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Celebrated Jazz Musician Miles David: a Study of His Life and Musical Accomplishments

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Words: 1781 |

Pages: 4|

9 min read

Published: Mar 14, 2019

Words: 1781|Pages: 4|9 min read

Published: Mar 14, 2019

Arguably the greatest jazz musician of all time, Miles Davis’s genius when it comes to the trumpet and jazz as a whole is never ending. Although often overlooked due to later success, his album, Milestones, perfectly exemplifies the talents Davis possesses. Joined by John Coltrane on the tenor saxophone, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley playing the alto saxophone, Red Garland on the piano, Paul Chambers strumming the double bass, and Philly Joe Jones hammering away on the drums, Miles Davis formed a sextet of musicians at the beginning of their prime and showcased their talents for the world to see. This album deserves its praise as it is an important aspect in the development of each musicians career as well as jazz as a whole.

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Born on May 26, 1926, Miles Dewey Davis III would grow to become one of the most influential and talented jazz musicians of all time. Birthed in Alton, Illinois, Davis was fortunate enough to be born into a relatively wealthy family. His father was a dentist with a steady income and in 1927 they moved to East St. Louis where they owned a large ranch. As a young child, Miles’s mother, who was a skilled blues pianist in her own right, wanted him to learn the violin; however, at the age of thirteen, his father gifted him a brand new trumpet and began arranging lessons for him with a local trumpeter named Elwood Buchanan. Unlike many musicians of the time, Buchanan insisted that Miles played without any vibrato, which ended up sticking with Miles his whole career as he continuously played with his signature clear tone. Interestingly enough, every time he played using heavy vibrato, Buchanan would slap him across the knuckles with a ruler. When he was sixteen years old, Miles was already a member of the musician’s union and was working professionally when not attending classes during high school.

He was persuaded to join bands, but remained in high school so he would finish out his education process at the request of his mother. In 1944, Miles was picked up as a third trumpet for a brief stint with the Billy Eckstine band, a band which featured Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, two titans of the industry; however, even with all this newfound success and notoriety, Miles’s parents were still keen on him finishing his academic studies. That same year, Davis moved to New York City, taking a scholarship at the Julliard School of Music. He immediately stopped his academic work and went on the search for Charlie Parker. With an already distinctive style, he became a member of Parker’s quintet in 1945. In 1948, Davis looked to escape the shadow and become a lead figure in jazz as his own recording career was beginning to flourish. As apart of a nonet, Davis signed with Capitol Records in 1949 and even participated in the Paris Jazz Festival that same year. Through the first half of the 1950s, Davis recorded with Prestige Records and Blue Note records with a number of smaller groups and a plethora of musicians. It was at this time that he developed a serious heroin addiction. After going “cold turkey” on the drug in 1954, Davis began incorporating the Harmon mute in his music in order to subdue and darken the sound of his trumpet. This sound would be associated with him for the entirety of his career. This all led to the beginning of Davis becoming a god, and brings us right to the late 1950s and his album Milestones.

Miles Davis recorded this album with the help of some very talented musicians who gained popularity and notoriety from performing alongside Miles. The biggest name besides Miles that was featured in the sextet was John Coltrane. Also known as “Trane” he specialized in bebop and hard bop early in his career and was a perfect fit alongside Miles on the album. Coltrane was a freelancer in Philadelphia at the time Miles called him to join him in the quintet. Similar to Miles, he too struggled mightily with heroin addiction. The recordings of the quintet throughout the mid 1950s truly showcased his growing ability. Trane left the group briefly before returning for Milestones. Joining Davis and Trane in the quintet was pianist Red Garland. Oddly enough, due to his fandom of boxing, Miles brought Garland in because he was impressed that he had boxed earlier in his life; however, Garland did not disappoint as he infused his own distinctive chords with the light and harmonic style of one of Davis’s influencers, Ahmad Jamal. Next in the quintet was Paul Chambers, a double bassist known for impeccable timing, intonation, and his incredible improvisations. He was also known for his solos throughout the course of his career.

Chambers work with the quintet had been regarded as some of the most rhythmically and harmonically supportive bass playing in jazz history. The final member of the quintet was Philly Joe Jones. Miles Davis has gone on the record saying that Jones was his favorite drummer and when he would look for other drummers, he would always listen for Jones in them. These five men made up the “great” Miles Davis Quintet and together they recorded and put out some of the best music of the mid 1950s; however, in 1958, when Milestones was recorded, another musician was added to the group. Julian “Cannonball” Adderley was a talented alto saxophonist who played with Ray Charles in the early 1940s before moving to New York City in 1955. He joined the group in 1957 a few months before Trane made his return to the group. Miles brought him into the group due to his blues style alto saxophone sound. In 1958, Milestones was released and each member of the group made their own personal decisions for their own betterment. Trane moved on and released his first album with Atlantic Records containing all his own compositions, capitalizing on the recognition and success he received from being showcased by Miles and would go on to become one of the most successful jazz musicians before he died in 1967.

Red Garland formed his own trio after the album’s production and became quite successful in his own right, leading dozens of recording sessions for multiple labels. Davis and Garland had a strained relationship by 1958, leading to Garland actually walking out on one of the sessions for Milestones and Davis firing him. Philly Joe Jones continued to work as a sideman for a plethora of other musicians for the remainder of his career. Bill Evans has openly stated that Jones was his all-time favorite drummer. Chambers remained with Miles for a few more years before moving on and working with the Wynton Kelly trio for a handful of years. Similar to Coltrane, Chambers died early in 1969 as he battled with alcohol and heroin addictions; however, he is still known as one of the most distinctive and influential bass players to this day. Adderley formed his own quintet after his work with Miles and enjoyed much more success than he did earlier in his career when he tried the same thing. The album Milestones showcased all these men and their supreme talent. Undeniably they were all much better off having worked with Miles as he allowed them to have time in the spotlight and show the world how talented they were. This group was one of the most talented in jazz history.

Having put together a quite formidable group, Davis proceeded to record Milestones in two different segments on February 4, 1958 and March 4, 1958 respectively. The album was released on September 2, 1958 after being recorded in Columbia 30th Street Studio in New York City. Having come out of detox, Coltrane was prepared to regain his jazz prowess. Miles knew he wouldn’t be able to keep the group together for long because each one of them was clearly becoming a jazz sensation in their own right. This was clearly evident when his pianist, Red Garland, got up and left in the middle of a recording session on “Sid’s Ahead”. With nowhere else to turn, Miles played piano himself on this song, an incredible feat of music; however, Garland didn’t leave without making his mark.

On the song “Billy Boy”, he demonstrates just how capable he is when playing incredibly with his well-developed bebop style. The album itself is the height of bebop, as Davis plays without his iconic Harmon mute and the tunes, featuring the fast tempo rapid chord changes that bebop embodies. The rapid chord changes by the two talented saxophonists as they trade improvisations on “Dr. Jackle” is bebop at its very finest, zipping around and keeping the listeners on their toes. The contrast of Adderley’s spirited alto and Coltrane’s heavy assault with his tenor play perfectly off each other and show the genius of Miles Davis to get this pairing together. This album embodied everything bebop was, but really what it is most known for is its prelude to Davis’s next album, Kind of Blue.

The unique aspect of this album was Miles Davis’s exploration of modals especially when looking at the featured track, “Milestones”. While many saw modals as limiting, Davis jumped at the idea of chord-based improvisation. Rather than switching from one mode to the other and playing all over the map, Miles wanted to test out what it would be like to improvise just by running through chords and scales. It was soon realized that modal jazz didn’t take away from the energy and pace when changing chords, which allowed for the same bebop type of feel. More and more musicians saw what Miles was doing and attempted to take their own crack at modal jazz especially following the release of Kind of Blue. Coltrane himself even took the modal style with him when he played in his own quartet in the 1960s. Bill Evans took his shot at the modal style in the early 1960s. Davis elaborated on modal form saying, “When you play in this way, you can go on forever. You don’t have to worry about changes…You can do more with the musical line” (Gioia, 264). He later went on to say that he could see a movement starting in jazz toward more of the modal style.

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This album is in the Grammy Hall of Fame and has sold well throughout the years and even still today. While this may have just been a warm up towards Kind of Blue, it is important to not underestimate the effect this album had on the jazz community and the musicians who were apart of this glorious sextet.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Celebrated Jazz Musician Miles David: A Study Of His Life And Musical Accomplishments. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 28, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/celebrated-jazz-musician-miles-david-a-study-of-his-life-and-musical-accomplishments/
“Celebrated Jazz Musician Miles David: A Study Of His Life And Musical Accomplishments.” GradesFixer, 12 Mar. 2019, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/celebrated-jazz-musician-miles-david-a-study-of-his-life-and-musical-accomplishments/
Celebrated Jazz Musician Miles David: A Study Of His Life And Musical Accomplishments. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/celebrated-jazz-musician-miles-david-a-study-of-his-life-and-musical-accomplishments/> [Accessed 28 Feb. 2024].
Celebrated Jazz Musician Miles David: A Study Of His Life And Musical Accomplishments [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Mar 12 [cited 2024 Feb 28]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/celebrated-jazz-musician-miles-david-a-study-of-his-life-and-musical-accomplishments/
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