Miles Dewey Davis III (May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991) was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. He is among the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz and 20th century music. Davis adopted a variety of musical directions in his five-decade career which kept him at the forefront of a number of major stylistic developments in jazz.
Born and raised in Illinois, Davis left his studies at The Juilliard School in New York City and made his professional debut as a member of saxophonist Charlie Parker's bebop quintet from 1944 to 1948. Shortly after, he recorded the Birth of the Cool sessions for Capitol Records, which were instrumental to the development of cool jazz. In the early 1950s, Davis recorded some of the earliest hard bop music while on Prestige Records but did so haphazardly due to a heroin addiction. After a widely acclaimed comeback performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1955, he signed a long-term contract with Columbia Records and recorded the 1957 album 'Round About Midnight. It was his first work with saxophonist John Coltrane and bassist Paul Chambers, key members of the sextet he led into the early 1960s. During this period, he alternated between orchestral jazz collaborations with arranger Gil Evans, such as the Spanish-influenced Sketches of Spain (1960), and band recordings, such as Milestones (1958) and Kind of Blue(1959). The latter recording remains one of the most popular jazz albums of all time, having sold over four million copies in the U.S.
Davis made several line-up changes while recording Someday My Prince Will Come (1961), his 1961 Blackhawk concerts, and Seven Steps to Heaven (1963), another mainstream success that introduced bassist Ron Carter, pianist Herbie Hancock, and drummer Tony Williams. After adding saxophonist Wayne Shorter to his new quintet in 1964, Davis led them on a series of more abstract recordings often composed by the band members, helping pioneer the post-bop genre with albums such as E.S.P (1965) and Miles Smiles (1967), before transitioning into his electric period. During the 1970s, he experimented with rock, funk, African rhythms, emerging electronic music technology, and an ever-changing line-up of musicians, including keyboardist Joe Zawinul, drummer Al Foster, and guitarist John McLaughlin. This period, beginning with Davis' 1969 studio album In a Silent Way and concluding with the 1975 concert recording Agharta, was the most controversial in his career, alienating and challenging many in jazz. His million-selling 1970 record Bitches Brewhelped spark a resurgence in the genre's commercial popularity with jazz fusion as the decade progressed.
After a five-year retirement due to poor health, Davis resumed his career in the 1980s, employing younger musicians and pop sounds on albums such as The Man with the Horn (1981) and Tutu (1986). Critics were generally unreceptive but the decade garnered the trumpeter his highest level of commercial recognition. He performed sold-out concerts worldwide while branching out into visual arts, film, and television work, before his death in 1991 from the combined effects of a stroke, pneumonia and respiratory failure. 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". Rolling Stonedescribed him as "the most revered jazz trumpeter of all time, not to mention one of the most important musicians of the 20th century," while Gerald Early called him inarguably one of the most influential and innovative musicians of that period.
Miles Dewey Davis III was born on May 26, 1926, to an affluent African-American family in Alton, Illinois, fifteen miles north of St. Louis. He had an older sister, Dorothy Mae (born 1925), and a younger brother, Vernon (born 1929). His mother, Cleota Mae Henry of Arkansas, was a music teacher and violinist, and his father, Miles Dewey Davis Jr., also of Arkansas, was a dentist. They owned a 200-acre estate near Pine Bluff, Arkansas with a profitable pig farm. In Pine Bluff, he and his siblings fished, hunted, and rode horses. In 1927, the family moved to East St. Louis, Illinois. They lived on the second floor of a commercial building behind a dental office in a predominantly white neighborhood. From 1932 to 1934, Davis attended John Robinson Elementary School, an all-black school, then Crispus Attucks, where he performed well in mathematics, music, and sports. At an early age he liked music, especially blues, big bands, and gospel.
In 1935, Davis received his first trumpet as a gift from John Eubanks, a friend of his father. He took lessons from Elwood Buchanan, a teacher and musician who was a patient of his father. His mother wanted him to play violin instead. Against the fashion of the time, Buchanan stressed the importance of playing without vibrato and encouraged him to use a clear, mid-range tone. Davis said that whenever he started playing with heavy vibrato, Buchanan slapped his knuckles. In later years Davis said, "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." In 1939, the family moved to 1701 Kansas Avenue in East St. Louis. On his thirteenth birthday his father bought him a new trumpet, and Davis began to play in local bands. He took additional trumpet lessons from Joseph Gustat, principal trumpeter of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
In 1941, the 15-year-old attended East St. Louis Lincoln High School, where he joined the marching band directed by Buchanan and entered music competitions. Years later, Davis said that if he lost a contest, it was because of racism, but he added that these experiences made him a better musician. When a drummer asked him to play a certain passage of music, and he couldn't do it, he began to learn music theory. "I went and got everything, every book I could get to learn about theory". At Lincoln, Davis met his first girlfriend, Irene Birth (later Cawthon). He had a band that performed at the Elks Club. Part of his earnings payed for his sister's education at Fisk University. Davis befriended trumpeter Clark Terry, who suggested he play without vibrato, and performed with him for several years.
With encouragement from his teacher and girlfriend, Davis filled a vacant spot in the Rhumboogie Orchestra, also known as the Blue Devils, led by Eddie Randle. He became the band's musical director, which involved hiring musicians and scheduling rehearsal. Years later, Davis considered this job one of the most important of his career. Sonny Stitt tried to persuade him to join the Tiny Bradshaw band, which was passing through town, but his mother insisted he finish high school before going on tour. He said later, "I didn't talk to her for two weeks. And I didn't go with the band either." In January 1944, Davis finished high school and graduated in absentia in June. During the next month, his girlfriend gave birth to a daughter, Cheryl.
In July 1944, Billy Eckstine visited St. Louis with a band that included Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker. Trumpeter Buddy Anderson was too sick to perform, so Davis was invited to join. He played with the band for two weeks at Club Riviera. After playing with these musicians, he was certain he should move to New York City "where the action was". His mother wanted him to go to Fisk University, like his sister, and study piano or violin. Davis had other interests.
1944–1948: New York City and the bebop years
In September 1944, Davis accepted his father's idea of studying at the Institute of Musical Arts, later known as the Juilliard School, in New York City. After passing the audition, he attended classes in music theory, piano, and dictation.. But he spent much of his time in clubs looking for his idol, Charlie Parker, despite being advised against doing so by several people, including Coleman Hawkins. After finding Parker, he became one of a cadre of regulars at Minton's and Monroe's in Harlem who held jam sessions every night. The other regulars included J. J. Johnson, Kenny Clarke, Thelonious Monk, Fats Navarro, and Freddie Webster. Davis reunited with Cawthon and their daughter when they moved to New York City. Parker became a roommate.
In mid-1945, Davis failed to register for the year's autumn term at Juilliard and dropped out after three semesters because he wanted to perform full-time. Years later he criticized Juliard for concentrating too much on classical European and "white" repertoire, but he praised the school for teaching him music theory and improving his trumpet technique.
He began performing at clubs on 52 Street with Coleman Hawkins and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. He recorded for the first time on April 24, 1945 when he entered the studio as a sideman for Herbie Fields's band. During the next year, he recorded as a leader for the first time with the Miles Davis Sextet plus Earl Coleman and Ann Hathaway, one of the few times he accompanied a singer.
In 1945, he replaced Dizzy Gillespie in Charlie Parker's quintet. On November 26, Davis participated in several recording sessions as part of Parker's group Reboppers that also involved Gillespie and Max Roach, displaying hints of the style he would become known for. While Parker's song "Now's the Time", Davis played a solo which anticipated cool jazz. He then joined a big band led by Benny Carter, performing in St. Louis and remaining with the band in California. He again played with Parker and Gillespie. In Los Angeles, Parker had a nervous breakdown which left him in the hospital for several months. In March 1946, Davis played in studio sessions with Parker and began a collaboration with bassist Charles Mingus that summer. Cawthon gave birth to Davis's second child, Gregory, in East St. Louis before reuniting with Davis in New York City the following year. Davis noted that by this time, "I was still so much into the music that I was even ignoring Irene". He had also turned to alcohol and cocaine.
He was a member of Billy Eckstine's big band in 1946 and Gillespie's in 1947. He joined a quintet led by Parker that also included Max Roach. Together they performed live with Duke Jordan and Tommy Potter for much of the year, including several studio sessions. In one session that May, Davis wrote the tune "Cheryl", named after his daughter. Davis's first session as a leader followed in August 1947, playing as the Miles Davis All Stars that included Parker, pianist John Lewis, and bassist Nelson Boyd; they recorded "Milestones", "Half Nelson", and "Sippin' at Bells". After touring Chicago and Detroit with Parker's quintet, Davis returned to New York City in March 1948 and joined the Jazz at the Philharmonic tour which included a stop in St. Louis on April 30.
1948–1950: Miles Davis Nonet and birth of the cool
In August 1948, Davis declined an offer to join Duke Ellington's orchestra as he had entered rehearsals with a nine-piece band with pianist and arranger Gil Evans and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, taking an active role that soon became his own project. Evans' Manhattan apartment had become the meeting place for several young musicians and composers such as Davis, Roach, Lewis, and Mulligan who were unhappy with the increasingly virtuoso instrumental techniques that dominated bebop. These gatherings led to the formation of the Miles Davis Nonet which included the unusual additions of French horn and tuba. The intent was to imitate the human voice through carefully arranged compositions and a relaxed, melodic approach to improvisation. In September, the band completed their sole engagement as the opening band for Count Basie at the Royal Roost for two weeks. Davis had to persuade the venue's manager to write the sign "Miles Davis Nonet. Arrangements by Gil Evans, John Lewis and Gerry Mulligan". He prevailed only with the help of Monte Kay, the club's artistic director. Davis returned to Parker's quintet, but relationships within the quintet were growing tense mainly due to Parker's erratic behavior caused by his drug addiction. Early into his time with Parker, Davis abstained from drugs, ate a vegetarian diet, and spoke of the benefits of water and juice. Matters worsened when Davis and Roach objected to the addition of pianist Duke Jordan and preferred to hire Bud Powell. In December 1948 Davis quit, claiming he was not being paid.
His departure began a period when he worked mainly as a freelancer and sideman. His nonet remained active until the end of 1949. After signing a contract with Capitol Records, they recorded sessions in January and April 1949 which sold little but influenced the "cool" or "west coast" style of jazz. The line-up changed throughout the year and included the additions of tuba player Bill Barber, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, who had been preferred to Sonny Stitt as his style was considered too bop-oriented, pianist Al Haig, trombone players Mike Zwerin with Kai Winding, French horn players Junior Collins with Sandy Siegelstein and Gunther Schuller, and bassists Al McKibbon and Joe Shulman. One track featured singer Kenny Hagood. The presence of white musicians in the group angered some black players, many of whom were unemployed at the time, yet Davis rebuffed their criticisms. Recording sessions with the nonet for Capitol Records continued until April 1950; much of it remained unreleased until the issue of Birth of the Cool (1957), its name given to the cool jazz movement that had developed and the musical direction the group had taken.
In May 1949, Davis performed with the Tadd Dameron Quintet with Kenny Clarke and James Moody at the Paris International Jazz Festival. On his first trip abroad Davis took a strong liking for Paris and its cultural environment, where he felt black jazz musicians and people of color in general were better respected than in America. The trip, he said, "changed the way I looked at things forever". He began an affair with singer and actress Juliette Gréco which lasted for several years.
1949–1955: Hard bop and the "Blue Period"
After returning from Paris in mid-1949, he became depressed and found little work, which included a short engagement with Powell in October and guest spots in New York City, Chicago, and Detroit until January 1950. He was falling behind in hotel rent and attempts were made to repossess his car. His heroin use became an expensive addition, and Davis, yet to reach 24 years old, "lost my sense of discipline, lost my sense of control over my life, and started to drift". In August 1950, during a family trip to East St. Louis and Chicago in an attempt to improve their fortunes, Cawthon gave birth to Davis's second son, Miles IV. Davis befriended boxer Johnny Bratton and began his interest in the sport. Davis left Cawthon and his three children in New York City in the hands of a friend, jazz singer Betty Carter. He remained grateful to her for the rest of his life. He toured with Eckstine and Billie Holiday and was arrested for heroin possession in Los Angeles. The story was reported in DownBeat magazine, which caused a further reduction in work, though he was acquitted weeks later.
In January 1951, Davis's fortunes improved when he signed a one-year contract with Prestige Records after owner Bob Weinstock became a fan of the nonet. Davis chose Lewis, trombonist Bennie Green, bassist Percy Heath, saxophonist Sonny Rollins, and drummer Roy Haynes; they recorded what became part of Miles Davis and Horns (1956). Davis was hired for other studio dates in March, June, and September 1951 and started transcribing scores for record labels to fund his heroin addiction. During the next month, he recorded his second session for Prestige as band leader. The material was released on The New Sounds (1951), Dig (1956), and Conception(1956).
Davis supported his heroin habit by playing music and by living the life of a hustler, exploiting prostitutes, and receiving money from friends. By 1953, his addiction began to impair his playing. His drug habit became public in a Down Beat interview with Cab Calloway, whom he never forgave as it brought him "all pain and suffering". He returned to St. Louis and stayed with his father for several months. Although he continued to use heroin, he met Roach and Mingus in September 1953 on their way to Los Angeles and joined their band, but the trip caused problems. He returned to his father's home, "determined to kick my habit...that was the only thing on my mind". He locked himself inside the guest house "for about seven or eight days" until he had gone through withdrawal. After the ordeal, he "sat down and started thinking about how I was going to get my life back together".
Davis lived in Detroit for about six months, avoiding New York City where it was easy to get drugs. Although he used heroin, he was able to perform locally with Elvin Jones and Tommy Flanagan as part of Billy Mitchell's house band at the Blue Bird club. He was also "pimping a little". A widely related story, attributed to Richard "Prophet" Jennings, was that Davis stumbled into Baker's Keyboard Lounge out of the rain, carrying his trumpet in a paper bag under his coat. He walked to the bandstand, interrupted Roach and Clifford Brown in the middle of performing "Sweet Georgia Brown", and played "My Funny Valentine" before leaving. Davis was supposedly embarrassed into getting clean by this incident. He disputed this account, stating that Roach had invited him to play and that his decision to quit heroin was unrelated to the incident. He said was inspired to quit by his idol, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson.
In February 1954 Davis returned to New York City, feeling good "for the first time in a long time", mentally and physically stronger, and joined a gym. He informed Weinstock and management at Blue Note Records that he was ready to record with a quintet, which he was granted. He considered the resulting albums Miles Davis Quartet (1954) and Miles Davis Volume 2 (1956) "very important" because he felt his performances were particularly strong. He was paid roughly $750 (US$6,835 in 2017 dollars) for each album and refused to give away his publishing rights.
Davis abandoned the bebop style and turned to the music of pianist Ahmad Jamal, whose approach and use of space influenced him. When he returned to the studio in June 1955 to record Miles Davis Quartet, he wanted a pianist like Jamal and picked Red Garland. Blue Haze (1956), Bags' Groove (1957), Walkin' (1957), and Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants (1959) were recorded after his recovery from heroin addiction. They documented the evolution of his sound with the Harmon mute, also known as a wah-wah mute, placed close to the microphone, and the use of more spacious and relaxed phrasing. He assumed a central role in hard bop, which was slower than bebop, less radical in harmony and melody, and often used popular songs and American standards as starting points for improvisation. Hard bop distanced itself from cool jazz with a harder beat and music inspired by the blues. A few critics consider Walkin' (1957) the album that created the hard bop genre.
Davis gained a reputation for being cold, distant—and easily angered. He wrote that in 1954 Sugar Ray Robinson "was the most important thing in my life besides music" and adopted Robinson's "arrogant attitude". He showed contempt for critics and the press. There were well-publicized confrontations with the public and with other musicians. An argument with Thelonious Monk during the recording of Bags' Groove was reported. In mid-1954, Davis reunited with Gréco for the first time since 1949 after she arrived in New York City for film prospects; the two had been in occasional contact since he left Paris. Although he was too busy to move to Spain with her, they "remained lovers for many years".
Davis had an operation to remove polyps from his larynx in October 1955. Although he was instructed to remain silent after the operation, he got into an argument that permanently damaged his vocal cords and gave him a raspy voice for the rest of his life. He was called the "prince of darkness", adding a patina of mystery to his public persona.
1955–1959: First quintet
In July 1955, Davis's fortunes improved considerably when he was invited to the second annual Newport Jazz Festival on July 17, with a line-up of Monk, Heath, drummer Connie Kay, and horn players Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan. He convinced organizer George Wein that he should be on the bill, and Wein agreed. The performance was praised by critics and increased his popularity among affluence white audiences. He tied with Dizzy Gillespie for best trumpeter in the 1955 Down Beat magazine Readers' Poll.
George Avakian of Columbia Records saw Davis perform at Newport and wanted to sign him to the label. Davis had one year left on his contract with Prestige which required him to release four more albums. He signed a contract with Columbia that included a $4,000 advance (US$36,542 in 2017 dollars) and a condition that his recordings for Columbia would remain unreleased until his agreement with Prestige expired.
At the request of Avakian, he formed the Miles Davis Quintet for a performance at Café Bohemia. The quintet consisted of Davis on trumpet, Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on double bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. This group appeared on his final albums for Prestige: Cookin' with the Miles Davis Quintet (1957), Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet(1958), Workin' with the Miles Davis Quintet (1959), and Steamin' with the Miles Davis Quintet (1961). Each album helped establish Davis's quintet as one of the best. Sonny Rollins was replaced by John Coltrane, completing the membership of the first quintet.
The style of the group was an extension of their experience playing with Davis. He played long, legato, melodic lines, while Coltrane contrasted with energetic solos. Their live repertoire was a mix of bebop, standards from the Great American Songbook and pre-bop eras, and traditional tunes. They appeared on 'Round About Midnight, Davis's first album for Columbia.
In 1956, he left his quintet temporarily to tour Europe as part of the Birdland All-Stars, which included the Modern Jazz Quartet and French and German musicians. In Paris he reunited with Greco for the first time since 1949. He then returned home, reunited his quartet, and toured the US for two months. Conflict arose on tour as he grew impatient with the drug habits of Jones and Coltrane. Davis was trying to live a healthier life by exercising and reducing his alcohol. But he continued to use cocaine. At the end of the tour, he fired Jones and Coltrane and replaced them with Sonny Rollins and Art Taylor.
In November 1957, Davis went to Paris and recorded the soundtrack to Ascenseur pour l'échafaud directed by Louis Malle (1958). Consisting of French session musicians Barney Wilen, Pierre Michelot, and René Urtreger, and American drummer Kenny Clarke, the group avoided a written score and instead improvised while they watched the film in a recording studio.
After returning to New York City, Davis revived his quintet with Adderly and Coltrane, who was clean from his drug habit. Now a sextet, the group recorded material in early 1958 that was released on Milestones (1958), an album that demonstrated Davis's interest in modal jazz. A performance by Les Ballets Africains drew him to slower, deliberate music that allowed the creation of solos from harmony rather than chords. In this form of ballet music, the kalimba was played for a long periods on a single chord, weaving in and out of consonance and dissonance.
By May 1958, he had replaced Jones with drummer Jimmy Cobb, and Red Garland left the group, leaving Davis to play piano on "Sid's Ahead" for the album Milestones. He wanted someone who could play modal jazz, so he hired Bill Evans, a young, white pianist with a background in classical music. Evans had an impressionistic approach to piano. His ideas greatly influenced Davis. But after eight months of touring, a tired Evans left. Wynton Kelly, his replacement, brought to the group a swinging style that contrasted with Evans's delicacy. The sextet made their recording debut on Jazz Track (1958).
1957–1963: Collaborations with Gil Evans and Kind of Blue
By early 1957, Davis was exhausted from recording and touring with his quintet and wished to pursue new projects. During a two-week residency in Chicago in March, the 30-year-old Davis told journalists of his intention to retire at its conclusion and revealed offers he had received to become a teacher at Harvard University and a musical director at a record label. Avakian agreed that it was time for Davis to explore something different, but Davis rejected his suggestion of returning to his nonet as he considered that a step backward. Avakian then suggested that he work with a bigger ensemble, similar to Music for Brass (1957), an album of orchestral and brass-arranged music led by Gunther Schuller featuring Davis as a guest soloist.
Davis accepted and worked with Gil Evans in what became a five-album collaboration from 1957 to 1962. Miles Ahead (1957) showcased Davis playing a flugelhorn and a rendition "The Maids of Cadiz" by Léo Delibes, the first piece of classical music that Davis recorded. Evans devised orchestral passages as transitions, thus turning the album into one long piece of music. Porgy and Bess (1959) includes arrangements of pieces from George Gershwin's opera. Sketches of Spain (1960) contained music by composers Joaquín Rodrigo and Manuel de Falla and originals by Evans. The classical musicians had trouble improvising, while the jazz musicians couldn't handle the difficult arrangements, but the album was a critical success which sold over 120,000 copies in the US. Davis performed with an orchestra conducted by Evans at Carnegie Hall in May 1961 to raise money for charity. The pair's final album was Quiet Nights(1962), a collection of bossa nova songs released against their wishes. Evans stated it was only half an album and blamed the record company; Davis blamed producer Teo Macero and refused to speak to him for more than two years. Davis noted later that "my best friend is Gil Evans"; their work was included in the boxed set Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings (1996) which won a Grammy Award for Best Historical Album and Best Album Notes in 1997.
In March and April 1959, Davis recorded what many critics consider his greatest album, Kind of Blue (1959). He named the album for its mood. He called back Bill Evans, as the music had been planned around Evans's piano style. Both Davis and Evans were familiar with George Russell's ideas about modal jazz. But Davis neglected to tell pianist Wynton Kelly that Evans was returning, so Kelly appeared on only one song, "Freddie Freeloader". The sextet had played "So What" and "All Blues" at performances, but the remaining three compositions they saw the for the first time in the studio.
Released in August 1959, Kind of Blue was an instant success, with widespread radio airplay and rave reviews from critics. It remains the best selling jazz album of all time. In October 2008, the album reached 4× platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America for selling over four million copies in the US alone. In 2009, the US House of Representatives voted 409–0 to pass a resolution that honored it as a national treasure.
During the success of Kind of Blue, Davis found himself involved with the law. On August 25, 1959, during a recording session at the Birdland nightclub in New York City for the US armed services, he took a break outside the club. As he was escorting a blonde-haired woman to a taxi, he was told by policeman Gerald Kilduff to "move on". Davis said that he was working at the club, and he refused to move. Kilduff arrested him and grabbed him as he tried to protect himself. Witnesses said the policeman punched Davis in the stomach with a nightstick without provocation. Two detectives held the crowd back, while a third approached Davis from behind and beat him in the head. Davis was taken to jail, charged for assaulting an officer, then taken to the hospital where he received five stitches. He was released on a $525 bail (US$4,407 in 2017 dollars). By January 1960, he was acquitted of disorderly conduct and third-degree assault. He later stated 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 and his sextet toured to support Kind of Blue. He persuaded Coltrane to play with the group on one final European tour in the spring of 1960. Coltrane then departed to form his quartet, although he returned for some of the tracks on Davis's album Someday My Prince Will Come (1961). Its front cover shows a photograph of his wife, Frances Taylor, after Davis demanded that Columbia depict black women on his album covers. In early 1958, Davis began a relationship with Frances Taylor, a dancer he had met five years ago in Los Angeles. They married on December 21, 1960. The relationship involved numerous incidents of Davis' domestic violence towards Taylor. He later wrote, "Every time I hit her, I felt bad because a lot of it really wasn't her fault but had to do with me being temperamental and jealous". One reason for his behavior was that in 1963 he had increased his use of alcohol and cocaine to reduce joint pain caused by sickle cell anemia. He hallucinated, "looking for this imaginary person" in his house while wielding a kitchen knife. About a week after the photograph for the album E.S.P. (1965) was taken, Taylor left him for the last time. They remained separated until their divorce in February 1968.
1963–1968: Second quintet
In December 1962, Davis, Kelly, Chambers, Cobb, and Rollins played together for the last time as the first three wanted to leave and play as a trio. Rollins left to join them soon after, leaving Davis to pay over $25,000 (US$202,255 in 2017 dollars) to cancel upcoming gigs and quickly assemble a new group. Following auditions, he found his new band in tenor saxophonist George Coleman, bassist Ron Carter, pianist Victor Feldman, and drummer Frank Butler. By May 1963, Feldman and Butler were replaced by pianist Herbie Hancock and 17-year-old drummer Tony Williams who made Davis "excited all over again". With this group, Davis completed the rest of what became Seven Steps to Heaven (1963) and recorded the live albums Miles Davis in Europe (1964), My Funny Valentine (1965), and Four & More(1966). The quintet played essentially the same bebop tunes and standards that Davis's previous bands had played, but they approached them with structural and rhythmic freedom and occasionally breakneck speed.
In 1964, Coleman was replaced by saxophonist Sam Rivers until Davis persuaded Wayne Shorter to leave Art Blakey. This quintet lasted through 1968. Shorter became the group's principal composer, and the album E.S.P. (1965) was named after his composition. While touring Europe, the group made its first album, Miles in Berlin (1965).
Davis needed medical attention for hip pain, which had worsened since his Japanese tour during the previous year. He underwent hip replacement surgery in April 1965, with bone taken from his shin, but it failed. After his third month in the hospital, he discharged himself due to boredom and went home. He returned to the hospital in August after a fall required the insertion of a plastic hip joint. In November 1965, he had recovered enough to return to performing with his quintet, which included gigs at the Plugged Nickel in Chicago. Teo Macero returned as his engineer and record producer after their rift over Quiet Nights had healed.
In January 1966, Davis spent three months in the hospital due to a liver infection. When he resumed touring, he performed more at colleges because he had grown tired of the typical jazz venues. Columbia president Clive Davis noted that in 1966 his sales had declined to around 40,000–50,000 per album, compared to as many as 100,000 per release a few years before. Matters were not helped by the press reporting his apparent financial troubles and imminent demise. After his appearance at the 1966 Newport Jazz Festival, he returned to the studio with his quintet for a series of productive sessions. He started a relationship with actress Cicely Tyson, who helped him reduce his alcohol consumption.
Material from the 1966–1968 sessions was released on Miles Smiles (1966), Sorcerer (1967), Nefertiti (1967), Miles in the Sky (1968), and Filles de Kilimanjaro (1968). The quintet's approach to the new music became known as "time no changes", which referred to Davis's decision to depart from chordal sequences and adopt a more open approach, with the rhythm section responding to the soloists' melodies. 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 concerts in continuous sets, each tune flowing into the next, with only the melody indicating any sort of change. His bands performed this way until his hiatus 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 fusion phase of Davis's career. He 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. Davis soon took over the compositional duties of his sidemen.
1968–1975: The electric period
In September 1968, Davis married 23-year-old model and songwriter Betty Mabry. The marriage ended in divorce the following year, but Mabry, a familiar face in the New York City counterculture, helped introduce Davis to popular rock, soul, and funk musicians. Jazz critic Leonard Feather visited Davis's apartment and was shocked to find him listening to albums by The Byrds, Aretha Franklin, and Dionne Warwick. He also liked James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly and the Family Stone.
In a Silent Way (1969) was recorded in a single studio session on February 18, 1969, with Shorter, Hancock, Holland, and Williams alongside keyboardists Chick Corea and Josef Zawinul and guitarist John McLaughlin. The album contains two side-long tracks that Macero pieced together from different takes recorded at the session resembling elements of a classical sonata form. When the album was released in July 1969, some critics accused him of "selling out" to the rock and roll audience. Nevertheless, it reached number 134 on the US Billboard Top LPs chart, his first album since My Funny Valentine to reach the chart. In a Silent Way was his entry into jazz fusion. The touring band of 1969–1970 which consisted of Shorter, Corea, Holland, and DeJohnette never completed a studio recording together and became known as the "lost quintet". In October 1969, Davis was shot at five times while in his car with one of his two lovers, Marguerite Eskridge. The incident left him with a graze and Eskridge unharmed.
For the double album Bitches Brew (1970), he hired Jack DeJohnette, Airto Moreira, and Bennie Maupin. The album contained long compositions, some over twenty minutes, that were never played in the studio but were constructed from several takes by Macero and Davis. Other studio techniques included splicing, multitrack recording, and tape loops. Bitches Brew peaked at No. 35 on the BillboardAlbum chart. In 1976 it was certified gold for selling over 500,000 records. By 2003, it had sold one million copies.
In March 1970, Davis began to perform as the opening act for various rock acts, allowing Columbia to market Bitches Brew to a larger audience. Although he was so offended by Clive Davis's suggestion to perform at the Fillmore East that he threatened to switch record labels, he reconsidered and shared a bill with the Steve Miller Band and Neil Young with Crazy Horse on March 6 and 7. Biographer Paul Tingen wrote, "Miles's newcomer status in this environment" led to "mixed audience reactions, often having to play for dramatically reduced fees, and enduring the 'sell-out' accusations from the jazz world", as well as being "attacked by sections of the black press for supposedly genuflecting to white culture". The 1970 tours included the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival on August 29 when he performed to an estimated 600,000 people, the largest of his career. Plans to record with Hendrix ended after the guitarist's death; his funeral was the last that Davis attended. Several live albums with a transitional sextet/septet including Corea, DeJohnette, Holland, Moreira, saxophonist Steve Grossman, and keyboardist Keith Jarrett were recorded during this period, including Miles Davis at Fillmore (1970) and Black Beauty: Miles Davis at Fillmore West (1973).
By 1971, Davis had signed a contract with Columbia that paid him $100,000 a year (US$604,273 in 2017 dollars) for three years in addition to royalties. He recorded the soundtrack for the 1970 documentary film about heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson, containing two long pieces of 25 and 26 minutes in length with Hancock, McLaughlin, Sonny Sharrock, and Billy Cobham. He was committed to making music for African-Americans who liked more commercial, pop, groove-oriented music. By November 1971, DeJohnette and Moreira had been replaced in the touring ensemble by drummer Leon "Ndugu" Chancler and percussionists James Mtume and Don Alias. Live-Evil(1971) was released in the same month. Showcasing former Stevie Wonder touring bassist Michael Henderson, who replaced Holland in the autumn of 1970, the album demonstrated that Davis's ensemble had transformed into a funk-oriented group while retaining the exploratory imperative of Bitches Brew.
In 1972, composer-arranger Paul Buckmaster introduced Davis to the music of German avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, leading to a period of creative exploration. Biographer J. K. Chambers wrote, "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, Feather, and Buckmaster, who described it as "a lot of mood changes—heavy, dark, intense—definitely space music". The studio album On the Corner (1972) blended the influence of Stockhausen and Buckmaster with funk elements. Davis invited Buckmaster to New York City to oversee the writing and recording of the album with Macero. The album reached No. 1 on the Billboard jazz chart but peaked at No. 156 on the more heterogeneous Top 200 Albums chart. Although On the Corner elicited favorable reviews from Ralph J. Gleason of Rolling Stone and Robert Christgau of The Village Voice, Davis felt that Columbia marketed it to the wrong audience. "The music was meant to be heard by young black people, but they just treated it like any other jazz album and advertised it that way, pushed it on the jazz radio stations. Young black kids don't listen to those stations; they listen to R&B stations and some rock stations." In October 1972, he broke his ankles in a car crash. He took painkillers and cocaine to cope with the pain. Looking back at his career after the incident, he wrote, "everything started to blur".
After recording On the Corner, he assembled a group with Henderson, Mtume, Carlos Garnett, guitarist Reggie Lucas, organist Lonnie Liston Smith, tabla player Badal Roy, sitarist Khalil Balakrishna, and drummer Al Foster. Only Smith was a jazz instrumentalist; consequently, the music emphasized rhythmic density and shifting textures instead of solos. This group was recorded live for In Concert(1973), but Davis found it unsatisfactory, leading him to drop the tabla and sitar and play keyboards. He also added guitarist Pete Cosey. The compilation studio album Big Fun (1974) contains four long improvisations recorded between 1969 and 1972.
Studio activity in the 1970s culminated in sessions throughout 1973 and 1974 for Get Up with It (1974), a compilation that included four long pieces (comprising over ninety minutes of new music) alongside four shorter recordings from 1970 and 1972. The album contained "He Loved Him Madly", a thirty-minute tribute to the recently deceased Duke Ellington that presaged later developments in ambient music. In the United States, it performed comparably to On the Corner, reaching number 8 on the jazz chart and number 141 on the pop chart. He then concentrated on live performance with a series of concerts that Columbia released on the double live albums Agharta(1975), Pangaea (1976), and Dark Magus (1977). The first two are recordings of two sets from February 1, 1975 in Osaka, by which time Davis was troubled by pneumonia, osteoarthritis, sickle-cell anemia, depression, bursitis, and stomach ulcers; he relied on alcohol, codeine, and morphine to get through the engagements. His shows were routinely panned by critics who mentioned his habit of performing with his back to the audience. Although Cosey later asserted that "the band really advanced after the Japanese tour", Davis was again hospitalized for his ulcers and a hernia during a tour of the US while opening for Herbie Hancock. Hancock had eclipsed his former employer from a commercial standpoint with Head Hunters (1973) and Thrust (1974), two albums that were marketed to pop audiences in the aftermath of the On the Corner farrago and peaked at number 13 on the Billboard pop chart.
After appearances at the 1975 Newport Jazz Festival in July and the Schaefer Music Festival in New York City on September 5, Davis dropped out of music.
In his autobiography, Davis wrote frankly about his life during his hiatus from music. He called his Upper West Side brownstone a wreck and chronicled his heavy use of alcohol and cocaine, in addition to his sexual encounters with many women. In December 1975, he had regained enough strength to undergo a much needed hip replacement operation. In March 1976, Rolling Stone reported rumors of his imminent demise, citing his health problems during the previous tour. In December 1976, Columbia was reluctant to renew his contract and pay his usual large advances. But after his lawyer started negotiating with United Artists, Columbia matched their offer, establishing the Miles Davis Fund to pay him regularly. Pianist Vladimir Horowitz was the only other musician with Columbia that had a similar status.
In 1978, Julie Coryell interviewed Davis. Concerned about his health, she had him stay with a friend in Norwalk, Connecticut. Davis asked Coryell's husband, fusion guitarist Larry Coryell, to participate in sessions with keyboardists Masabumi Kikuchi and George Pavlis, bassist T. M. Stevens, and drummer Al Foster. Davis played the arranged piece uptempo, abandoned his trumpet for the organ, and had Macero record the session without the band's knowledge. After Coryell declined a spot in a band that Davis was beginning to put together, Davis returned to his reclusive lifestyle in New York City. Soon after, Eskridge had Davis jailed for failing to pay child support to their son, which cost him $10,000 (US$37,520 in 2017 dollars) for release on bail. A recording session that involved Buckmaster and Gil Evans was halted, with Evans leaving after failing to receive the payment he was promised. In August 1978, Davis hired a new manager, Mark Rothbaum, who had worked with him since 1972. Despite the dearth of new material, Davis placed in the Top 10 trumpeter poll of Down Beat magazine in 1979.
By 1979, Davis had rekindled his relationship with actress Cicely Tyson, with whom he overcame his cocaine addiction and regained his enthusiasm for music. The two married on November 26, 1981, in a ceremony at Bill Cosby's home in Massachusetts that was officiated by politician and civil rights activist Andrew Young. The marriage ended in a divorce that was finalized in 1989.
In October 1979, his contract with Columbia was up for negotiation. Label president Clive Davis was replaced by George Butler, who had visited Davis several times during the previous two years to encourage him to return to the studio. To help his situation, Davis had Buckmaster come over to collaborate on new music. After arriving, Buckmaster organized an intervention for Davis, who was living in squalor among cockroach infestations, in the dark with his curtains always closed. His sister Dorothy cleaned his house with help from Buckmaster, Tyson, and neighbor Chaka Khan. Davis later thanked Buckmaster for helping him.
Davis hadn't played the trumpet much for three years and found it difficult to reclaim his embouchure. His first studio appearance since his hiatus took place on May 1, 1980. A day later, Davis was hospitalized due to a leg infection. He recorded The Man with the Horn(1981) from June 1980 to May 1981 with Maceroro producing. A large band was abandoned in favor of a combo with saxophonist Bill Evans (not to be confused with pianist Bill Evans) and bassist Marcus Miller. Both would collaborate with him during the next decade.
The Man with the Horn received a poor critical reception despite selling well. In June 1981, Davis returned to the stage for the first time since 1975 in a ten-minute guest solo as part of Mel Lewis's band at the Village Vanguard. This was followed by appearances with a new band, a four-night run at Kix in Boston, and two shows at Avery Fisher Hall on July 5 as part of the Kool Jazz Festival. Recordings from a mixture of dates from 1981, including the Kix and Avery Fisher Hall gigs, were released on We Want Miles (1982), which earned him a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance by a Soloist.
In January 1982, while Tyson was working in Africa, Davis "went a little wild" with alcohol and had a stroke which temporarily paralyzed his right hand. Tyson returned home and cared for him. After three months of treatment with a Chinese acupuncturist, he was able to play the trumpet. He listened to his doctor's warnings and began a life without alcohol and drugs. He credited Tyson with helping his recovery, which involved exercise, piano playing, and visits to spas. She encouraged him to draw, which he pursued for the rest of his life.
Davis resumed touring in May 1982 with a line-up that included French percussionist Mino Cinelu and guitarist John Scofield, with whom he worked closely on the album Star People (1983). In mid-1983, he worked on the tracks for Decoy, an album mixing soul music and electronica that was released in 1984. He brought in producer, composer, and keyboardist Robert Irving III, who had collaborated with him on The Man with the Horn. With a seven-piece band that included Scofield, Evans, Irving, Foster, and Darryl Jones, he played a series of European performances that were positively received. In December 1984, while in Denmark, he was awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Prize. Trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg had written a contemporary classical piece titled "Aura" for the event which impressed Davis to the point of returning to Denmark in early 1985 to record his next studio album, Aura (1989). Columbia was dissatisfied with the recording and delayed its release.
In May 1985, one month into a tour, Davis signed a contract with Warner Bros. Records which required him to give up his publishing rights. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis publicly dismissed his more recent fusion recordings as not being "'true' jazz". Davis shrugged off the comment, calling Marsalis "a nice young man, only confused". Marsalis appeared unannounced onstage during Davis's 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 had become increasingly irritated at Columbia's delay in releasing Aura. The breaking point appears to have come when a producer at Columbia asked him to call Marsalis and wish him a happy birthday. The tour in 1985 included a performance in London in July in which Davis performed on stage for five hours. Jazz critic John Fordham concluded, "The leader is clearly enjoying himself." By 1985, Davis was diabetic and required daily injections of insulin.
He released You're Under Arrest, his final album for Columbia, in September 1985. It included cover versions of two pop songs: "Time After Time" by Cyndi Lauper and "Human Nature" sung by Michael Jackson. He considered releasing an album of pop songs, and he recorded dozens of them, but the idea was rejected. He said that many of today's jazz standards had been pop songs in Broadway theater and that he was simply updating the standards repertoire.
Davis collaborated with a number of figures from the British post-punk and new wave movements during this period, including Scritti Politti. At the invitation of producer Bill Laswell, he recorded some trumpet parts during sessions for Public Image Ltd.'s Album, according to 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]". According to Lydon in the Plastic Box notes, Davis favorably compared Lydon's singing voice to his trumpet sound during these sessions.
1986–1991: Final years
After taking part in the recording of the 1985 protest song "Sun City" as a member of Artists United Against Apartheid, Davis appeared on the instrumental "Don't Stop Me Now" by Toto for their album Fahrenheit (1986). For his next studio album, he intended to collaborate with Prince, but the project was dropped. Instead, he worked with Marcus Miller. The result, Tutu (1986), was the first time he used modern studio tools such as programmed synthesizers, sampling, and drum loops. Released in September 1986, its front cover is a portrait of Davis by Irving Penn. The album was called the modern counterpart of Sketches of Spain. In 1987, he won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Soloist.
In 1988, Davis had a small part as a street musician in the Christmas comedy film Scrooged starring Bill Murray. He also collaborated with Zucchero Fornaciari in a version of Dune Mosse (Blue's), published in 2004 in Zu & Co. of the Italian bluesman. In November 1988, he was inducted into the Knights of Malta at a ceremony at the Alhambra Palace in Spain. Later that month, Davis cut his European tour short after he collapsed and fainted after a two-hour show in Madrid and flew home. Rumors of his health were made public after the American magazine Star, in its February 21, 1989 edition, published that Davis had contracted AIDS, prompting his manager Peter Shukat to issue a statement the following day to deny the claim. Shukat revealed Davis had been in the hospital for a mild case of pneumonia and the removal of a benign polyp on his vocal cords and was resting comfortably in preparation for his 1989 tours. Davis later blamed one of his former wives or girlfriends for starting the rumor and decided against taking legal action. He was interviewed on 60 Minutes by Harry Reasoner. In October 1989, he received a Grande Medaille de Vermeil from Paris mayor Jacques Chirac. In 1990, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In early 1991, he appeared in the Rolf de Heer film Dingo as a jazz musician.
Davis followed Tutu with Amandla (1989) and soundtracks to four films: Street Smart, Siesta, The Hot Spot, and Dingo. His last albums were released posthumously: the hip hop-influenced Doo-Bop (1992) and Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux (1993), a collaboration with Quincy Jones from the 1991 Montreux Jazz Festival where, for the first time in three decades, he performed songs from Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain.
On July 8, 1991, Davis returned to performing material from his past at the 1991 Montreux Jazz Festival with a band and orchestra conducted by Quincy Jones. The set consisted of arrangements from his albums recorded with Gil Evans. The show was followed by a concert billed as "Miles and Friends" at the Grande halle de la Villette in Paris two days later, with guest performances by musicians from throughout his career, including John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, and Joe Zawinul. In Paris, he was awarded the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. After returning to America, he stopped in New York City to record material for Doo-Bop, then returned to California to play at the Hollywood Bowl on August 25, his final live performance.
In early September 1991, Davis checked into St. John's Hospital near his home in Santa Monica, California, for routine tests. Doctors suggested he have a tracheal tube implanted to relieve his breathing after repeated bouts of bronchial pneumonia. Their suggestion provoked an outburst from Davis that led to an intracerebral hemorrhage followed by a coma. After several days on life support, his machine was turned off and he died on September 28, 1991. He was 65 years old. His death was attributed to the combined effects of a stroke, pneumonia, and respiratory failure. According to Troupe, Davis was taking azidothymidine (AZT), a type of antiretroviral drug used for the treatment of HIV and AIDS, during his treatments in hospital. A funeral service was held on October 5, 1991, at St. Peter's Church in New York City that was attended by around 500 friends, family members, and musical acquaintances, with many fans standing in the rain. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City, with one of his trumpets, near the site of his idol, Duke Ellington.
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 his 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 Blueperiod, he demurred. "Nah, it hurts my lip", was the reason he gave.
Other musicians regretted Davis' change of style. Bill Evans, who played piano on\ 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."
Legacy and influence
Miles Davis is considered one of the most innovative, influential, and respected figures in the history of music. The Guardian described him as "a pioneer of 20th-century music, leading many of the key developments in the world of jazz". He has been called "one of the great innovators in jazz", and had the titles the Prince of Darkness and the Picasso of Jazz bestowed upon him. The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll said, "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".
William Ruhlmann of AllMusic wrote, "To examine his career is to examine the history of jazz from the mid-1940s to the early 1990s, since he was in the thick of almost every important innovation and stylistic development in the music during that period ... It can even be argued that jazz stopped evolving when Davis wasn't there to push it forward." Music writer Christopher Smith wrote,
Miles Davis's 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.
Kind of Blue remains the best-selling jazz album of all time. On November 5, 2009, U.S. Representative John Conyers of Michigan sponsored a measure in the United States House of Representatives to 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 with a vote of 409–0 on December 15, 2009. The trumpet Davis used on the recording is displayed 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 1986, the New England Conservatory awarded Davis an Honorary Doctorate for his contributions to music. Since 1960 the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) honored him with eight Grammy Awards, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and three Grammy Hall of Fame Awards.
In 2001 a two-hour documentary film by Mike Dibb entitled The Miles Davis Story won an International Emmy Award for arts documentary of the year.
Miles Ahead was a 2015 American music film directed by Don Cheadle, co-written by Cheadle with Steven Baigelman, Stephen J. Rivele, and Christopher Wilkinson, which interprets the life and compositions of Davis. It premiered at the New York Film Festival in October 2015. The stars Cheadle, Emayatzy Corinealdi as Frances Taylor, Ewan McGregor, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Lakeith Stanfield.
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