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Why Miles Davis's Music is Celebrated

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The objective of great creators, is to formulate something that would get the spectator to think. If the creator can be interesting enough to spark a thought, then your goal as an artist has been accomplished. Ben Alsup claims that the formula to being interesting, starts with the aspiration to make the listener create questions. A theory that perfectly explains why Miles Davis’ music was significant during the cool era. When Davis said “I’ll play it now and tell you what it is later” he leaves you thinking if you understood the song entirely before its last note. But the truth is he most likely didn’t care if you understand him or not, it was just a move to keep you concentrated on the music. Now that, is cool.

As a rural city boy, Miles had big city dreams. And like many of other cool figures, he went to the place to make a name for yourself at the time, New York City. This is significant because the circumstances, the time and place in which his work was made influenced his style. Davis’ mom insisted that he enrolled at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music. But he claims in his autobiography that Juilliard concentrated too much on European and “white” repertoire. Which gives off the stigma that perhaps cool strives not to be white. Although he did credit the school for improving his technique and his understanding of music theory. The white atmosphere became a repetitive theme in his music career. He also mentions in his autobiography that the presence of white musicians in his group angered some black jazz players, but he rejected their criticism. But why was that? I took a closer look as to why that might’ve been so. However, interestingly enough, all of his noted influences were African Americans. These influences consisted of the infamous Charlie Parker, Max Roach the drummer, Freddie Webster, and Dizzy Gillespie who happened to part ways with Parker’s quintet at a time that made room for Davis to replace him. So although he was not bothered by white jazz members he wasn’t exactly inspired by them either. So the extent of which jazz is regarded cool could be attributed to the idea that jazz is not very white. Nevertheless, by day Miles studied classical music, and by night he gained experience in Jazz’s new movement “bebop” with the leaders of the movement.

I chose this picture because it exemplifies every quality we discussed in class that contributes to “cool”. The dark clothing fits the cool description and explains his nick name “The Prince of Darkness”. His facial and bodily expression gives off a mysterious vibe. And mysterious is essential to cool, because you don’t want to display any mastery until you are up on stage and it is time to display that your talents. Seeming ordinary adds new personas, and multiple personas increases the realm of the cool.

But what was it about Davis that made him so significant and so influential? According to no greater judge than Bob Dylan, Miles was the master of cool. Ashley Kahn, author of Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece explains that MIles gained the title master of cool “by being noted in jazz clubs, already dark, already late at night, wearing sun glasses, on stage, playing three notes of his solo, and walking off stage… That economy of movement, that minimal gesture, that was Miles Davis.” Note how similar Kahn’s description is to our class’ definition of cool. It is almost identical. The minimal effort displayed during difficult actions perfectly accommodates our idea of cool.

Like any other “cool” musician or artist, Davis had a proclivity for drugs. Specifically, in 1950 he developed a four-year heroin addiction. Which led to him later being known as a distant, cold celebrity, with a temper. But that seemed to be the cool thing to do if you were a jazz player at the time. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Pountain and Robins claim that “At the time, heroin addictions were almost a professional qualification in the jazz industry”. In Miles’ autobiography, he mentions that 1953 was the year that he realized heroin was impairing his ability to play. And Heroin had killed some of his friends, including Freddie Webster. What is it about drugs that contribute to someone’s coolness? I argue that the idea of breaking social norms encourages the rebellious persona of a cool person. Thus, doing drugs and breaking mainstream practices of straying from life shortening pharmaceuticals often times magnifies coolness. Having that mentality: These drugs are killing me? I know they are, but I don’t care… That is kind of scary, but kind of cool… The drugs were significant to his life as a performer. After he began using heroin, his playing shifted directions to a style that was soon regarded as the “cool school”, achieved by lowering the tempo of bepop. Some could argue that if it wasn’t for the heroin than Miles wouldn’t have been Miles Davis… Nor would he have been as influential as he ultimately became. Without the heroin stimulation and the shift of his train of thought, it could have been impossible to suddenly shift his playing style. So maybe drugs aren’t all bad after all…

What made Miles unique, was his reaction to those around him. Ian Carr, long lasting critic of Davis said “Miles Davis really did not care what you thought. He always went for music first, and he never went for what was easy. That speaks to his great integrity, and his great genius.” Once again, enlightening the fragments of his personality that speaks to cool. When you are the very best, you cannot care for others’ opinions of you because they simply are not at the same level. As Pountain and Robins explain, “modern Jazz had aspirations beyond entertainment”. Jazz required a deep, subjective rapport to “dig” this music. Miles said “If you understood everything I say, you’d be me.” Ultimately, linking back to my claim that part of his influence was built on the style that his music was open to interpretation. Always leaving the listener thinking: Did I get it? Is that what he meant? Perhaps, perhaps not…

My idea of cool differs from the constructed definition above. I define cool not by nonchalant actions but by the desire of someone’s presence. If a friend of mine’s presence is enjoyable and desired, then I title them as cool. I imagine if I had the chance to hang out with Miles Davis I would not desire his presence. He seems slightly narcissist (as he should be from our class’ definition of cool) but unfortunately, that is not a characteristic I procure in the people I surround myself with. This thought challenges our group definition of cool. Although, I can acknowledge talent and hard work it takes a lot to impress me. So some thirty second solo at a Jazz club would not have me head over heels whatsoever.

Miles Davis was certainly not the epitome I was looking for my definition of cool, but without a doubt he is a model of our class’ description. A talented, narcissist, mysterious, yet rebellious man who went on to influence an entire generation and genre of music despite being an African American in the middle of the oppressive 20th century. But much like his music, his reputation is also open to interpretation, so just because I don’t think he was the coolest person on the block, doesn’t mean he wasn’t cool to others. By all means, an objective “Cool” does not exist. Only the anthropogenic opinion based nature of “cool” exists.

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Why Miles Davis’s Music Is Celebrated. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/why-miles-daviss-music-is-celebrated/
“Why Miles Davis’s Music Is Celebrated.” GradesFixer, 12 Mar. 2019, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/why-miles-daviss-music-is-celebrated/
Why Miles Davis’s Music Is Celebrated. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/why-miles-daviss-music-is-celebrated/> [Accessed 29 Jun. 2022].
Why Miles Davis’s Music Is Celebrated [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Mar 12 [cited 2022 Jun 29]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/why-miles-daviss-music-is-celebrated/
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