Catching Up With The Cool – Miles Davis

Davis at Birdland How many musicians can you name whose career connected with Charlie ParkerJohn ColtraneSly StonePrinceHerbie HancockSteely DanFrank ZappaRadiohead, and Sting?  Whose work was in some way responsible for both cool jazz and Madonna’s first album?  Only one: Miles Dewey Davis.
In a field known for innovation and originality, Miles Davis was a true titan, towering over even the genre’s giants.
He was known for playing few notes where other musicians would play many.  In doing so, he created a style, very different from his contemporaries.  A trumpet prodigy in St. Louis, he went to Julliard to study music, but dropped out after 18 months.  He left to make his mark in the then-thriving 52nd Street jazz clubs as a sideman with Coleman HawkinsBenny CarterBilly Eckstine, and later Charlie Parker.
But where Davis truly made his name was as a bandleader.  In 1949, he organized several lush, low-key sessions with arranger Gil Evans; dubbed the Birth of the Cool, they revolutionized jazz by creating a supple new vocabulary with greater emphasis on texture and form.  By reigning in the rhythm, Davis and Evans crafted a more seamless fabric of written and improvised orchestral passages.
miles_kindablueThat would have been achievement enough for most jazzmen, but 10 years later, Davis cut Kind of Blue, regarded by many critics as the greatest jazz album of all time and Davis’ masterpiece.  The album’s influence on music would have enormous repercussions , providing sideman John Coltrane with a key tool for his own musical explorations.
Then, in the late Sixties, Davis introduced electric instrumentation with his 1968 album entitled Miles in the Sky. This album and the subsequent Files de Kilimanjaro, and In a Silent Way had a major influence on the development of jazz fusion, outraging the jazz world by adding rock and funk elements to his sound.
In 1970 Davis’ prominent jazz rock effort Bitches Brew further attempted to fuse the visceral power of rock with the musical complexity and improvisational fireworks of bebop.  The album caught the attention of fans who never paid attention to jazz and at the same time the music community also came to recognize Miles as an exceptional talent-spotter.  Much of the 1970s Fusion was performed by bands started by alumni from Davis’ ensembles, including The Tony Williams Lifetime, Weather ReportThe Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, and Herbie Hancock’s funk-infused Headhunters band.
Davis’ taste in guitarists was extraordinary, ranging from John McLaughlin to Blackbyrd Mcknight.  Perhaps his most exceptional electric outfit was the mid-Seventies group featuring guitarists Reggie Lucas (who would later produce Madonna’s debut) and the amazing Pete Cosey. During the latter part of Miles career the electric guitar (and electric birth-of-the-coolBass guitar) continued to be featured more and more prominently in the accomplished playing of John ScofieldRobben FordMike SternStanley JordanMarcus Miller, and Prince who each recorded and performed with Miles at various times throughout the Seventies and Eighties.
With a grandeur and coolness that led some people to see it as a “Birth Of The Cool” for the 1980s, Tutu had a powerful impact almost immediately after its release in September 1986.  It became one of the era-defining albums of the ’80s and won Miles a Grammy for “Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Soloist.”  Like his other watershed album, Bitches Brew released sixteen years earlier, it delivered Miles an entirely new and mostly young audience.220px-Miles_Davis_by_Palumbo

Aside from Picasso in painting, there is no popular 20th century artist who has been able to remain modern until his death, and to hit the target so often and in so many different styles.  As a musical pioneer of the first degree, Miles constantly moved forward while never losing touch with his musical roots.  He fully trusted his own musical judgements and never waited for others before making a move.  He died Sept. 28, 1991, after suffering pneumonia, respiratory failure and a stroke.  He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York.

Here is a simple little YOUTUBE video which allows the viewer to see the grave site of Miles Davis.

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