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Miles Davis and His Contribution to Jazz

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Before we start talking about jazz and Miles Davis, it’s important to know about the arrival of jazz music. Jazz music isn’t just an influence of African American roots or European roots. In fact, “both blues and jazz have been intertwined since before either style had a name.” (Wald, 2010, p.81). Many historians believed that rural blues songs were a significant source for early jazz, such as moaning holler with African roots. Also, both blues and ragtime contributed to the emergence of jazz music. They both influenced blues in many similar and different ways, such as in syncopation and improvisation. Jazz is influenced by both styles, blues and rag time, in a personal and emotional nature that allows the artists to be creative in ways they play their music, which is the key to improvisation. The meter found in blues is usually in twelve-bar blues form. The line form for that is usually AABA. This kind of form can be also found in the African call and response form and evidently present in jazz. Blues was also known for its fill-ins and breaks which allowed the jazz musicians to display their talent.

This led to the emergence of the great Miles Davis. The reason why I chose to write about Miles Davis is, the coolness and swagger he brought upon jazz. As fitting as it sounds, he was on the forefront of breakthrough development in cool jazz. Different from ragtime jazz and New Orleans jazz, cool jazz became popular in the 1940s and was born out of the bebop movement. Unlike bebop’s fast tempo, complex syncopation, and advanced harmonies, cool jazz has more relaxing melodies and softer sound. Miles Dewey Davis III was born on May 26th, 1926 in Alton, Illinois. His father Miles Dewey Davis II was a dentist and his mother Cleota Mae Henry was a music teacher. He was introduced to a trumpet around the age of 12 when he started taking trumpet lessons from a patient of his father, Elwood Buchanan. The family moved to St. Louis in 1939. At around the age of 13, he started to play in local bands. In September 1944, he accepted his father’s idea to attend the Institute of Musical Arts, also known as, Juilliard School of Music in New York. The next year, he dropped out of Juilliard and pursued to become a full-time jazz musician. He had worked with notable figures who were the forefathers of bebop, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Through imitation and constant jamming alongside these great musicians, Davis learned the difficult language of bebop. Davis was ahead of his time with playing the trumpet. He was daring and creative with jazz music. He did things with jazz music that many musicians wouldn’t dare to do. During the 1950s, he took jazz to a new world. He added instruments that weren’t usually traditionally featured in jazz, such as French horn or tuba. Later, he was considered to have created the beginnings of the cool jazz, or modal jazz and recorded Birth of the cool with Miles Davis’s nonet.

One of my favorite songs recorded by Miles Davis is “So what”. I believe that this is one of the best examples of cool jazz. It appears on Davis’s best-selling album, Kind of Blue. This song was made up by great jazz artists, with Miles Davis on trumpet, Cannonball Adderly on alto Saxophone, John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Bill Evans on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums. Even though there were a lot of improvisation that takes up the majority of the piece, the compelling riff sets the piece in motion and sets it up harmonically for the improvisations. The riff is significant in that involves the interplay between the bass and the rest of the band, which is followed by the “response” by the piano, as well as the rest of the band. This song follows a 32-bar AABA structure, in both Miles Davis trumpet solo and the melody line. This song starts with a piano and bass with a slower tempo than the rest of the song. Following the bass and piano, alone play the melodic trumpet solo by Miles himself, with the drum as accompaniment. The drums were played to create the atmosphere that represents the laid back and cool types of feeling. The other instruments joined in after one chorus, and each performer performed an extended solo in the following order, trumpet, tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, and piano. Melodic line is played for the chorus after the solos. The song ends with the melody being played with the bass and piano, with the drums as a harmony, before fading out. This type of simple harmony found on this song gave the performers certain freedom to improvise, which is rare in other forms of jazz. Different creative approaches to this song was evident in different solos. Miles’s solo can be characterized as more melodic because of his phrasing between notes are more thoughtful. On the other hand, Coltrane’s approach to his solo was faster with less spacing between his notes.

As an avid listener of rhythm & blues, cool jazz is another form of music that I can really relate to. I really enjoy listening to music that is laid back, soft and makes me feel bluesy. What I found most compelling about Miles Davis and his creation of cool jazz is that, both of them gives me the type of emotions I look for when I listen to rhythm & blues. Unlike R&B, cool jazz doesn’t have the vocals, but it still sounds like the music is speaking to me in a compelling way that I cannot put into words. This is why I find Miles Davis so captivating. He had a way to capture his audience with harmony and melody which aren’t traditional in other forms of jazz. He was daring, creative and rebellious in ways he recorded. This was really important during the 1950s because many blues artists around this time were losing audience since people weren’t looking to listen to “traditional or rural blues”. Many of them had to find ways to change the way they played the blues to the taste of a new audience. This goes the same for jazz, when rock and roll became more popular around 1969s through 1970s. To cater to a new audience who are mostly whites, Miles started introducing rock and roll elements into this music, which later became known as fusion jazz.

In conclusion, the name Miles Davis is a household name when we talk about jazz. He was a gifted musician who bridged a gap between black and white listeners of jazz. He performed his music with emotion and honesty. He was really a milestone in the evolution of jazz. His musical ability left a mark on other inspiring artists today such as Robert Glasper, Herbie Hancock, Jacob Collier and many more. Although he is no longer here with us recreating and creating new forms of music, his music lives on through many of his amazing records.

Works Cited

  1. Davis, Miles, and Quincy Troupe. Miles, the Autobiography. New York: Simon and Schuster,1989. Print.
  2. Wald, Elijah. The Blues: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2010.
  3. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Cool Jazz.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia
  4. Britannica, Inc., 20 Jan. 2015, https://www.britannica.com/art/cool-jazz.
  5. “Miles Davis.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 18 July 2019,
  6. https://www.biography.com/musician/miles-davis.

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