Miles Dewey Davis III began a remarkable life on May 26th, 1926 in Alton, Illinois. Unlike other notorious jazz musicians, Miles grew up in wealth. His father was a superb dental surgeon in East St. Louis. He began playing the trumpet in his early teens and immediately excelled. Davis played in some local St. Louis groups and in his high school band. His high school music teacher advised him to play without vibrato. There are three types of vibrato for trumpet players: lip, diaphragm, and hand vibrato. To perform a lip vibrato a trumpeter must move his lips in a chewing motion while playing longer notes during a solo. Similarly, a diaphragm vibrato is executed by varying the air supply with the muscle below your lungs. Finally, the hand vibrato is carried out by moving the trumpet lightly in circles while holding long notes.
Due to his father's wealthy occupation, Davis was sent to New York City in 1944 to advance his music at the Julliard School. Originally known as the Institute of Musical Art, Julliard was founded in 1905 by Dr. Frank Damrosch. Damrosch was convinced that American students should not have to go to Europe to further their musical education. However, as prestigious as Julliard was it did not attract Miles Davis. He soon found himself skipping out on school and participating in jam sessions. These were not just any jam sessions though. He found himself playing with the likes of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Under these two, Davis learned as much as he needed to know. Parker and Davis recorded together fairly often from 1945-1948. Early on Davis' playing was very timid, but he had a very unique musical imagination and tone that carried him.
During the summer of 1948, Davis formed his first group which happened to be a nonet. Jazz greats, Lee Konitz and Gerry Mulligan, were members in the band. Gil Evans arranged most of the music and ended up helping out Miles Davis a lot in his career. The group was known as the Birth of Cool. They didn't stay together for very long but their music changed the sound of jazz. Miles Davis was the main contributor in the cool jazz movement.
Unfortunately in the early 1950's, Davis fell into the stereotype that crippled many jazz artists, drugs. He battled with a serious heroin addiction that put his up and coming career on a sort of standstill. Even though drugs brought him down during this period, Miles still was able to record some of his greatest albums. Soon after he kicked the drugs, Davis formed his first quintet. Along with Davis, musicians John Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones, Red Garland, and Paul Chambers were the other members of the quintet. This group recorded many very successful records. The four main albums were, Cookin', Steamin', Relaxin', and Workin'. To finish off the cool era, Davis recorded what is arguably the best jazz album ever created. The title of the infamous album is Kind of Blue. The album was created with an incredible sextet made up of jazz legends. John Coltrane, "Cannonball" Adderely, and Bill Evans were among the members of the sextet. To show how great the album was, it just recently went 4x Platinum.
After the success of Kind of Blue, Davis realized that times were changing and jazz music needed to change accordingly. He instituted free jazz and incorporated it into his new quintet. Once again, Davis' group was comprised of legends such as, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. The new quintet's sound was very light and moved from cool jazz to free jazz. This quintet also had some key recordings for the career of Mr. Davis. Live at the Plugged Nickel and Miles Smiles were a couple of their best recordings. Although Davis was enjoying success through his ever changing styles, many of his fans had dropped off after each innovative move. Critics, on the other hand, recognized the brilliance of his music and embraced it.
Once again, music had begun to change and jazz altered its ways to keep up. The rock-jazz fusion revolution was setting in and Miles Davis was standing in the front lines with his new band. This time Davis had artists such as John McLaughlin, Joe Zawinul, and Chick Corea. Davis implemented electric instruments such as electric keyboard, bass, and guitar into his bands. The album Bitches Brew is regarded by critics as Miles Davis' last true jazz album and they often dismiss his later works when talking about him. Towards the end of his career he began to play other instruments and often played with his back to the stage.
Sadly, on September 26th, 1991 Miles Davis died due to a stroke. As jazz went on throughout the decades so did artists and styles. I believe that Miles Davis stands alone as the most influential and overall best jazz performer of all time. He was the only one who fought through the different types of jazz and excelled throughout all of them. Although there might be a three way tie for second between Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong, Mr. Miles Dewey Davis III is the lone number one. He not only persevered throughout jazz changes and drug addiction but he also pioneered many of the changes and embraced reality like no other musician had done before.