Cool, Copacetic, Truculent, Troubled, Surly, Sussed, Iconic, Innovative, Frustrating, Flinty. Miles Davis – who died today in 1991 – was all of those things….. and utterly unique.
Death of Jazz great Miles Davis, at the age of 65 from pneumonia, respiratory problems and a stroke at St.John’s Hospital, Santa Monica, California, USA. Where to start, when describing the life, work and legacy of this trumpet genius?
Brought up in East St.Louis, this son of a dentist began receiving trumpet instruction aged 12 and within four years was gigging regularly in the local area – once sitting in with Billy Eckstine’s band (which at the time included both Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker) when they passed through Missouri in 1944.
Relocating to New York to study at the Institute of Musical Art, Davis played in Charlie Parker’s band and also worked as a sideman for Eckstine, Benny Carter and Tad Dameron before recording for both Prestige and Columbia Records in the 1950s.
A 1949 recording session for Capitol was belatedly issued as “The Birth of the Cool” album in 1957, by which time Davis had established himself as the leader of an innovative quintet, going on to record classic albums including “Kind of Blue” and “Sketches of Spain.”
They echoed the crossover success of Louis Armstrong, but took uncompromising and innovative playing and arrangements firmly into the mainstream, with corresponding album sales – at the time, it seemed that every home had one (or both), while Cannonball Adderley’s 1958 Blue Note release, “Somethin’ Else” also contains some fabulous Davis playing.
Later expansions to include rock stylings and electronic instrumentation would keep Miles at the vanguard of hip culture, although not always endearing him to long-term fans, who had embraced be-bop and cool sounds, but didn’t all wear this “experimental” phase.
The final years of his life brought about a return to more traditonal themes, revisiting a set of 1950s arrangements written for him by Gil Evans for his set at the 1991 Montreux Jazz Festival. With much of his pioneering work established within the mainstream, Miles continued to genre hop and his final studio recordings would feature a rapper, while he painted extensively from 1980 until his passing.
Miles is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.
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And here’s some footage of Miles in action: