locating his idol, Davis became one of the cadre of musicians who held nightly jam sessions at two of Harlem's nightclubs, Minton's Playhouse and Monroe's. The group included many of the future leaders of the bebop revolution: young players such as Fats Navarro, Freddie Webster, and J. J. Johnson. Established musicians including Thelonious Monk and Kenny Clarke were also regular participants.
Davis dropped out of Juilliard after asking permission from his father. In his autobiography, Davis criticized the Juilliard classes for centering too much on the classical European and "white" repertoire. However, he also acknowledged that, in addition to greatly improving his trumpet playing technique, Juilliard helped give him a grounding in music theory that would prove valuable in later years.
Davis began playing professionally, performing in several 52nd Street clubs with Coleman Hawkins and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. In 1945, he entered a recording studio for the first time, as a member of Herbie Fields's group. This was the first of many recordings Davis contributed to in this period, mostly as a sideman. He finally got the chance to record as a leader in 1946, with an occasional group called the Miles Davis Sextet plus Earl Coleman and Ann Hathaway—one of the rare occasions when Davis, by then a member of the groundbreaking Charlie Parker Quintet, can be heard accompanying singers. In these early years, recording sessions where Davis was the leader were the exception rather than the rule; his next date as leader would not come until 1947.
Around 1945, Dizzy Gillespie parted ways with Parker, and Davis was hired as Gillespie's replacement in his quintet, which also featured Max Roach on drums, Al Haig (replaced later by Sir Charles Thompson and Duke Jordan) on piano, and Curley Russell (later replaced by Tommy Potter and Leonard Gaskin) on bass.
With Parker's quintet, Davis went into the studio several times, already showing hints of the style he would become known for. On an oft-quoted take of Parker's signature song, "Now's the Time", Davis takes a melodic solo, whose unbop-like quality anticipates the "cool jazz" period that followed. The Parker quintet also toured widely. During a stop in Los Angeles, Parker had a nervous breakdown that landed him in the Camarillo State Mental Hospital for several months, and Davis found himself stranded. He roomed and collaborated for some time with bassist Charles Mingus, before getting a job on Billy Eckstine's California tour, which eventually brought him back to New York. In 1948, Parker returned to New York, and Davis rejoined his group.
The relationships within the quintet, however, were growing tense. Parker's erratic behavior (attributable to his well-known drug addiction) and artistic choices (both Davis and Roach objected to having Duke Jordan as a pianist and would have preferred Bud Powell) became sources of friction. In December 1948, disputes over money (Davis claimed he was not being paid) began to strain their relationship even further. Davis finally left the group following a confrontation with Parker at the Royal Roost.
For Davis, his departure from Parker's group marked the beginning of a period when he worked mainly as a freelancer and sideman in some of the most important combos on the New York jazz scene.
Birth of the Cool (1948–49)
In 1948 Davis grew close to the Canadian composer and arranger Gil Evans. Evans' basement apartment had become the meeting place for several young musicians and composers such as Davis, Roach, pianist John Lewis, and baritone sax player Gerry Mulligan who were unhappy with the increasingly virtuoso instrumental techniques that dominated the bebop scene. Evans had been the arranger for the Claude Thornhill orchestra, and it was the sound of this group, as well as Duke Ellington's example, that suggested the creation of an unusual line-up: a nonet including a French horn and a tuba (this accounts for the "tuba band" moniker that became associated with the combo).
Davis took an active role in the project, so much so that it soon became "his project". The objective was to achieve a sound similar to the human voice, through carefully arranged compositions and by emphasizing a relaxed, melodic approach to the improvisations.
The nonet debuted in the summer of 1948, with a two-week engagement at the Royal Roost. The sign announcing the performance gave a surprising prominence to the role of the arrangers: "Miles Davis Nonet. Arrangements by Gil Evans, John Lewis and Gerry Mulligan." It was, in fact, so unusual that Davis had to persuade the Roost's manager, Ralph Watkins, to word the sign this way. He prevailed only with the help of Monte Kay, the club's artistic director.
The nonet was active until the end of 1949, along the way undergoing several changes in personnel: Roach and Davis were constantly featured, along with Mulligan, tuba player Bill Barber, and alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, who had been preferred to Sonny Stitt (whose playing was considered too bop-oriented). Over the months, John Lewis alternated with Al Haig on piano, Mike Zwerin with Kai Winding on trombone (Johnson was touring at the time), Junior Collins with Sandy Siegelstein and Gunther Schuller on French horn, and Al McKibbon with Joe Shulman on bass. Singer Kenny Hagood was added for one track during the recording.
The presence of white musicians in the group angered some black jazz players, many of whom were unemployed at the time, but Davis rebuffed their criticisms.
A contract with Capitol Records granted the nonet several recording sessions between January 1949 and April 1950. The material they recorded was released in 1956 on an album whose title, Birth of the Cool, gave its name to the "cool jazz" movement that developed at the same time and partly shared the musical direction begun by Davis' group.
For his part, Davis was fully aware of the importance of the project, which he pursued to the point of turning down a job with Duke Ellington's orchestra.
The importance of the nonet experience would become clear to critics and the larger public only in later years, but, at least commercially, the nonet was not a success. The liner notes of the first recordings of the Davis Quintet for Columbia Records call it one of the most spectacular failures of the jazz club scene. This was bitterly noted by Davis, who claimed the invention of the cool style and resented the success that was later enjoyed—in large part because of the media's attention—by white "cool jazz" musicians (Mulligan and Dave Brubeck in particular).
This experience also marked the beginning of the lifelong friendship between Davis and Gil Evans, an alliance that would bear important results in the years to follow.
Hard bop and the "Blue Period" (1950–54)
The first half of the 1950s was, for Davis, a period of great personal difficulty. At the end of 1949, he went on tour in Paris with a group including Tadd Dameron, Kenny Clarke (who remained in Europe after the tour), and James Moody. Davis was fascinated by Paris and its cultural environment, where black jazz musicians, and African Americans in general, often felt better respected than they did in their homeland. While in Paris, Davis began a relationship with French actress and singer Juliette Gréco.
Many of his new and old friends (Davis, in his autobiography, mentions Clarke) tried to persuade him to stay in France, but Davis decided to return to New York. Back in the States, he began to feel deeply depressed. He attributes the depression to his separation from Gréco, his feeling under-appreciated by the critics (who hailed his former collaborators as leaders of the cool jazz movement)—and to the unraveling of his liaison with a former St. Louis schoolmate who lived with him in New York, with whom he had two children.
Davis blames these factors for the heroin habit that deeply affected him for the next four years. During this period, Davis supported his habit partly with his music and partly by living the life of a hustler. By 1953, his drug addiction began to impair his playing ability. Heroin had killed some of his friends (Navarro and Freddie Webster). He had been arrested for drug possession while on tour in Los Angeles, and his drug habit became public in a Down Beat interview of Cab Calloway.
Realizing his precarious condition, Davis tried several times to end his drug addiction, finally succeeding in 1954 after returning to his father's home in St. Louis for several months and locking himself in a room until he had gone through a painful withdrawal. During this period, he avoided New York and played mostly in Detroit and other Midwestern towns, where drugs were then harder to come by. A widely related story, attributed to Richard (Prophet) Jennings was that Davis, while in Detroit playing at the Blue Bird club as a guest soloist in Billy Mitchell's house band along with Tommy Flanagan, Elvin Jones, Betty Carter, Yusef Lateef, Barry Harris, Thad Jones, Curtis Fuller and Donald Byrd stumbled into Baker's Keyboard Lounge out of the rain, soaking wet and carrying his trumpet in a paper bag under his coat, walked to the bandstand and interrupted Max Roach and Clifford Brown in the midst of performing "Sweet Georgia Brown" by beginning to play "My Funny Valentine", and then, after finishing the song, stumbled back into the rainy night. Davis was supposedly embarrassed into getting clean by this incident. In his autobiography, Davis disputed this account, stating that Roach had requested that Davis play with him that night, and that the details of the incident, such as carrying his horn in a paper bag and interrupting Roach and Brown, were fictional and that his decision to quit heroin was unrelated to the incident.
Despite all the personal turmoil, the 1950–54 period was actually quite fruitful for Davis artistically. He made quite a number of recordings and had several collaborations with other important musicians. He got to know the music of Chicago pianist Ahmad Jamal, whose elegant approach and use of space influenced him deeply. He also definitively severed his stylistic ties with bebop.
In 1951, Davis met Bob Weinstock, the owner of Prestige Records, and signed a contract with the label. Between 1951 and 1954, he released many records on Prestige, with several different combos. While the personnel of the recordings varied, the lineup often featured Sonny Rollins and Art Blakey. Davis was particularly fond of Rollins and tried several times, in the years that preceded his meeting with John Coltrane, to recruit him for a regular group. He never succeeded, however, mostly because Rollins was prone to make himself unavailable for months at a time. In spite of the casual occasions that generated these recordings, their quality is almost always quite high, and they document the evolution of Davis' style and sound. During this time he began using the Harmon mute, held close to the microphone, in a way that became his signature, and his phrasing, especially in ballads, became spacious, melodic, and relaxed. This sound became so characteristic that the use of the Harmon mute by any jazz trumpet player since immediately conjures up Miles Davis.
The most important Prestige recordings of this period (Dig, Blue Haze, Bags' Groove, Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants, and Walkin') originated mostly from recording sessions in 1951 and 1954, after Davis' recovery from his addiction. Also of importance are his five Blue Note recordings, collected in the Miles Davis Volume 1 album.
With these recordings, Davis assumed a central position in what is known as hard bop. In contrast with bebop, hard bop used slower tempos and a less radical approach to harmony and melody, often adopting popular tunes and standards from the American songbook as starting points for improvisation. Hard bop also distanced itself from cool jazz by virtue of a harder beat and by its constant reference to the blues, both in its traditional form and in the form made popular by rhythm and blues. A few critics go as far as to call Walkin' the album that created hard bop, but the point is debatable, given the number of musicians who were working along similar lines at the same time (and of course many of them recorded or played with Davis).
In this period, Davis gained a reputation for being distant, cold, and withdrawn, and for having a quick temper. Factors that contributed to this reputation included his contempt for the critics and specialized press, and some well-publicized confrontations with the public and with fellow musicians.
A near fight with Thelonious Monk during the recording of Bags' Groove, received wide exposure in the specialized press.
Davis had an operation to remove polyps from his larynx in October 1955. Even though he was not supposed to speak at all for ten days, he had an argument with somebody and raised his voice. This outburst damaged his vocal cords forever, giving him the characteristic raspy voice that came to be associated with him. "[...] in February or March 1956, that I had my first throat operation and had to disband the group while recovering. During the course of the conversation I raised my voice to make a point and f***ed up my voice. I wasn't even supposed to talk for at least ten days, and here I was not only talking, but talking loudly. After that incident my voice had this whisper that has been with me ever since."
The "nocturnal" quality of Davis' playing and his somber reputation, along with his whispering voice, earned him the lasting moniker of "prince of darkness", adding a patina of mystery to his public persona.
First great quintet and sextet (1955–58)Main article: Miles Davis Quintet
Back in New York and in better health, in 1955 Davis attended the Newport Jazz Festival, where his performance (and especially his solo on "'Round Midnight") was greatly admired and prompted the critics to hail the "return of Miles Davis". At the same time, Davis recruited the players for a formation that became known as his "first great quintet": John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums.
None of these musicians, with the exception of Davis, had received a great deal of exposure before that time; Chambers, in particular, was very young (19 at the time), a Detroit player who had been on the New York scene for only about a year, working with the bands of Bennie Green, Paul Quinichette, George Wallington, J. J. Johnson, and Kai Winding. Coltrane was little known at the time, in spite of earlier collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Bostic, and Johnny Hodges. Davis hired Coltrane as a replacement for Sonny Rollins, after unsuccessfully trying to recruit alto saxophonist Julian "Cannonball" Adderley.
The repertoire included many bebop mainstays, standards from the Great American Songbook and the pre-bop era, and some traditional tunes. The prevailing style of the group was a development of the Davis experience in the previous years—Davis playing long, legato, and essentially melodic lines, while Coltrane, who during these years emerged as a leading figure on the musical scene, contrasted by playing high-energy solos.
With the new formation also came a new recording contract. In Newport, Rhode Island, Davis had met Columbia Records producer George Avakian, who persuaded him to sign with his label. The quintet made its debut on record with the extremely well received 'Round About Midnight. Before leaving Prestige, however, Davis had to fulfill his obligations during two days of recording sessions in 1956. Prestige released these recordings in the following years as four albums: Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, Steamin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, Workin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, and Cookin' with the Miles Davis Quintet. While the recording took place in a studio, each record of this series has the structure and feel of a live performance, with several first takes on each album. The records became almost instant classics and were instrumental in establishing Davis' quintet as one of the best on the jazz scene.
The quintet was disbanded for the first time in 1957, following a series of personal problems that Davis blames on the drug addiction of the other musicians. Davis played some gigs at the Cafe Bohemia with a short-lived formation that included Sonny Rollins and drummer Art Taylor, and then traveled to France, where he recorded the score to Louis Malle's film Ascenseur pour l'échafaud. With the aid of French session musicians Barney Wilen, Pierre Michelot, and René Urtreger, and expatriate American drummer Kenny Clarke, he recorded the entire soundtrack with an innovative procedure, without relying on written material: starting from sparse indication of the harmony and a general feel of a given piece, the group played by watching the movie on a screen in front of them and improvising.
A performance of the Ballets Africains from Guinea in 1958 sparked Davis's interest in modal music. This music, featuring the kalimba, stayed for long periods of time on a single chord, weaving in and out of consonance and dissonance. It was a very new concept in jazz at the time, then dominated by the chord-change based music of bebop.
Returning to New York in 1958, Davis successfully recruited Cannonball Adderley for his standing group. Coltrane, who in the meantime had freed himself from his drug habits, was available after a highly fruitful experience with Thelonious Monk and was hired back, as was Philly Joe Jones. With the quintet re-formed as a sextet, Davis recorded Milestones, an album anticipating the new directions he was preparing to give to his music.
Almost immediately after the recording of Milestones, Davis fired Garland and, shortly afterward, Jones, again for behavioral problems; he replaced them with Bill Evans—a young white pianist with a strong classical background—and drummer Jimmy Cobb. With this revamped formation, Davis began a year during which the sextet performed and toured extensively and produced a record (1958 Miles, also known as 58 Sessions). Evans had a unique, impressionistic approach to the piano, and his musical ideas had a strong influence on Davis. But after only eight months on the road with the group, he was burned out and left. He was soon replaced by Wynton Kelly, a player who brought to the sextet a swinging, bluesy approach that contrasted with Evans' more delicate playing.
Recordings with Gil Evans (1957–63)
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Davis recorded a series of albums with Gil Evans, often playing flugelhorn as well as trumpet. The first, Miles Ahead (1957), showcased his playing with a jazz big band and a horn section arranged by Evans. Songs included Dave Brubeck's "The Duke," as well as Léo Delibes's "The Maids of Cadiz," the first piece of European classical music Davis had recorded. Another distinctive feature of the album was the orchestral passages that Evans had devised as transitions between the different tracks, which were joined together with the innovative use of editing in the post-production phase, turning each side of the album into a seamless piece of music.
In 1958, Davis and Evans were back in the studio to record Porgy and Bess, an arrangement of pieces from George Gershwin's opera of the same name. The lineup included three members of the sextet: Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. Davis called the album one of his favorites.
Also in 1958, he married his first wife Frances Taylor. Their marriage lasted 10 years, despite his persistent domestic violence.
Sketches of Spain (1959–1960) featured songs by contemporary Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo and also Manuel de Falla, as well as Gil Evans originals with a Spanish flavor. Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall (1961) includes Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, along with other compositions recorded in concert with an orchestra under Evans' direction.
Sessions with Davis and Evans in 1962 resulted in the album Quiet Nights, a short collection of bossa novas that was released against the wishes of both artists: Evans stated it was only half an album, and blamed the record company; Davis blamed producer Teo Macero, to whom he did not speak for more than two years. This was the last time Evans and Davis made a full album together; despite the professional separation, however, Davis noted later that "my best friend is Gil Evans."
Kind of Blue (1959–64)
In March and April 1959, Davis re-entered the studio with his working sextet to record what is widely considered his magnum opus, Kind of Blue. He called back Bill Evans, months away from forming what would become his own seminal trio, for the album sessions, as the music had been planned around Evans' piano style. Both Davis and Evans were acquainted with the ideas of pianist George Russell regarding modal jazz; Davis from discussions with Russell and others before the Birth of the Cool sessions, and Evans from study with Russell in 1956. Davis, however, had neglected to inform current pianist Kelly of Evans' role in the recordings; Kelly subsequently played only on the track "Freddie Freeloader" and was not present at the April dates for the album. "So What" and "All Blues" had been played by the sextet at performances prior to the recording sessions, but for the other three compositions, Davis and Evans prepared skeletal harmonic frameworks that the other musicians saw for the first time on the day of recording, to allow a fresher approach to their improvisations. The resulting album has proven both highly popular and enormously influential. According to the RIAA, Kind of Blue is the best-selling jazz album of all time, having been certified as quadruple platinum (4 million copies sold). In December 2009, the US House of Representatives voted 409–0 to pass a resolution honoring the album as a national treasure.
The trumpet Davis used on the recording is currently displayed in the music building on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. It was donated to the school by Arthur "Buddy" Gist, who met Davis in 1949 and became a close friend. The gift was the reason why the jazz program at UNCG is named the "Miles Davis Jazz Studies Program."
In August 1959, the Miles Davis Quintet was appearing at the famous Birdland nightclub in New York City. After finishing a recording for the armed services, Davis took a break outside the club. As he was escorting an attractive blonde woman across the sidewalk to a taxi, Davis was told by a patrolman to "move on." Davis explained that he worked at the nightclub and refused to move. The officer said that he would arrest Davis and grabbed him as Davis protected himself. Witnesses said that the patrolman punched Davis in the stomach with his nightstick without provocation. While two detectives held the crowd back, a third detective approached Davis from behind and beat him about the head. Davis was arrested and taken to jail where he was charged with feloniously assaulting an officer. He was then taken to St. Clary Hospital where he received five stitches for a wound on his head. The following October, he was acquitted of the charge of disorderly conduct and was likewise acquitted the following January of the charge of third-degree assault.
Davis tried to pursue the case by bringing a suit against the New York City Police Department, but eventually dropped the proceedings in a plea bargain so he could recover his suspended cabaret card – entertainers awaiting trial were automatically deprived of their cards – and return to work in New York clubs. In his autobiography, Davis stated that the incident "changed my whole life and whole attitude again, made me feel bitter and cynical again when I was starting to feel good about the things that had changed in this country."
Davis persuaded Coltrane to play with the group on one final European tour in the spring of 1960. Coltrane then departed to form his classic quartet, although he returned for some of the tracks on Davis' 1961 album Someday My Prince Will Come. After Coltrane, Davis tried various saxophonists, including Jimmy Heath, Sonny Stitt, and Hank Mobley. The quintet with Hank Mobley was recorded in the studio and on several live engagements at Carnegie Hall and the Black Hawk jazz club in San Francisco. Stitt's playing with the group is found on a recording made in Olympia, Paris (where Davis and Coltrane had played a few months before) and the Live in Stockholm album.
In 1963, Davis' longtime rhythm section of Kelly, Chambers, and Cobb departed. He quickly got to work putting together a new group, including tenor saxophonist George Coleman and bassist Ron Carter. Davis, Coleman, Carter and a few other musicians recorded half the tracks for an album in the spring of 1963. A few weeks later, seventeen-year-old drummer Tony Williams and pianist Herbie Hancock joined the group, and soon afterward Davis, Coleman, and the new rhythm section recorded the rest of Seven Steps to Heaven.
The rhythm players melded together quickly as a section and with the horns. The group's rapid evolution can be traced through the Seven Steps to Heaven album, In Europe (July 1963), My Funny Valentine (February 1964), and Four and More (also February 1964). The quintet played essentially the same repertoire of bebop tunes and standards that earlier Davis bands had played, but they tackled them with increasing structural and rhythmic freedom and, in the case of the up-tempo material, breakneck speed.
Coleman left in the spring of 1964, to be replaced by avant-garde saxophonist Sam Rivers, on the suggestion of Tony Williams. Rivers remained in the group only briefly, but was recorded live with the quintet in Japan; this configuration can be heard on Miles in Tokyo! (July 1964).
By the end of the summer, Davis had persuaded Wayne Shorter to leave Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and join the quintet. Shorter became the group's principal composer, and some of his compositions of this era (including "Footprints" and "Nefertiti") have become standards. While on tour in Europe, the group quickly made their first official recording, Miles in Berlin (September 1964). On returning to the United States later that year, ever the musical entrepreneur, Davis (at Jackie DeShannon's urging) was instrumental in getting the Byrds signed to Columbia Records.
Second great quintet (1964–68)
By the time of E.S.P. (1965), Davis's lineup consisted of Wayne Shorter (saxophone), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), and Tony Williams (drums). The last of his acoustic bands, this group is often referred to as the "second great quintet".
A two-night Chicago performance in late 1965 is captured on The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel 1965, released in 1995. Unlike their studio albums, the live engagement shows the group still playing primarily standards and bebop tunes. Although some of the titles remain the same as the tunes played by the 1950s quintet, the quick tempos and musical departure from the framework of the tune are dramatic. It could be said that these live performances of standards are as radical as the studio recordings of new compositions on the albums listed below.
The recording of Live at the Plugged Nickel was not issued anywhere in the 1960s, first appearing as a Japan-only partial issue in the late 1970s, then as a double-LP in the U.S. and Europe in 1982. It was followed by a series of studio recordings: Miles Smiles (1966), Sorcerer (1967), Nefertiti (1967), Miles in the Sky (1968), and Filles de Kilimanjaro (1968). The quintet's approach to improvisation came to be known as "time no changes" or "freebop," because they abandoned the more conventional chord-change-based approach of bebop for a modal approach. Through Nefertiti, the studio recordings consisted primarily of originals composed by Shorter, with occasional compositions by the other sidemen. In 1967, the group began to play their live concerts in continuous sets, each tune flowing into the next, with only the melody indicating any sort of demarcation. Davis's bands would continue to perform in this way until his retirement in 1975.
Miles in the Sky and Filles de Kilimanjaro,—which tentatively introduced electric bass, electric piano, and electric guitar on some tracks—pointed the way to the subsequent fusion phase of Davis's career. Davis also began experimenting with more rock-oriented rhythms on these records. By the time the second half of Filles de Kilimanjaro was recorded, bassist Dave Holland and pianist Chick Corea had replaced Carter and Hancock in the working band, though both Carter and Hancock occasionally contributed to future recording sessions. Davis soon began to take over the compositional duties of his sidemen.
Electric Miles (1968–75)
The guru-manipulator shifted gears at will in his early-'70s music, orchestrating moods and settings to subjugate the individual musical inspirations of his young close-enough-for-funk subgeniuses to the life of a single palpitating organism that would have perished without them—no arrangements, little composition, and not many solos either, although at any moment a player could find himself left to fly off on his own.— Robert Christgau, review of Dark Magus (1977)
Davis's influences included 1960s acid rock and funk artists such as Sly and the Family Stone, James Brown, and Jimi Hendrix, many of whom he met through Betty Mabry (later Betty Davis), a young model and songwriter Davis married in September 1968 and divorced a year later. The musical transition required that Davis and his band adapt to electric instruments in both live performances and the studio. By the time In a Silent Way had been recorded in February 1969, Davis had augmented his quintet with additional players. At various times Hancock or Joe Zawinul was brought in to join Corea on electric keyboards, and guitarist John McLaughlin made the first of his many appearances with Davis. By this point, Shorter was also doubling on soprano saxophone. After recording this album, Williams left to form his group Lifetime and was replaced by Jack DeJohnette.
Six months later, an even larger group of musicians, including Jack DeJohnette, Airto Moreira, and Bennie Maupin, recorded the double LP Bitches Brew, which became a huge seller, reaching gold status by 1976. This album and In a Silent Way were among the first fusions of jazz and rock that were commercially successful, building on the groundwork laid by Charles Lloyd, Larry Coryell, and others who pioneered a genre that would become known as jazz-rock fusion. During this period, Davis toured with Shorter, Corea, Holland, and DeJohnette. The group's repertoire included material from Bitches Brew, In a Silent Way, and the 1960s quintet albums, along with an occasional standard.
In 1972, Davis was introduced to the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen by Paul Buckmaster, leading to a period of new creative exploration. Biographer J. K. Chambers wrote that "the effect of Davis' study of Stockhausen could not be repressed for long... Davis' own 'space music' shows Stockhausen's influence compositionally." His recordings and performances during this period were described as "space music" by fans, by music critic Leonard Feather, and by Buckmaster, who described it as "a lot of mood changes—heavy, dark, intense—definitely space music." Both Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way feature "extended" (more than 20 minutes each) compositions that were never actually "played straight through" by the musicians in the studio. Instead, Davis and producer Teo Macero selected musical motifs of various lengths from recorded extended improvisations and edited them together into a musical whole that exists only in the recorded version. Bitches Brew made use of such electronic effects as multi-tracking, tape loops, and other editing techniques. Both records, especially Bitches Brew, were big sellers. Starting with Bitches Brew, Davis's albums began to often feature cover art much more in line with psychedelic art or black power movements than that of his earlier albums. He took significant cuts in his usual performing fees in order to open for rock groups like the Steve Miller Band, Grateful Dead, Neil Young, and Santana. Several live albums were recorded during the early 1970s at these performances: Live at the Fillmore East, March 7, 1970: It's About That Time (March 1970), Black Beauty (April 1970), and Miles Davis at Fillmore: Live at the Fillmore East (June 1970).
By the time of Live-Evil in December 1970, Davis's ensemble had transformed into a much more funk-oriented group. Davis began experimenting with wah-wah effects on his horn. The ensemble with Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett, and Michael Henderson, often referred to as the "Cellar Door band" (the live portions of Live-Evil were recorded at a Washington, DC, club by that name), never recorded in the studio, but is documented in the six-CD box set The Cellar Door Sessions, which was recorded over four nights in December 1970. In 1970, Davis contributed extensively to the soundtrack of a documentary about the African-American boxer heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. Himself a devotee of boxing, Davis drew parallels between Johnson, whose career had been defined by the fruitless search for a Great White Hope to dethrone him, and Davis's own career, in which he felt the musical establishment of the time had prevented him from receiving the acclaim and rewards that were due him. The resulting album, 1971's Jack Johnson, contained two long pieces that featured musicians (some of whom were not credited on the record) including guitarists John McLaughlin and Sonny Sharrock, Herbie Hancock on a Farfisa organ, and drummer Billy Cobham. McLaughlin and Cobham went on to become founding members of the Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1971.
As Davis stated in his autobiography, he wanted to make music for the young African-American audience. On the Corner (1972) blended funk elements with the traditional jazz styles he had played his entire career. The album was highlighted by the appearance of saxophonist Carlos Garnett. Critics were not kind to the album; in his autobiography, Davis stated that critics could not figure out how to categorize it, and he complained that the album was not promoted to the right crowd. Columbia tried selling the album to the old jazz generation who didn't really understand it instead of the younger crowd that Miles intended the album for. After recording On the Corner, Davis put together a new group, with only Michael Henderson, Carlos Garnett, and percussionist Mtume returning from the previous band. It included guitarist Reggie Lucas, tabla player Badal Roy, sitarist Khalil Balakrishna, and drummer Al Foster. It was unusual in that none of the sidemen were major jazz instrumentalists; as a result, the music emphasized rhythmic density and shifting textures instead of individual solos. This group, which recorded in Philharmonic Hall for the album In Concert (1972), was unsatisfactory to Davis. Through the first half of 1973, he dropped the tabla and sitar, took over keyboard duties, and added guitarist Pete Cosey. The Davis/Cosey/Lucas/Henderson/Mtume/Foster ensemble would remain virtually intact over the next two years. Initially, Dave Liebman played saxophones and flute with the band; in 1974, he was replaced by Sonny Fortune.
Big Fun (1974) was a double album containing four long improvisations, recorded between 1969 and 1972. Similarly, Get Up With It (1974) collected recordings from the previous five years. Get Up With It included "He Loved Him Madly", a tribute to Duke Ellington, as well as one of Davis's most lauded pieces from this era, "Calypso Frelimo". It was his last studio album of the 1970s. In 1974 and 1975, Columbia recorded three double-LP live Davis albums: Dark Magus, Agharta, and Pangaea. Dark Magus captures a 1974 New York concert; the latter two are recordings of consecutive concerts from the same February 1975 day in Osaka. At the time, only Agharta was available in the US; Pangaea and Dark Magus were initially released only by CBS/Sony Japan. All three feature at least two electric guitarists (Reggie Lucas and Pete Cosey, deploying an array of Hendrix-inspired electronic distortion devices; Dominique Gaumont is a third guitarist on Dark Magus), electric bass, drums, reeds, and Davis on electric trumpet and organ. These albums were the last he recorded for five years. Davis was troubled by osteoarthritis (which led to a hip replacement operation in 1976, the first of several), sickle-cell anemia, depression, bursitis, ulcers, and a renewed dependence on alcohol and drugs (primarily cocaine), and his performances were routinely panned by critics throughout late 1974 and early 1975. By the time the group reached Japan in February 1975, Davis was nearing a physical breakdown and required copious amounts of alcohol and narcotics to make it through his engagements. Nonetheless, as noted by Richard Cook and Brian Morton, during these concerts his trumpet playing "is of the highest and most adventurous order."
This was music that polarized audiences, provoking boos and walk-outs amid the ecstasy of others. The length, density, and unforgiving nature of it mocked those who said that Miles was interested only in being trendy and popular. Some have heard in this music the feel and shape of a musician's late work, an egoless music that precedes its creator's death. As Theodor Adorno said of the late Beethoven, the disappearance of the musician into the work is a bow to mortality. It was as if Miles were testifying to all that he had been witness to for the past thirty years, both terrifying and joyful.— John Szwed, on Agharta (1975) and Pangaea (1976)
After a Newport Jazz Festival performance at Avery Fisher Hall in New York on July 1, 1975, Davis withdrew almost completely from the public eye for six years. As Gil Evans said, "His organism is tired. And after all the music he's contributed for 35 years, he needs a rest." In his memoirs, Davis is characteristically candid about his wayward mental state during this period, describing himself as a hermit, his house as a wreck, and detailing his drug and sex addictions. In 1976, Rolling Stone reported rumors of his imminent demise. Although he stopped practicing trumpet on a regular basis, Davis continued to compose intermittently and made three attempts at recording during his exile from performing; these sessions (one with the assistance of Paul Buckmaster and Gil Evans, who left after not receiving promised compensation) bore little fruit and remain unreleased. In 1979, he placed in the yearly top-ten trumpeter poll of Down Beat. Columbia continued to issue compilation albums and records of unreleased vault material to fulfill contractual obligations. During his period of inactivity, Davis saw the fusion music that he had spearheaded over the past decade enter into the mainstream. When he emerged from retirement, Davis's musical descendants would be in the realm of new wave rock, and in particular the styling of Prince.
Later years and death
By 1979, Davis had rekindled his relationship with actress Cicely Tyson. With Tyson, Davis would overcome his cocaine addiction and regain his enthusiasm for music. As he had not played trumpet for the better part of three years, regaining his famed embouchure proved particularly arduous. While recording The Man with the Horn (sessions were spread sporadically over 1979–1981), Davis played mostly wahwah with a younger, larger band.
The initial large band was eventually abandoned in favor of a smaller combo featuring saxophonist Bill Evans (not to be confused with pianist Bill Evans of the 1958–59 sextet), and bass player Marcus Miller, both of whom would be among Davis's most regular collaborators throughout the decade. He married Tyson in 1981; they would divorce in 1988. The Man with the Horn was finally released in 1981 and received a poor critical reception despite selling fairly well. In May, the new band played two dates as part of the Newport Jazz Festival. The concerts, as well as the live recording We Want Miles from the ensuing tour, received positive reviews.
By late 1982, Davis's band included French percussionist Mino Cinelu and guitarist John Scofield, with whom he worked closely on the album Star People. In mid-1983, while working on the tracks for Decoy, an album mixing soul music and electronica that was released in 1984, Davis brought in producer, composer and keyboardist Robert Irving III, who had earlier collaborated with him on The Man with the Horn. With a seven-piece band, including Scofield, Evans, keyboardist and music director Irving, drummer Al Foster and bassist Darryl Jones (later of the Rolling Stones), Davis played a series of European gigs to positive receptions. While in Europe, he took part in the recording of Aura, an orchestral tribute to Davis composed by Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg.
You're Under Arrest, Davis' next album, was released in 1985 and included another brief stylistic detour. Included on the album were his interpretations of Cyndi Lauper's ballad "Time After Time", and Michael Jackson's pop hit "Human Nature". Davis considered releasing an entire album of pop songs and recorded dozens of them, but the idea was scrapped. Davis noted that many of today's accepted jazz standards were in fact pop songs from Broadway theater, and that he was simply updating the "standards" repertoire with new material. 1985 also saw Davis guest-star on the TV show Miami Vice as pimp and minor criminal Ivory Jones in the episode titled "Junk Love" (first aired November 8, 1985).
You're Under Arrest was Davis' final album for Columbia. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis publicly dismissed Davis' more recent fusion recordings as not being "'true' jazz," comments Davis initially shrugged off, calling Marsalis "a nice young man, only confused." This changed after Marsalis appeared, unannounced, onstage in the midst of Davis' performance at the inaugural Vancouver International Jazz Festival in 1986. Marsalis whispered into Davis' ear that "someone" had told him to do so. Davis responded by ordering him off the stage.
Davis grew irritated at Columbia's delay releasing Aura. The breaking point in the label-artist relationship appears to have come when a Columbia jazz producer requested Davis place a goodwill birthday call to Marsalis. Davis signed with Warner Bros. Records shortly thereafter.
Davis collaborated with a number of figures from the British new wave movement during this period, including Scritti Politti. At the invitation of producer Bill Laswell, Davis recorded some trumpet parts during sessions for Public Image Ltd.'s Album, according to Public Image's John Lydon in the liner notes of their Plastic Box box set. In Lydon's words, however, "strangely enough, we didn't use [his contributions]." (Also according to Lydon in the Plastic Box notes, Davis favorably compared Lydon's singing voice to his trumpet sound.)
Having first taken part in the Artists United Against Apartheid recording, Davis signed with Warner Brothers records and reunited with Marcus Miller. The resulting record, Tutu (1986), was his first to use modern studio tools—programmed synthesizers, samples and drum loops—to create an entirely new setting for his playing. Ecstatically reviewed on its release, the album would frequently be described as the modern counterpart of Sketches of Spain and won a Grammy in 1987.
He followed Tutu with Amandla, another collaboration with Miller and George Duke, plus the soundtracks to four movies: Street Smart, Siesta, The Hot Spot (with bluesman John Lee Hooker), and Dingo. He continued to tour with a band of constantly rotating personnel and a critical stock at a level higher than it had been for 15 years. His last recordings, both released posthumously, were the hip hop-influenced studio album Doo-Bop and Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux, a collaboration with Quincy Jones for the 1991 Montreux Jazz Festival. For the first time in three decades, Davis returned to the songs arranged by Gil Evans on such 1950s albums as Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain. This album was also the last album recorded by Davis. It left a lot of people who had been disappointed with his newer, more experimental works happy that he had ended his career on such way.
In 1988 he had a small part as a street musician in the film Scrooged, starring Bill Murray. In 1989, Davis was interviewed on 60 Minutes by Harry Reasoner. Davis received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990.
In early 1991, he appeared in the Rolf de Heer film Dingo as a jazz musician. In the film's opening sequence, Davis and his band unexpectedly land on a remote airstrip in the Australian outback and proceed to perform for the surprised locals. The performance was one of Davis's last on film and one of the first released after his death in September.
During the last years of Miles Davis's life, there were rumors that he had AIDS, something that he and his manager Peter Shukat vehemently denied. According to Quincy Troupe by that time Davis was taking azidothymidine (AZT), a type of antiretroviral drug used for the treatment of HIV/AIDS.
Davis died on September 28, 1991, from the combined effects of a stroke, pneumonia and respiratory failure in Santa Monica, California, at the age of 65. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.The Autobiography. Kahn Clark Terry – The Official Biography, clarkterry.com Arons, Rachel (21 March 2014). "Slide Show: American Public Libraries Great and Small". The New Yorker. Retrieved 24 March 2014. "See the Plosin session database". Plosin.com. 1946-10-18. Retrieved 2011-07-18. On this occasion, Mingus bitterly criticized Davis for abandoning his "musical father" (see The Autobiography). Mulligan, Gerry. I hear America singing: "Miles, the bandleader. He took the initiative and put the theories to work. He called the rehearsals, hired the halls, called the players, and generally cracked the whip." "So I just told them that if a guy could play as good as Lee Konitz played—that's who they were mad about most, because there were a lot of black alto players around—I would hire him every time, and I wouldn't give a damn if he was green with red breath. I'm hiring a motherfucker to play, not for what color he is." The Autobiography In his autobiography Davis recalls exploiting prostitutes and getting money from most of his friends. In his autobiography, Davis says he never forgave Calloway for that interview. He also says that African Americans were being unfairly singled out among the larger community of drug-using jazz musicians of the time. Crawford, Mark (January 1961). "Miles Davis: Evil genius of jazz". Ebony (Johnson Publishing Company): 69–74. ISSN 0012-9011. Nisenson, Eric (1982). 'Round about Midnight: A Portrait of Miles Davis. Da Capo Press. pp. 88–89. ISBN 978-0-306-80684-1. The Autobiography, pp. 173–174 "Back in bebop, everybody used to play real fast. But I didn't ever like playing a bunch of scales and shit. I always tried to play the most important notes in the chord, to break it up. I used to hear all them musicians playing all them scales and notes and never nothing you could remember." The Autobiography. Open references to the blues in jazz playing were fairly recent. Until the middle of the 1930s, as Coleman Hawkins declared to Alan Lomax (The Land Where the Blues Began. New York: Pantheon, 1993), African American players working in white establishments would avoid references to the blues altogether. Davis had asked Monk to "lay off" (stop playing) while he was soloing. In the autobiography, Davis says that Monk "could not play behind a horn." Charles Mingus reported this, and more, in his "Open Letter to Miles Davis". Szwed, John (2002). So What: The Life of Miles Davis, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-434-00759-5. Acquired by shouting at a record producer while still ailing after a recent operation to the throat – The Autobiography Davis began to be referred to as "the Prince of Darkness" in liner notes of the records of this period, and the moniker persists to this day; see, for instance, his obituary in The Nation, and countless references in DVD , movies  and print articles . Some inspired by Ahmad Jamal: see, for instance, the performance of "Billy Boy" on Milestones. Especially Jones and Coltrane, whom Davis both fired. Davis – The Autobiography. Early, Gerald Lyn (2001) Miles Davis and American Culture, Missouri History Museum, ISBN 978-1-883982-38-6. Cook, op. cit. Franckling, Ken (1986) The Prince of Darkness Turns 60 Broeske, Pat H. (2006) Wrestling With Miles Davis and His Demons Carr, Ian (1999). Miles Davis: the definitive biography. Thunder's Mouth Press. pp. 192–93. ISBN 978-1-56025-241-2. Lees, Gene (2001). You Can't Steal a Gift: Dizzy, Clark, Milt, and Nat. Yale University Press, p. 24, ISBN 0300089651. Kahn, p. 95. Kahn, pp. 29–30, 74. Cite error: The named reference riaa was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference autogenerated1 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "US House of Reps honours Miles Davis album – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. December 16, 2009. Retrieved January 6, 2011. Rowe, Jeri (October 18, 2009). "Taking care of Buddy : News-Record.com : Greensboro & the Triad's most trusted source for local news and analysis". News-Record.com. "Was Miles Davis beaten over blonde?". Baltimore Afro-American. September 1, 1959. Retrieved August 27, 2010. "Jazz Trumpeter Miles Davis In Joust With Cops". Sarasota Journal. August 26, 1959. Retrieved August 27, 2010. Early, Gerald Lyn (2001) Miles Davis and American Culture, Missouri History Museum, p. 89, ISBN 978-1-883982-38-6. Einarson, John. (2005). Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of The Byrds' Gene Clark. Backbeat Books. pp. 56–57. ISBN 0-87930-793-5. Waters, Keith (2011). The Studio Recordings of the Miles Davis Quintet, 1965–68. Oxford University Press. pp. 257–258. ISBN 978-0-19-539383-5. Christgau, Robert. CG: Miles Davis. Robert Christgau. Retrieved on 2011-07-03. "Miles Davis". The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc. Retrieved June 29, 2009. Chambers, J. K. (1998). Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis. Da Capo Press. p. 246. ISBN 0-306-80849-8. Carr, Ian (1998). Miles Davis: The Definitive Biography. Thunder's Mouth Press. pp. 284, 303, 304, 306. ISBN 1-56025-241-3. Tingen, Paul (April 17, 2008). "The Making of Bitches Brew". The Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967–1991. ISBN 0-8230-8360-8. Freeman, Philip (November 1, 2005). Running the Voodoo Down: The Electric Music of Miles Davis. San Francisco, CA: Backbeat Books. pp. 83–84. ISBN 978-0-87930-828-5. Kolosky, Walter (December 31, 2008). Miles Davis: Go Ahead John (part two C) – Jazz.com | Jazz Music – Jazz Artists – Jazz News. Jazz.com. Retrieved on April 3, 2011. Freeman, Phil (2005). Running the Voodoo Down: The Electric Music of Miles Davis. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 92. ISBN 0-87930-828-1. Szwed, John (2004). So What: The Life of Miles Davis. Simon and Schuster. p. 343. ISBN 0684859831. Retrieved September 8, 2013. "Miami Vice" Junk Love (1985) at the Internet Movie Database The Autobiography, p. 364. Intro.de article (in German). "Fodderstompf". Fodderstompf. March 10, 2009. Retrieved January 6, 2011. "Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux" master release page at Discogs. Discogs.com. Retrieved on 2013-08-08. "Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux" page at allmusic. Allmusic.com (1991-07-08). Retrieved on 2013-08-08. "Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux". cd release page at CD Universe (Online Music Store) Los Angeles Times, "Jazz Notes", article published in February 22, 1989. Quincy Troupe (2002) Miles and Me, The George Gund Foundation Imprint in African American Studies, ISBN 9780520234710 Davis, Gregory; Sussman, Les and Terry, Clark (2006). Dark Magus: The Jekyll and Hyde Life of Miles Davis. Hal Leonard. ISBN 0879308753.
Views on his earlier work
Late in his life, from the "electric period" onwards, Davis repeatedly explained his reasons for not wishing to perform his earlier works, such as Birth of the Cool or Kind of Blue. In Davis' view, remaining stylistically static was the wrong option. He commented: " "So What" or Kind of Blue, they were done in that era, the right hour, the right day, and it happened. It's over [...] What I used to play with Bill Evans, all those different modes, and substitute chords, we had the energy then and we liked it. But I have no feel for it anymore, it's more like warmed-over turkey." When Shirley Horn insisted in 1990 that Miles reconsider playing the ballads and modal tunes of his Kind of Blue period, he demurred. "Nah, it hurts my lip," was the reason he gave.
Other musicians regretted Davis's change of style, for example, Bill Evans, who was instrumental in creating Kind of Blue, said: "I would like to hear more of the consummate melodic master, but I feel that big business and his record company have had a corrupting influence on his material. The rock and pop thing certainly draws a wider audience. It happens more and more these days, that unqualified people with executive positions try to tell musicians what is good and what is bad music."Davis, Miles; Sultanof, Jeff (2002). Miles Davis – Birth of the Cool. US: Hal Leonard. pp. 2–3. ISBN 0634006827. Retrieved February 22, 2011. Interview with Ben Sindran, 1986. Quoted in Miles Davis and Bill Evans: Miles and Bill in Black & White, September 2001, Ashley Kahn, JazzTimes Interview to Shirley Horn. After 1990. Quoted in Miles Davis and Bill Evans: Miles and Bill in Black & White, September. 2001, Ashley Kahn, JazzTimes. Interview to Bill Evans. Late 1970s. Quoted in Miles Davis and Bill Evans: Miles and Bill in Black & White, September. 2001, Ashley Kahn, JazzTimes.
Legacy and influence
Miles Davis is regarded as one of the most innovative, influential and respected figures in the history of music. He has been described as “one of the great innovators in jazz”. The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll noted "Miles Davis played a crucial and inevitably controversial role in every major development in jazz since the mid-'40s, and no other jazz musician has had so profound an effect on rock. Miles Davis was the most widely recognized jazz musician of his era, an outspoken social critic and an arbiter of style—in attitude and fashion—as well as music". His album Kind of Blue is the best-selling album in the history of jazz music. On November 5, 2009, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan sponsored a measure in the United States House of Representatives to recognize and commemorate the album on its 50th anniversary. The measure also affirms jazz as a national treasure and "encourages the United States government to preserve and advance the art form of jazz music." It passed, unanimously, with a vote of 409–0 on December 15, 2009.
As an innovative bandleader and composer, Miles Davis has influenced many notable musicians and bands from diverse genres. Many well-known musicians rose to prominence as members of Davis's ensembles, including saxophonists Gerry Mulligan, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, George Coleman, Wayne Shorter, Dave Liebman, Branford Marsalis and Kenny Garrett; trombonist J. J. Johnson; pianists Horace Silver, Red Garland, Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and Kei Akagi; guitarists John McLaughlin, Pete Cosey, John Scofield and Mike Stern; bassists Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Dave Holland, Marcus Miller and Darryl Jones; and drummers Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Cobb, Tony Williams, Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, and Al Foster. Miles' influence on the people who played with him has been described by music writer and author Christopher Smith as follows:Miles Davis' artistic interest was in the creation and manipulation of ritual space, in which gestures could be endowed with symbolic power sufficient to form a functional communicative, and hence musical, vocabulary. [...] Miles' performance tradition emphasized orality and the transmission of information and artistic insight from individual to individual. His position in that tradition, and his personality, talents, and artistic interests, impelled him to pursue a uniquely individual solution to the problems and the experiential possibilities of improvised performance.
His approach, owing largely to the African American performance tradition that focused on individual expression, emphatic interaction, and creative response to shifting contents, had a profound impact on generations of jazz musicians.
In 1986, the New England Conservatory awarded Miles Davis an Honorary Doctorate for his extraordinary contributions to music. Since 1960 the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) has honored him with eight Grammy Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and three Grammy Hall of Fame Awards.
In 2010, Moldejazz premiered a play called Driving Miles, which focused on a landmark concert Davis performed in Molde, Norway, in 1984.The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions Review. BBC (2003) Miles Davis Biography at the Wayback Machine (archived January 26, 2009). Rolling Stone Magazine House honors Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" at the Wayback Machine (archived December 21, 2009). Associated Press, December 15, 2009 "House Resolution H.RES.894". Clerk.house.gov. 2009-12-15. Retrieved 2011-07-18. Christopher Smith, "A Sense of the Possible. Miles Davis and the Semiotics of Improvised Performance". TDR, Vol. 39, No. 3 (Autumn, 1995), pp. 41–55. NEC Honorary Doctor of Music Degree at the Wayback Machine (archived July 20, 2011). New England Conservatory
AwardsWinner; Down Beat Reader's Poll Best Trumpet Player 1955Winner; Down Beat Reader's Poll Best Trumpet Player 1957Winner; Down Beat Reader's Poll Best Trumpet Player 1961Grammy Award for Best Jazz Composition Of More Than Five Minutes Duration for Sketches of Spain (1960)Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance, Large Group Or Soloist With Large Group for Bitches Brew (1970)Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Soloist for We Want Miles (1982)Sonning Award for Lifetime Achievement In Music (1984; Copenhagen, Denmark)Doctor of Music, honoris causa (1986; New England Conservatory)Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Soloist for Tutu (1986)Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Soloist for Aura (1989)Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Big Band for Aura (1989)Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1990)St. Louis Walk of Fame (May 20, 1990)Australian Film Institute Award for Best Original Music Score for Dingo, shared with Michel Legrand (1991)Knight of the Legion of Honor (July 16, 1991; Paris)Grammy Award for Best R&B Instrumental Performance for Doo-Bop (1992)Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance for Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux (1993)Hollywood Walk of Fame Star (February 19, 1998)Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction (March 13, 2006)Hollywood's Rockwalk Induction (September 28, 2006)RIAA Quadruple Platinum for Kind of Blue (October 7, 2008) St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". stlouiswalkoffame.org. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
^a Only one song is composed by Miles Davis in cooperation with Marcus Miller ("Theme For Augustine").^b Soundtrack is composed by Miles Davis in cooperation with Michel Legrand.