Make a difference: Support jazz online

Support All About Jazz Your friends at All About Jazz are looking for readers to help back our website upgrade project. Of critical importance, this project will result in a vastly improved design across all devices and will make future All About Jazz projects much easier to implement. Click here to learn more about this project including donation rewards.

522

Miles Davis

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
Trumpeter Miles Davis (1926-1991) is perhaps the most influential figure in the history of jazz. He regularly reinvented his sound, changing styles abruptly and pulling the rest of the jazz community along with him.

Davis moved from East St. Louis to New York City in 1944, ostensibly to attend Juilliard. But he soon lost interest in school and spent his time gigging with local musicians. In 1945, at the age of nineteen, he joined Charlie Parker's quintet, where he played an active role in the birth of bebop. He stayed with Parker until 1948. Shortly thereafter, he abruptly leapt off the bebop train and began playing with an expanded nonet, introducing the world to cool jazz (1949-50), a more relaxed, textured style. Along with Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan, and Lee Konitz, he helped create a new sound which contrasted sharply with the fast and furious energy of bebop.

Miles got back into bop with his first great quintet, which included a young John Coltrane. During 1955-56, this group recorded extensively on Prestige. Four discs from this period stand as pure masterpieces: Relaxin,' Steamin,' Workin,' and Cookin'.

Amidst a couple of orchestral efforts, Davis formed a quintet which yielded the best-loved record in jazz history: Kind of Blue (1959). He continued to expand and develop modal jazz, a platform for extended improvisation. Then, early in the '60s, Miles formed a new all-star quintet. Each musician's role became more flexible and the overall sound had a more energetic tone. Some of Davis's most enduring music comes from this period.

Starting in 1968, Davis began to electrify his groups, eventually launching fusion. This music brought the rhythms of rock together with a new style of open-ended improvisation. Producer Teo Macero played a key role on studio dates, recombining and reforming these performances. Fusion made Davis immensely popular with young people; and it sparked a number of spinoffs, including Weather Report and various groups led by guitarist John McLaughlin. After a brief retirement from 1975 to 1981, Davis returned to recording, with mostly disappointing results.

The Complete Birth of the Cool (Columbia, 1948-50)

The fluid, softer group sound of these large-ensemble recordings offers a distinct contrast to the edginess and drive of bebop, which was the dominant jazz form at the time.
Cookin' (Prestige/OJC 1956)

Any one of the four discs recorded over this productive six-month period is a masterpiece. This particular one features some inspired bop-oriented playing by Miles's first great quintet, with infectious warmth and true clarity.
Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959)

With its lyrical solos and feeling of gentle urgency, KOB stands as a landmark of extended modal improvisation. KOB is the greatest record in Miles's oeuvre, and the best introduction to his work.
Sketches of Spain (Columbia, 1959-60)

This extended ensemble fuses jazz with the minor tonalities and rhythmic subtleties of flamenco music. It's laid back and at times melancholy; subtlety plays a huge role here, so listen closely.
The Complete Concert, 1964 (Columbia, 1964)

This two-disc set documents the powerfully energizing sounds of a driving mid-'60s quintet, featuring a degree of cohesion rarely found in the live setting.
Highlights From The Plugged Nickel (Columbia, 1965)

This sampler from the 7-CD box presents creative improvisation teetering over the boundaries of hard bop. The degree of interaction and bold adventurism on this disc remains unparalleled, though the sound quality dips a bit.
Miles Smiles (Columbia, 1966)

The most successful studio recording by Miles' hugely influential '60s quintet, warmly documenting the group's flexible, adventurous, and dynamic interaction.
In A Silent Way (Columbia, 1969)

The first true fusion record was recorded six months before the hugely successful Bitches Brew. It offers a softer-edged, abstract sound enhanced by extensive studio production.
Tribute To Jack Johnson (Columbia, 1970)

Jack Johnson takes fusion in more of a rock direction, digging deep into the groove with some real punch and more of a funky flavor. This disc offers the greatest clarity of any discs from Miles's fusion-era work.
Aura (Columbia, 1985)

Miles's last truly great record, Aura, is actually improvisation built around a composed framework by Palle Mikkelborg. This suite of pieces, named after different colors, covers a wide range of sounds and exploits the expert guitar playing of John McLaughlin.
Panthalassa: The Music of Miles Davis, 1969-74 (Columbia, 1997)

This posthumous tribute by producer Bill Laswell offers an interesting and authentic alternative to Teo Macero's influential production on Miles's fusion records.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Evan Parker Building a Jazz Library Evan Parker
by John Eyles
Published: September 11, 2017
Read Forget Old Europe: 15 European Jazz Musicians You Need To Know About Building a Jazz Library Forget Old Europe: 15 European Jazz Musicians You Need To...
by Enrico Bettinello
Published: August 16, 2017
Read 15 Italian Jazz Musicians You Need To Know About Building a Jazz Library 15 Italian Jazz Musicians You Need To Know About
by Enrico Bettinello
Published: June 23, 2017
Read Derek Bailey Building a Jazz Library Derek Bailey
by John Eyles
Published: June 16, 2017
Read Jazz From Around the World: Asia Building a Jazz Library Jazz From Around the World: Asia
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: October 4, 2016
Read Jazz From Around the World: Africa Building a Jazz Library Jazz From Around the World: Africa
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: July 21, 2016
Read "Evan Parker" Building a Jazz Library Evan Parker
by John Eyles
Published: September 11, 2017
Read "Forget Old Europe: 15 European Jazz Musicians You Need To Know About" Building a Jazz Library Forget Old Europe: 15 European Jazz Musicians You Need To...
by Enrico Bettinello
Published: August 16, 2017
Read "15 Italian Jazz Musicians You Need To Know About" Building a Jazz Library 15 Italian Jazz Musicians You Need To Know About
by Enrico Bettinello
Published: June 23, 2017
Read "Derek Bailey" Building a Jazz Library Derek Bailey
by John Eyles
Published: June 16, 2017
Read "Sardinia 2016: Ai Confini tra Sardegna e Jazz" In Pictures Sardinia 2016: Ai Confini tra Sardegna e Jazz
by Frank Rubolino
Published: July 8, 2017
Read "Bobby Hutcherson tribute at SFJAZZ Center" Live Reviews Bobby Hutcherson tribute at SFJAZZ Center
by David Becker
Published: January 24, 2017
Read "John Hart at The Turning Point Cafe" Live Reviews John Hart at The Turning Point Cafe
by David A. Orthmann
Published: May 2, 2017
Read "Pat Metheny: Driving Forces" Interview Pat Metheny: Driving Forces
by Ian Patterson
Published: November 10, 2017
Read "Bray Jazz Festival 2017" Live Reviews Bray Jazz Festival 2017
by Ian Patterson
Published: May 9, 2017