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9.10: Miles Davis

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    Trumpeter, bandleader, and composer, Miles Davis was one of the most important jazz musicians of the post – WW II period. With a restless spirit and hugely creative imagination, he participated in (and often led) some of the most important developments in jazz after the early bebop records of the mid-1940s. Davis began his career playing on some of the important early bebop sessions, accompanied by musicians such as Charlie Parker. In the late 1940s he began a long collaboration with arranger and composer Gil Evans, which resulted in two of the most important and popular jazz albums ever produced: The Birth of the Cool (1949) and Kind of Blue (1959). The latter remains possibly the best-selling jazz album of all time. In these sessions, and many others, Davis reinterpreted the legacy of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, softening the edges somewhat, and focusing on distinctive sonorities (Birth of the Cool featured a large ensemble that included a French horn). In the late 1950s, Davis explored “modal jazz”— that is, jazz improvisation that is built on a particular scale rather than a chord progression. In “Flamenco Sketches” from Kind of Blue, for example, the soloists are given five scales and allowed to improvise on each as long as they wish. Davis’s influential quintet of the 1960s, which featured saxophonist Wayne Shorter, drummer Tony Williams, bassist Ron Carter, and pianist Herbie Hancock, helped redefine the role of the rhythm section in jazz (making it an equal partner with the other soloists) and often featured loose improvisations on melodic motives and tonal centers, rather than chords. In the late 1960s, strongly influenced by rock and soul groups (especially Sly and the Family Stone), Davis made the controversial move to amplified instruments and rock-based rhythms, particularly in his album Bitches Brew (1970). He is considered at the forefront of the jazz-rock fusion movement, and many alumni from his group (including Shorter and Hancock) went on to play with highly successful fusion groups. In the 1980s, Davis continued to remain relevant by surrounding himself with younger musicians and recording current popular songs, such as “Human Nature,” featured on Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. In 2006, Davis was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

    This page titled 9.10: Miles Davis is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Douglas Cohen (Brooklyn College Library and Academic IT) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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