The man with the horn

14 04 2010

Miles Davis played a crucial and major role in the development of jazz music since the 40’s.  He was the most famous jazz musician of his era as well as an outspoken critic and moderator of style in not only music but also attitude and fashion.  Davis was raised in an upper-middle-class African American home in St. Louis, Missouri and at the young age of 15 began playing trumpet semi-professionally with jazz bands in the area.  His father was so impressed, that he later sent young Miles to New York’s Julliard School of Music.  Shortly after his arrival in New York, Davis sought out a prominent role in the bebop movement playing in a quintet on the Savoy Sessions.  He dropped out of Julliard and played with notable jazz musicians including Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus.

Though Davis was not a virtuoso, he made up for his technical limitations through his strengths in ensemble for sound, unique phrasing, and a haunting, distinctive tone.  In the next few years, he would move away from the bebop sound and become more introspective.  This becomes clear on his 1949 release “Birth of the Cool”  when he advances from Savoy to Capitol recording.  Not only was his music transforming, but also his lifestyle.  Davis, like many jazz musicians, was lured into heroin use during this period.  During the next 10 years, Davis would release a total of 29 popular records including  “Porgy and Bess” and one of his more favored albums  “Kind of Blue”.  Fans and critics consider “Kind of Blue” as a definitive recording for this period of Davis’ life due to it’s great simplicity with chords as the basis for improvisation if favor of modal scales and tone centers.

During the next decade, Davis would join forces with the likes of Herbie Hancock and Geroge Benson (among other great musicians).  Davis would prove to be as influential to the 60’s jazz movement as he was to the 50’s.  He would continue to battle heroin addiction throughout the decade, but unlike his famous jazz counterparts who lost the battle (such as Charlie Parker and Billie Holliday) Davis would not battle the inner demons that seemed to go hand in hand with the addiction.  To define his addiction as a battle is almost blasphemous compared to most, but in fact more of a pass time used for inspiration in the case of Miles Davis.  By definition, Davis was only truly an addict for about 4-5 years of his 50 year career.  In the 60’s, Davis would release 12 more recordings closing the decade with his most historical recording,  “Bitches Brew”(my personal favorite), a two-LP set that would sell over 400,000 copies.  “Bitches Brew” is a reflection of Davis changing, recovering from the heroin period that he and fellow musicians were a part of … returning from one mental journey and moving into the next.  It was a retrospective album offering what can only be described is the most unique jazz album in the history of jazz.  A superb album for any music collector, and a must have.

To me, “Bitches Brew” is a stand alone record.  It seems to almost generate anxiety in some of the tone, stirring ones emotions deeply.  Yet, as intense as it is, it is equally beautiful.  Recorded in the era of artists like Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone on the rise, Davis incorporates what became known as fusion into this record.  He set out to meld rock/funk with cutting-edge studio effects to create a music of hauntingly original vision.  The music has no boundaries and a flow that is entrancing to say the least.  It’s refreshing and a complete pleasure to listen to.  For me, it sets a tone that relaxes me yet uplifts me at the same time.  I wish there were words to better portray this to you, but I recommend you see for yourself!

Following the release of “Bitches Brew”, Miles Davis finally accomplished a rock star level status with a huge following packing concert halls worldwide.  Due to the celebrity of Davis and his touring band, jazz rock fusion became a dominant new music genre.

In 1972, Davis was in a car accident that resulted in both of his legs being broken and marked the beginning of his growing reclusiveness.  During the 70’s he would release only 7 recordings, after 2 decades of working non-stop to record year round and pumping out numerous releases.  The recordings following his accident would offer reflections of “Bitches Brew” yet nothing truly comparable.

In the 80’s Davis’ music took a more commercial turn where he would experiment with hip-hop and also record music written by popular 80’s pop acts such as Cyndi Lauper and Scritti Politti.  Critics and fans felt the new stylings of Miles Davis were lukewarm at best, but he continued to surround himself with the young and upcoming artists of that era.  After a 30 year tenure with Columbia, in 1986 Davis switched to Warner Brothers and released “Tutu” (his 5th album release in the 80’s), which harkened back to his experimental sounds of the late 60’s but was once again unaccepted among critics.  Following “Tutu”, Davis would release 8 more recordings (2 live) before his death in 1991.

In 2006, Miles Davis was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  Though, Davis was never considered a rock musician, his contribution to music history (which included heavy influence to rock & roll) earned him the induction.  An intricate piece to that honor was, of course, “Bitches Brew” which was highly acclaimed among the rock audience as well as jazz, funk and R&B.  However, that is but a small part of Davis’ legacy.

“The way you change and help music is by tryin’ to invent new ways to play.”
-Miles Davis



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10 responses

14 04 2010
Divinia!

Miles had a very expansive, and troubled history. He was, by far, one of the biggest innovators and influences of Jazz. He changed the way things were done.

It’s funny, and you may not believe this, but hubby and I were actually discussing Bitches Brew this weekend past. We read somewhere that he originally wanted to call it “witches Brew”. His wife at the time, Betty Davis was the one who convinced him to change the name to Bitches Brew. Just a bit of trivia.
I still have so much to learn about Miles, and to listen to. I love the last album he did with Easy Mo Be…DO BOP. He passed away before it was finished being made, and so a couple of the tracks were edited and produced post humosly.

There is also a movie he made right here in Australia, called “Dingo”. Have you seen it?. Worth seeking out.

Fantastic information Suz…you really know how to get me excited!!!lol

14 04 2010
suzrocks

Oooh… now I’m excited. “Dingo”. I’ve not seen it. I do believe I’ve heard of it, but had forgotten over time. Now I must check it out. I didn’t know that about the title either, so thanks for the interesting facts! I love listening to “Bitches Brew”. Sometimes when I bartended, I’d play the album to set a mood… usually on a slow afternoon and it was always magical… it seemed to draw in the right characters to fit the scene every time! The thing about Mile, at least for me, is you never stop learning. I mean, his library is so giant and diverse. I haven’t even listened to half of it really, despite the fact that I’m a fan. I love learning about him as well as listening! Thanks for visiting this blog, Divinia!

14 04 2010
Howie Janapol

Dear Suz, Miles is one of my favorites and I love Kinda Blue and Bitches Brew. He is only one of many Jazz greats that went to Julliard. One of my favorites is Wynton Marsallis. He has not only won Grammy’s for Jazz but Classical. So great blog and thank you for a review that is close to my heart. Peace, howie

14 04 2010
suzrocks

Kind of Blue is another one that I love. I recently got his entire collection as a gift. I haven’t even fumbled through the unfamiliar yet, but I’m verrrrrry excited about it. I love jazz. It really works wonders. Always a pleasure to see you, Howie!

15 04 2010
Alex

Long live Miles, prolific and talented

15 04 2010
suzrocks

Amen Alex. Thanks for stopping in 🙂

17 04 2010
Suzie

Great blog Suz!! Glad, I decided to come and check your site cuz, I wasn’t notified by email and I’m supposed to be 😦 I’ll sign up again…lol!!! Sorry, to be short but, a new puppy is keeping me TOTALLY occupied 😉 xoxo Suze

17 04 2010
suzrocks

Can’t wait to learn about your puppy! Yeah, I didn’t get much response to this one so maybe no one who’s subscribed got the notice???

9 12 2011
RCall

Always. Miles ahead. Whatever you do, do not insufflate a little good and listen to Bitches. Nothing will ever measure up. No thaneg…

9 12 2011
RCall

I told you not to…

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