Miles Davis (1926-1991)
Miles Davis was born on May 26, 1926 in Alton, Illinois. He was given a trumpet on his 13th birthday but was playing in Eddie Randall's Blue Devils by the time he was 15. In July of 1944 he sat in with Billy Eckstine's Big Band where he met such greats as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. That fall he moved to New York and enrolled at Julliard. Soon after he was working on 52nd Street with Bird and Coleman Hawkins. In 1945 he left Julliard to play with Parker's group at the Three Deuces club. By 1948 he was the band leader of two bands at the Royal Roost - one was a nine piece ensemble that made a series of recordings that were called Birth of the Cool. Soon after, at pianist Gil Evans' apartment, Davis and four other musicians began a new type of bebop that would become known as Cool Jazz. Their small group used a trumpet, trombone, tuba, alto, bari, piano, bass, and drums. Even with this new style of music he soon fell into obscurity. He appeared with Tadd Dameran at the Paris Jazz Festival in 1949 and with Zoot Sims and Milk Jackson in the early 1950's. He reemerged at the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival and began the Miles Davis Quintet. This included John Coltrane on tenor, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. The band took a hit in 1958 when Coltrane left over personal problems. After a stint with Thelonious Monk he returned and the Quintet was more popular than ever. The group finally did fall apart but Davis returned to the scene in 1963, with a new Quintet. This one featured Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, Tony Williams on drums, and George Coleman on tenor. Early on they were overshadowed by Coltrane and other great artists of the day but they eventually brought new fans when they brought together hard bop and free jazz. In 1968 the Quintet began to break up. For the next few years Davis worked with many musicians. He began to realize the importance electronic instruments were going to have on jazz and he soon changed the music of his Quintet, which had now totally changed. At one point or another during this period he worked with Keith Jarrett, Dave Liebman, Sonny Fortune, and Airto Moreira. Davis used a rock-like rythem and even used instruments of Indian and Asian origin. He used electric instruments but his trumpet solos stayed the same as they always had. In 1975 he temporarily retired from music. In 1980 he reemerged on the scene, this time playing funk and R&B. He played with new musicians that included Kenny Garrett, Bob Berg, and Marcus Miller. Miller would actually write their last two albums, Tutu and Amandla. In 1991 Davis played with Quincy Jones at the 1991 Montreux Festival for an updated vevival of his Birth of the Cool arrangements from 40 years before. Even at age 65 his solos were as great as ever. Two months later he died.
photo by Gianni Gavioli
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