[ inside ]
the collision of rock and jazz.
At the same time Neil Armstrong was walking on The Moon, Miles Davis was mixing an experimental and surreal Bitches Brew.
In The Beginning
Miles Is God.
Miles Plugs In
In A Silent Way
Miles in the Sky (1968)
Filles de Kilimanjaro (1968)
Miles Davis (trumpet)
Wayne Shorter (soprano saxophone)
John McLaughlin (guitar)
Chick Corea – electric piano
Herbie Hancock (electric piano)
Joe Zawinul (electric piano/organ)
Dave Holland – bass
Tony Williams (drums)
Teo Macero (producer)
Stan Tonkel (engineer)
Miles Dewey Davis III
(May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991)
East St. Louis
1941 — Juilliard School in New York City.
Dropped out after his professional debut as a member of saxophonist Charlie Parker‘s bebop quintet.
Shortly after, he recorded the Birth of the Cool for Capitol Records
An instrumental recording, the beginning of what became known as cool jazz.
1950s — Addicted to heroin, and who’s earliest Hard Bop recording with Prestige Records was haphazard, unfocused.
After a widely acclaimed comeback performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1955, he signed a long-term contract with Columbia Records and recorded the 1957 album ‘Round About Midnight.
It was his first work with saxophonist John Coltrane and bassist Paul Chambers, key members of the sextet he led into the early 1960s.
During this period, he alternated between orchestral jazz collaborations with arranger Gil Evans, Sketches of Spain (1960) and band recordings Milestones (1958) and Kind of Blue (1959). One of the most popular jazz albums of all time, having sold more than four million copies in the U.S.
Davis made several line-up changes while recording Someday My Prince Will Come (1961), his 1961 Blackhawk concerts, and Seven Steps to Heaven (1963).
w/ Wayne Shorter
The Quintet — Miles led his new crew on a more abstract adventure, often recording other band members’ compositions.
In a Silent Way (1969)
Agharta, (1975) A Live Concert Recording proved to be one of the most controversial in his career, alienating and challenging many traditionalist in the Jazz community.
Bob Dylan @ Newport “Folk” Festival
The Original Brew
The Million-Selling double album helped spark a resurgence in jazz music’s commercial popularity, in his combining rock n roll elements (especially John McLaughlin’s electric guitar) serving up a new hybrid sound that would continue to strike and influence many in the jazz world, including the writers, critics, and journalist who redefined Davis’ latest musical interpretations, and named it Fusion (“not Fusion Jazz, as Lenny White will tell you. “Bitches Brew wasn’t a Jazz record, and it wasn’t a Rock N Roll Record. It was a “FUSION” record. A fusion of Rock N Roll and Jazz musics, making a new genre called “FUSION.” usion as the decade progressed.
Miles Davis – trumpet (except “John McLaughlin”)
John McLaughlin – electric guitar
Wayne Shorter – soprano saxophone (except “John McLaughlin”)
Bennie Maupin – bass clarinet (except “Sanctuary”)
Joe Zawinul – electric piano (left)
Chick Corea – electric piano (right)
Larry Young – electric piano (except “Bitches Brew” and “Sanctuary”)
Dave Holland – double bass, Harvey Brooks – bass guitar (except “Sanctuary”)
Lenny White – drums (left) (except “Sanctuary”)
Jack DeJohnette – drums (right)
Billy Cobham – drums (left) on “Feio”
Airto Moreira – percussion and cuica on “Feio”
Don Alias – congas, drums (left) on “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down”
Juma Santos (credited as “Jim Riley”) – shaker, congas, percussion on “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down”
After a five-year retirement due to poor health, Davis resumed his career in the 1980s, employing younger musicians and pop sounds on albums such as The Man with the Horn (1981) and Tutu (1986). Critics were generally unreceptive but the decade garnered the trumpeter his highest level of commercial recognition. He performed sold-out concerts worldwide while branching out into visual arts, film, and television work, before his death in 1991.
In 2006, Davis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
recognized as “One of the key figures in the history of jazz.”
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
“The most revered jazz trumpeter of all time, not to mention one of the most important musicians of the 20th century.”
“Inarguably one of the most influential and innovative musicians of that period.”
Miles Dewey Davis III was born on May 26, 1926, to an affluent African-American family in Alton, Illinois, 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of St. Louis. He had an older sister, Dorothy Mae (born 1925), and a younger brother, Vernon (born 1929). His mother, Cleota Mae Henry of Arkansas, was a music teacher and violinist, and his father, Miles Dewey Davis Jr., also of Arkansas, was a dentist. They owned a 200-acre (81 ha) estate near Pine Bluff, Arkansas with a profitable pig farm. In Pine Bluff, he and his siblings fished, hunted, and rode horses. In 1927, the family moved to East St. Louis, Illinois. They lived on the second floor of a commercial building behind a dental office in a predominantly white neighborhood. From 1932 to 1934, Davis attended John Robinson Elementary School, an all-black school, then Crispus Attucks, where he performed well in mathematics, music, and sports. At an early age he liked music, especially blues, big bands, and gospel.
701 Kansas Avenue in East St. Louis, Illinois, where Davis lived from 1939 to 1944
In 1935, Davis received his first trumpet as a gift from John Eubanks, a friend of his father. He took lessons from Elwood Buchanan, a teacher and musician who was a patient of his father. His mother wanted him to play violin instead. Against the fashion of the time, Buchanan stressed the importance of playing without vibrato and encouraged him to use a clear, mid-range tone. Davis said that whenever he started playing with heavy vibrato, Buchanan slapped his knuckles. In later years Davis said, “I prefer a round sound with no attitude in it, like a round voice with not too much tremolo and not too much bass. Just right in the middle. If I can’t get that sound I can’t play anything.” In 1939, the family moved to 1701 Kansas Avenue in East St. Louis. On his thirteenth birthday his father bought him a new trumpet, and Davis began to play in local bands. He took additional trumpet lessons from Joseph Gustat, principal trumpeter of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
In 1941, the 15-year-old attended East St. Louis Lincoln High School, where he joined the marching band directed by Buchanan and entered music competitions. Years later, Davis said that he was discriminated against in these competitions due to his race, but he added that these experiences made him a better musician. When a drummer asked him to play a certain passage of music, and he couldn’t do it, he began to learn music theory. “I went and got everything, every book I could get to learn about theory.” At Lincoln, Davis met his first girlfriend, Irene Birth (later Cawthon). He had a band that performed at the Elks Club. Part of his earnings paid for his sister’s education at Fisk University. Davis befriended trumpeter Clark Terry, who suggested he play without vibrato, and performed with him for several years.
With encouragement from his teacher and girlfriend, Davis filled a vacant spot in the Rhumboogie Orchestra, also known as the Blue Devils, led by Eddie Randle. He became the band’s musical director, which involved hiring musicians and scheduling rehearsal. Years later, Davis considered this job one of the most important of his career. Sonny Stitt tried to persuade him to join the Tiny Bradshaw band, which was passing through town, but his mother insisted he finish high school before going on tour. He said later, “I didn’t talk to her for two weeks. And I didn’t go with the band either.” In January 1944, Davis finished high school and graduated in absentia in June. During the next month, his girlfriend gave birth to a daughter, Cheryl.
In July 1944, Billy Eckstine visited St. Louis with a band that included Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker. Trumpeter Buddy Anderson was too sick to perform, so Davis was invited to join. He played with the band for two weeks at Club Riviera. After playing with these musicians, he was certain he should move to New York City “where the action was.” His mother wanted him to go to Fisk University, like his sister, and study piano or violin. Davis had other interests.
1944–1948: NYC / BEBOP YEARS
In September 1944, Davis accepted his father’s idea of studying at the Institute of Musical Arts, later known as the Juilliard School, in New York City. After passing the audition, he attended classes in music theory, piano, and dictation.
But he spent much of his time in clubs looking for his idol, Charlie Parker. According to Davis, Coleman Hawkins told him “finish your studies at Juilliard and forget Bird.” After finding Parker, he became one of a cadre of regulars at Minton’s and Monroe’s in Harlem who held jam sessions every night. The other regulars included J. J. Johnson, Kenny Clarke, Thelonious Monk, Fats Navarro, and Freddie Webster. Davis reunited with Cawthon and their daughter when they moved to New York City. Parker became a roommate.
In mid-1945, Davis failed to register for the year’s autumn term at Juilliard and dropped out after three semesters because he wanted to perform full-time. Years later he criticized Juilliard for concentrating too much on classical European and “white” repertoire, but he praised the school for teaching him music theory and improving his trumpet technique.
He began performing at clubs on 52nd Street with Coleman Hawkins and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. He recorded for the first time on April 24, 1945 when he entered the studio as a sideman for Herbie Fields‘s band. During the next year, he recorded as a leader for the first time with the Miles Davis Sextet plus Earl Coleman and Ann Hathaway, one of the few times he accompanied a singer.
He was a member of Billy Eckstine’s big band in 1946 and Gillespie’s in 1947. He joined a quintet led by Parker that also included Max Roach. Together they performed live with Duke Jordan and Tommy Potter for much of the year, including several studio sessions. In one session that May, Davis wrote the tune “Cheryl”, named after his daughter. Davis’s first session as a leader followed in August 1947, playing as the Miles Davis All Stars that included Parker, pianist John Lewis, and bassist Nelson Boyd; they recorded “Milestones”, “Half Nelson”, and “Sippin’ at Bells”. After touring Chicago and Detroit with Parker’s quintet, Davis returned to New York City in March 1948 and joined the Jazz at the Philharmonic tour, which included a stop in St. Louis on April 30.
The Birth Of Cool
1948–1950: MILES DAVIS NONET
In August 1948, Davis declined an offer to join Duke Ellington‘s orchestra as he had entered rehearsals with a nine-piece band with pianist and arranger Gil Evans and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, taking an active role on what soon became his own project. Evans’ Manhattan apartment had become the meeting place for several young musicians and composers such as Davis, Roach, Lewis, and Mulligan who were unhappy with the increasingly virtuoso instrumental techniques that dominated bebop. These gatherings led to the formation of the Miles Davis Nonet, which included the unusual additions of French horn and tuba. The intent was to imitate the human voice through carefully arranged compositions and a relaxed, melodic approach to improvisation. In September, the band completed their sole engagement as the opening band for Count Basie at the Royal Roost for two weeks. Davis had to persuade the venue’s manager to write the sign “Miles Davis Nonet. Arrangements by Gil Evans, John Lewis and Gerry Mulligan.” He prevailed only with the help of Monte Kay, the club’s artistic director. Davis returned to Parker’s quintet, but relationships within the quintet were growing tense mainly due to Parker’s erratic behavior caused by his drug addiction. Early in his time with Parker, Davis abstained from drugs, ate a vegetarian diet, and spoke of the benefits of water and juice. Davis and Roach objected to the addition of pianist Duke Jordan, preferring Bud Powell.
In December 1948 Davis quit, claiming he was not being paid. His departure began a period when he worked mainly as a freelancer and sideman. His nonet remained active until the end of 1949. After signing a contract with Capitol Records, they recorded sessions in January and April 1949, which sold little but influenced the “cool” or “west coast” style of jazz.
The line-up changed throughout the year and included the additions of tuba player Bill Barber, alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, who had been preferred to Sonny Stitt as his style was considered too bop-oriented, pianist Al Haig, trombone players Mike Zwerin with Kai Winding, French horn players Junior Collins with Sandy Siegelstein and Gunther Schuller, and bassists Al McKibbon and Joe Shulman. One track featured singer Kenny Hagood. The presence of white musicians in the group angered some black players, many of whom were unemployed at the time, yet Davis rebuffed their criticisms, telling them to “FUCK OFF.”
Recording sessions with the nonet for Capitol continued until April 1950; much of it remained unreleased until the issue of Birth of the Cool (1957).
In May 1949, Davis performed with the Tadd Dameron Quintet with Kenny Clarke and James Moody at the Paris International Jazz Festival. On his first trip abroad Davis took a strong liking for Paris and its cultural environment, where he felt black jazz musicians and people of color in general were better respected than in America. The trip, he said, “changed the way I looked at things forever.” He began an affair with singer and actress Juliette Gréco that lasted for several years.
1949–1955: PRESTIGE, HEROIN, HARD BOP
After returning from Paris in mid-1949, he became depressed and found little work, which included a short engagement with Powell in October and guest spots in New York City, Chicago, and Detroit until January 1950. He was falling behind in hotel rent and attempts were made to repossess his car. His heroin use became an expensive addiction, and Davis, yet to reach 24 years old, “lost my sense of discipline, lost my sense of control over my life, and started to drift.” In August 1950, during a family trip to East St. Louis and Chicago in an attempt to improve their fortunes, Cawthon gave birth to Davis’s second son, Miles IV. Davis befriended boxer Johnny Bratton and began his interest in the sport. Davis left Cawthon and his three children in New York City in the hands of a friend, jazz singer Betty Carter. He remained grateful to her for the rest of his life. He toured with Eckstine and Billie Holiday and was arrested for heroin possession in Los Angeles. The story was reported in DownBeat magazine, which caused a further reduction in work, though he was acquitted weeks later.
In January 1951, Davis’s fortunes improved when he signed a one-year contract with Prestige after owner Bob Weinstock became a fan of the nonet Davis chose Lewis, trombonist Bennie Green, bassist Percy Heath, saxophonist Sonny Rollins, and drummer Roy Haynes; they recorded what became part of
Miles Davis and Horns (1956). Davis was hired for other studio dates in March, June, and September 1951 and started transcribing scores for record labels to fund his heroin addiction. During the next month, he recorded his second session for Prestige as band leader. The material was released on The New Sounds (1951), Dig (1956), and Conception (1956).
Davis supported his heroin habit by playing music and by living the life of a hustler, exploiting prostitutes, and receiving money from friends. By 1953, his addiction began to impair his playing. His drug habit became public in a Down Beat interview with Cab Calloway, whom he never forgave as it brought him “all pain and suffering.” He returned to St. Louis and stayed with his father for several months. Though he continued to use heroin, he met Roach and Mingus in September 1953 on their way to Los Angeles and joined their band, but the trip caused problems. He returned to his father’s home, “determined to kick my habit … that was the only thing on my mind.” He locked himself inside the guest house “for about seven or eight days” until he had gone through withdrawal. After the ordeal, he “sat down and started thinking about how I was going to get my life back together.”
Davis lived in Detroit for about six months, avoiding New York City where it was easy to get drugs. Though he used heroin, he was still able to perform locally with Elvin Jones and Tommy Flanagan as part of Billy Mitchell‘s house band at the Blue Bird club. He was also “pimping a little.” A widely related story, attributed to Richard “Prophet” Jennings, was that Davis stumbled into Baker’s Keyboard Lounge out of the rain, carrying his trumpet in a paper bag under his coat. He walked to the bandstand, interrupted Roach and Clifford Brown in the middle of performing “Sweet Georgia Brown“, and played “My Funny Valentine” before leaving. Davis was supposedly embarrassed into getting clean by this incident. He disputed this account, stating that Roach had invited him to play and that his decision to quit heroin was unrelated to the incident. He said he was inspired to quit by his idol, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson.
During the 1950s, Davis started using a mute on his trumpet. It became part of his signature sound for the rest of his career.
In February 1954 Davis returned to New York City, feeling good “for the first time in a long time,” mentally and physically stronger, and joined a gym. He informed Weinstock and management at Blue Note that he was ready to record with a quintet, which he was granted. He considered the resulting albums Miles Davis Quartet (1954) and Miles Davis Volume 2 (1956) “very important” because he felt his performances were particularly strong. He was paid roughly $750 (US$7,140 in 2019 dollars) for each album and refused to give away his publishing rights.
Davis abandoned the bebop style and turned to the music of pianist Ahmad Jamal, whose approach and use of space influenced him. When he returned to the studio in June 1955 to record Miles Davis Quartet, he wanted a pianist like Jamal and picked Red Garland. Blue Haze (1956), Bags’ Groove (1957), Walkin’ (1957), and Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants (1959) were recorded after his recovery from heroin addiction. They documented the evolution of his sound with the Harmon mute, also known as a wah-wah mute, placed close to the microphone, and the use of more spacious and relaxed phrasing. He assumed a central role in hard bop, which was slower than bebop, less radical in harmony and melody, and often used popular songs and American standards as starting points for improvisation. Hard bop distanced itself from cool jazz with a harder beat and music inspired by the blues. A few critics consider Walkin’ (April 1954) the album that created the hard bop genre.
Davis gained a reputation for being cold, distant—and easily angered. He wrote that in 1954 Sugar Ray Robinson “was the most important thing in my life besides music” and adopted Robinson’s “arrogant attitude.” He showed contempt for critics and the press. There were well-publicized confrontations with the public and with other musicians. An argument with Thelonious Monk during the recording of Bags’ Groove was reported. In mid-1954, Davis reunited with Gréco for the first time since 1949 after she arrived in New York City for film prospects. The two had been in occasional contact since he left Paris. Though he was too busy to move to Spain with her, they “remained lovers for many years.
Davis had an operation to remove polyps from his larynx in October 1955. The doctors told him to remain silent after the operation—but he got into an argument that permanently damaged his vocal cords and gave him a raspy voice for the rest of his life. He was called the “prince of darkness,” adding a patina of mystery to his public persona.
1955–1959: COLUMBIA, FIRST QUINTET, MODAL JAZZ
In July 1955, Davis’s fortunes improved considerably when he was invited to the second annual Newport Jazz Festival on July 17, with a line-up of Monk, Heath, drummer Connie Kay, and horn players Zoot Sims and Gerry Mulligan. He convinced organizer George Wein that he should be on the bill, and Wein agreed. The performance was praised by critics and increased his popularity among affluent white audiences. He tied with Dizzy Gillespie for best trumpeter in the 1955 Down Beat magazine Readers’ Poll.
George Avakian of Columbia Records saw Davis perform at Newport and wanted to sign him to the label. Davis had one year left on his contract with Prestige, which required him to release four more albums. He signed a contract with Columbia that included a $4,000 advance (US$38,176 in 2019 dollars) and a condition that his recordings for Columbia would remain unreleased until his agreement with Prestige expired.
At the request of Avakian, he formed the Miles Davis Quintet for a performance at Café Bohemia. The quintet consisted of Davis on trumpet, Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on double bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. Rollins was replaced by John Coltrane, completing the membership of the first quintet. This group appeared on his final albums for Prestige: Cookin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet (1957), Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet (1958), Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet (1960), and Steamin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet (1961). Each album helped establish Davis’s quintet as one of the best.
The style of the group was an extension of their experience playing with Davis. He played long, legato, melodic lines, while Coltrane contrasted with energetic solos. Their live repertoire was a mix of bebop, standards from the Great American Songbook and pre-bop eras, and traditional tunes. They appeared on ‘Round About Midnight, Davis’s first album for Columbia.
In 1956, he left his quintet temporarily to tour Europe as part of the Birdland All-Stars, which included the Modern Jazz Quartet and French and German musicians. In Paris he reunited with Greco for the first time since 1949. He then returned home, reunited his quintet and toured the US for two months. Conflict arose on tour as he grew impatient with the drug habits of Jones and Coltrane. Davis was trying to live a healthier life by exercising and reducing his alcohol. But he continued to use cocaine. At the end of the tour, he fired Jones and Coltrane and replaced them with Sonny Rollins and Art Taylor.
In November 1957, Davis went to Paris and recorded the soundtrack to Ascenseur pour l’échafaud directed by Louis Malle (1958). Consisting of French session musicians Barney Wilen, Pierre Michelot, and René Urtreger, and American drummer Kenny Clarke, the group avoided a written score and instead improvised while they watched the film in a recording studio.
After returning to New York City, Davis revived his quintet with Adderley and Coltrane, who was clean from his drug habit. Now a sextet, the group recorded material in early 1958 that was released on Milestones (1958), an album that demonstrated Davis’s interest in modal jazz. A performance by Les Ballets Africains drew him to slower, deliberate music that allowed the creation of solos from harmony rather than chords. In this form of ballet music, the kalimba was played for a long periods on a single chord, weaving in and out of consonance and dissonance.
By May 1958, he had replaced Jones with drummer Jimmy Cobb, and Red Garland left the group, leaving Davis to play piano on “Sid’s Ahead” for the album Milestones. He wanted someone who could play modal jazz, so he hired Bill Evans, a young, white pianist with a background in classical music. Evans had an impressionistic approach to piano. His ideas greatly influenced Davis. But after eight months of touring, a tired Evans left. Wynton Kelly, his replacement, brought to the group a swinging style that contrasted with Evans’s delicacy. The sextet made their recording debut on Jazz Track (1958).
1957–1963: GIL EVANS, KIND OF BLUE
By early 1957, Davis was exhausted from recording and touring with his quintet and wished to pursue new projects. During a two-week residency in Chicago in March, the 30-year-old Davis told journalists of his intention to retire at its conclusion and revealed offers he had received to become a teacher at Harvard University and a musical director at a record label. Avakian agreed that it was time for Davis to explore something different, but Davis rejected his suggestion of returning to his nonet as he considered that a step backward. Avakian then suggested that he work with a bigger ensemble, similar to Music for Brass (1957), an album of orchestral and brass-arranged music led by Gunther Schuller featuring Davis as a guest soloist.
Davis accepted and worked with Gil Evans in what became a five-album collaboration from 1957 to 1962. Miles Ahead (1957) showcased Davis playing a flugelhorn and a rendition “The Maids of Cadiz” by Léo Delibes, the first piece of classical music that Davis recorded. Evans devised orchestral passages as transitions, thus turning the album into one long piece of music. Porgy and Bess (1959) includes arrangements of pieces from George Gershwin’s opera. Sketches of Spain (1960) contained music by composers Joaquín Rodrigo and Manuel de Falla and originals by Evans. The classical musicians had trouble improvising, while the jazz musicians couldn’t handle the difficult arrangements, but the album was a critical success, selling over 120,000 copies in the US. Davis performed with an orchestra conducted by Evans at Carnegie Hall in May 1961 to raise money for charity. The pair’s final album was Quiet Nights (1962), a collection of bossa nova songs released against their wishes. Evans stated it was only half an album and blamed the record company; Davis blamed producer Teo Macero and refused to speak to him for more than two years. Davis noted later that “my best friend is Gil Evans;” their work was included in the boxed set Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings (1996), which won a Grammy Award for Best Historical Album and Best Album Notes in 1997.
Kind of Blue (1959)
In March and April 1959, Davis recorded what many critics consider his greatest album, Kind of Blue (1959). He named the album for its mood. He called back Bill Evans, as the music had been planned around Evans’s piano style. Both Davis and Evans were familiar with George Russell‘s ideas about modal jazz. But Davis neglected to tell pianist Wynton Kelly that Evans was returning, so Kelly appeared on only one song, “Freddie Freeloader.” The sextet had played “So What” and “All Blues” at performances, but the remaining three compositions they saw for the first time in the studio.
Released in August 1959, Kind of Blue was an instant success, with widespread radio airplay and rave reviews from critics. It remains the best selling jazz album of all time. In October 2008, the album reached 4× platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America for selling over four million copies in the US alone. In 2009, the US House of Representatives voted 409–0 to pass a resolution that honored it as a national treasure.
During the success of Kind of Blue, Davis found himself involved with the law. On August 25, 1959, during a recording session at the Birdland nightclub in New York City for the US Armed Services, he took a break outside the club. As he was escorting a blonde-haired woman to a taxi, policeman Gerald Kilduff told him to “move on.” Davis said that he was working at the club, and he refused to move. Kilduff arrested him and grabbed him as he tried to protect himself. Witnesses said the policeman punched Davis in the stomach with a nightstick without provocation. Two detectives held the crowd back, while a third approached Davis from behind and beat him in the head. Davis was taken to jail, charged for assaulting an officer, then taken to the hospital where he received five stitches. He was released on a $525 bail (US$4,605 in 2019 dollars). By January 1960, he was acquitted of disorderly conduct and third-degree assault. He later stated the incident “changed my whole life and whole attitude again, made me feel bitter and cynical again when I was starting to feel good about the things that had changed in this country.”
Davis and his sextet toured to support Kind of Blue. He persuaded Coltrane to play with the group on one final European tour in the spring of 1960. Coltrane then departed to form his quartet, though he returned for some tracks on Davis’s album Someday My Prince Will Come (1961). Its front cover shows a photograph of his wife, Frances Taylor, after Davis demanded that Columbia depict black women on his album covers. In 1957, Davis began a relationship with Frances Taylor, a dancer he had met in 1953 at Ciro’s in Los Angeles. They married on December 21, 1959 in Toledo, Ohio. The relationship involved numerous incidents of Davis’ domestic violence towards Taylor. He later wrote, “Every time I hit her, I felt bad because a lot of it really wasn’t her fault but had to do with me being temperamental and jealous.” One reason for his behavior was that in 1963 he had increased his use of alcohol and cocaine to reduce joint pain caused by sickle cell anemia. He hallucinated, “looking for this imaginary person” in his house while wielding a kitchen knife. Soon after the photograph for the album E.S.P. (1965) was taken, Taylor left him for the final time. She filed for divorce in 1966; it was finalized in February 1968. Davis later recalled that “Frances was the best wife I ever had and I made a mistake when I broke up with her.”
1963–1968: SECOND QUINTET
In December 1962, Davis, Kelly, Chambers, Cobb, and Rollins played together for the last time as the first three wanted to leave and play as a trio. Rollins left to join them soon after, leaving Davis to pay over $25,000 (US$211,304 in 2019 dollars) to cancel upcoming gigs and quickly assemble a new group. Following auditions, he found his new band in tenor saxophonist George Coleman, bassist Ron Carter, pianist Victor Feldman, and drummer Frank Butler. By May 1963, Feldman and Butler were replaced by pianist Herbie Hancock and 17-year-old drummer Tony Williams who made Davis “excited all over again.” With this group, Davis completed the rest of what became Seven Steps to Heaven (1963) and recorded the live albums Miles Davis in Europe (1964), My Funny Valentine (1965), and Four & More (1966). The quintet played essentially the same bebop tunes and standards that Davis’s previous bands had played, but they approached them with structural and rhythmic freedom and occasionally breakneck speed.
In 1964, Coleman was replaced by saxophonist Sam Rivers until Davis persuaded Wayne Shorter to leave Art Blakey. This quintet lasted through 1968. Shorter became the group’s principal composer, and the album E.S.P. (1965) was named after his composition. While touring Europe, the group made its first album, Miles in Berlin (1965).
Davis needed medical attention for hip pain, which had worsened since his Japanese tour during the previous year. He underwent hip replacement surgery in April 1965, with bone taken from his shin, but it failed. After his third month in the hospital, he discharged himself due to boredom and went home. He returned to the hospital in August after a fall required the insertion of a plastic hip joint. In November 1965, he had recovered enough to return to performing with his quintet, which included gigs at the Plugged Nickel in Chicago. Teo Macero returned as his engineer and record producer after their rift over Quiet Nights had healed.
In January 1966, Davis spent three months in the hospital due to a liver infection. When he resumed touring, he performed more at colleges because he had grown tired of the typical jazz venues. Columbia president Clive Davis noted that in 1966 his sales had declined to around 40,000–50,000 per album, compared to as many as 100,000 per release a few years before. Matters were not helped by the press reporting his apparent financial troubles and imminent demise. After his appearance at the 1966 Newport Jazz Festival, he returned to the studio with his quintet for a series of productive sessions. He started a relationship with actress Cicely Tyson, who helped him reduce his alcohol consumption.
Material from the 1966–1968 sessions was released on Miles Smiles (1966), Sorcerer (1967), Nefertiti (1967), Miles in the Sky (1968), and Filles de Kilimanjaro (1968). The quintet’s approach to the new music became known as “time no changes”—which referred to Davis’s decision to depart from chordal sequences and adopt a more open approach, with the rhythm section responding to the soloists’ melodies. Through Nefertiti the studio recordings consisted primarily of originals composed by Shorter, with occasional compositions by the other sidemen. In 1967, the group began to play their concerts in continuous sets, each tune flowing into the next, with only the melody indicating any sort of change. His bands performed this way until his hiatus in 1975.
Miles in the Sky and Filles de Kilimanjaro—which tentatively introduced electric bass, electric piano, and electric guitar on some tracks—pointed the way to the fusion phase of Davis’s career. He also began experimenting with more rock-oriented rhythms on these records. By the time the second half of Filles de Kilimanjaro was recorded, bassist Dave Holland and pianist Chick Corea had replaced Carter and Hancock. Davis soon took over the compositional duties of his sidemen.
1968–1975: THE ELECTRIC PERIOD
In September 1968, Davis married 23-year-old model and songwriter Betty Mabry. In his autobiography, Davis described her as a “high-class groupie, who was very talented but who didn’t believe in her own talent.” Mabry, a familiar face in the New York City counterculture, helped introduce Davis to popular rock, soul, and funk musicians. Jazz critic Leonard Feather visited Davis’s apartment and was shocked to find him listening to albums by The Byrds, Aretha Franklin, and Dionne Warwick. He also liked James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, and Jimi Hendrix, whose group Band of Gypsys particularly made an impression on Davis. Davis filed for divorce from Mabry in 1969, after accusing her of having an affair with Jimi Hendrix.
In a Silent Way (1969) was recorded in a single studio session on February 18, 1969, with Shorter, Hancock, Holland, and Williams alongside keyboardists Chick Corea and Josef Zawinul and guitarist John McLaughlin. The album contains two side-long tracks that Macero pieced together from different takes recorded at the session. When the album was released in July 1969, some critics accused him of “selling out” to the rock and roll audience. Nevertheless, it reached number 134 on the US Billboard Top LPs chart, his first album since My Funny Valentine to reach the chart. In a Silent Way was his entry into jazz fusion. The touring band of 1969–1970—with Shorter, Corea, Holland, and DeJohnette—never completed a studio recording together, and became known as Davis’s “lost quintet”.
In October 1969, Davis was shot at five times while in his car with one of his two lovers, Marguerite Eskridge. The incident left him with a graze and Eskridge unharmed.In 1970, Marguerite gave birth to their son Erin.
For the double album Bitches Brew (1970), he hired Jack DeJohnette, Airto Moreira, and Bennie Maupin. The album contained long compositions, some over twenty minutes, that were never played in the studio but were constructed from several takes by Macero and Davis. Other studio techniques included splicing, multitrack recording, and tape loops. Bitches Brew peaked at No. 35 on the Billboard Album chart. In 1976 it was certified gold for selling over 500,000 records. By 2003, it had sold one million copies.
In March 1970, Davis began to perform as the opening act for various rock acts, allowing Columbia to market Bitches Brew to a larger audience. He was so offended by Clive Davis’s suggestion to perform at the Fillmore East that he threatened to switch record labels, but he reconsidered and shared a bill with the Steve Miller Band and Neil Young with Crazy Horse on March 6 and 7. Biographer Paul Tingen wrote, “Miles’ newcomer status in this environment” led to “mixed audience reactions, often having to play for dramatically reduced fees, and enduring the ‘sell-out’ accusations from the jazz world,” as well as being “…attacked by sections of the black press for supposedly genuflecting to white culture.” The 1970 tours included the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival on August 29 when he performed to an estimated 600,000 people, the largest of his career. Plans to record with Hendrix ended after the guitarist’s death; his funeral was the last that Davis attended. Several live albums with a transitional sextet/septet including Corea, DeJohnette, Holland, Moreira, saxophonist Steve Grossman, and keyboardist Keith Jarrett were recorded during this period, including Miles Davis at Fillmore (1970) and Black Beauty: Miles Davis at Fillmore West (1973).
By 1971, Davis had signed a contract with Columbia that paid him $100,000 a year (US$631,306 in 2019 dollars) for three years in addition to royalties. He recorded a soundtrack album (1971’s Jack Johnson) for the 1970 documentary film about heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson, containing two long pieces of 25 and 26 minutes in length with Hancock, McLaughlin, Sonny Sharrock, and Billy Cobham. He was committed to making music for African-Americans who liked more commercial, pop, groove-oriented music. By November 1971, DeJohnette and Moreira had been replaced in the touring ensemble by drummer Leon “Ndugu” Chancler and percussionists James Mtume and Don Alias.
Live-Evil (1971) was released in the same month. Showcasing former Stevie Wonder touring bassist Michael Henderson, who replaced Holland in the autumn of 1970, the album demonstrated that Davis’s ensemble had transformed into a funk-oriented group while retaining the exploratory imperative of Bitches Brew.
In 1972, composer-arranger Paul Buckmaster introduced Davis to the music of German avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, leading to a period of creative exploration. Biographer J. K. Chambers wrote, “The effect of Davis’ study of Stockhausen could not be repressed for long … Davis’ own ‘space music’ shows Stockhausen’s influence compositionally.” His recordings and performances during this period were described as “space music” by fans, Feather, and Buckmaster, who described it as “a lot of mood changes—heavy, dark, intense—definitely space music.” The studio album On the Corner (1972) blended the influence of Stockhausen and Buckmaster with funk elements. Davis invited Buckmaster to New York City to oversee the writing and recording of the album with Macero.The album reached No. 1 on the Billboard jazz chart but peaked at No. 156 on the more heterogeneous Top 200 Albums chart. On the Corner elicited a favorable review from Ralph J. Gleason of Rolling Stone, but Davis felt that Columbia marketed it to the wrong audience. “The music was meant to be heard by young black people, but they just treated it like any other jazz album and advertised it that way, pushed it on the jazz radio stations. Young black kids don’t listen to those stations; they listen to R&B stations and some rock stations.” In October 1972, he broke his ankles in a car crash. He took painkillers and cocaine to cope with the pain. Looking back at his career after the incident, he wrote, “Everything started to blur.”
After recording On the Corner, he assembled a group with Henderson, Mtume, Carlos Garnett, guitarist Reggie Lucas, organist Lonnie Liston Smith, tabla player Badal Roy, sitarist Khalil Balakrishna, and drummer Al Foster. Only Smith was a jazz instrumentalist; consequently, the music emphasized rhythmic density and shifting textures instead of solos. This group was recorded live for In Concert (1973), but Davis found it unsatisfactory, leading him to drop the tabla and sitar and play keyboards. He also added guitarist Pete Cosey. The compilation studio album Big Fun (1974) contains four long improvisations recorded between 1969 and 1972.
Studio activity in the 1970s culminated in sessions throughout 1973 and 1974 for Get Up with It (1974), a compilation that included four long pieces (comprising over ninety minutes of new music) alongside four shorter recordings from 1970 and 1972. The album contained “He Loved Him Madly”, a thirty-minute tribute to the recently deceased Duke Ellington that presaged later developments in ambient music. In the United States, it performed comparably to On the Corner, reaching number 8 on the jazz chart and number 141 on the pop chart. He then concentrated on live performance with a series of concerts that Columbia released on the double live albums Agharta (1975), Pangaea (1976), and Dark Magus (1977). The first two are recordings of two sets from February 1, 1975 in Osaka, by which time Davis was troubled by pneumonia, osteoarthritis, sickle-cell anemia, depression, bursitis, and stomach ulcers; he relied on alcohol, codeine, and morphine to get through the engagements. His shows were routinely panned by critics who mentioned his habit of performing with his back to the audience. Cosey later asserted that “the band really advanced after the Japanese tour”, but Davis was again hospitalized, for his ulcers and a hernia, during a tour of the US while opening for Herbie Hancock. Hancock had eclipsed his former employer from a commercial standpoint with Head Hunters (1973) and Thrust (1974), two albums that were marketed to pop audiences in the aftermath of the On the Corner farrago and peaked at number 13 on the Billboard pop chart.
After appearances at the 1975 Newport Jazz Festival in July and the Schaefer Music Festival in New York City on September 5, Davis dropped out of music.
In his autobiography, Davis wrote frankly about his life during his hiatus from music. He called his Upper West Side brownstone a wreck and chronicled his heavy use of alcohol and cocaine, in addition to his sexual encounters with many women. In December 1975, he had regained enough strength to undergo a much needed hip replacement operation. In March 1976, Rolling Stone reported rumors of his imminent demise, citing his health problems during the previous tour. In December 1976, Columbia was reluctant to renew his contract and pay his usual large advances. But after his lawyer started negotiating with United Artists, Columbia matched their offer, establishing the Miles Davis Fund to pay him regularly. Pianist Vladimir Horowitz was the only other musician with Columbia that had a similar status.
In 1978, Julie Coryell interviewed Davis. Concerned about his health, she had him stay with a friend in Norwalk, Connecticut. Davis asked Coryell’s husband, fusion guitarist Larry Coryell, to participate in sessions with keyboardists Masabumi Kikuchi and George Pavlis, bassist T. M. Stevens, and drummer Al Foster. Davis played the arranged piece uptempo, abandoned his trumpet for the organ, and had Macero record the session without the band’s knowledge. After Coryell declined a spot in a band that Davis was beginning to put together, Davis returned to his reclusive lifestyle in New York City. Soon after, Marguerite Eskridge had Davis jailed for failing to pay child support to their son Erin, which cost him $10,000 (US$39,199 in 2019 dollars) for release on bail. A recording session that involved Buckmaster and Gil Evans was halted, with Evans leaving after failing to receive the payment he was promised. In August 1978, Davis hired a new manager, Mark Rothbaum, who had worked with him since 1972. Despite the dearth of new material, Davis placed in the Top 10 trumpeter poll of Down Beat magazine in 1979
By 1979, Davis had rekindled his relationship with actress Cicely Tyson, with whom he overcame his cocaine addiction and regained his enthusiasm for music. The two married on November 26, 1981, in a ceremony at Bill Cosby‘s home in Massachusetts that was officiated by politician and civil rights activist Andrew Young. Their tumultuous marriage ended with Tyson filing for divorce in 1988, which was finalized in 1989.
In October 1979, his contract with Columbia was up for negotiation. Label president Clive Davis was replaced by George Butler, who had visited Davis several times during the previous two years to encourage him to return to the studio. To help his situation, Davis had Buckmaster come over to collaborate on new music. After arriving, Buckmaster organized an intervention for Davis, who was living in squalor among cockroach infestations, in the dark with his curtains always closed. His sister Dorothy cleaned his house with help from Buckmaster, Tyson, and neighbor Chaka Khan. Davis later thanked Buckmaster for helping him.
Davis hadn’t played the trumpet much for three years and found it difficult to reclaim his embouchure. His first post-hiatus studio appearance took place on May 1, 1980. A day later, Davis was hospitalized due to a leg infection. He recorded The Man with the Horn (1981) from June 1980 to May 1981 with Macero producing. A large band was abandoned in favor of a combo with saxophonist Bill Evans (not to be confused with pianist Bill Evans) and bassist Marcus Miller. Both would collaborate with him during the next decade.
The Man with the Horn received a poor critical reception despite selling well. In June 1981, Davis returned to the stage for the first time since 1975 in a ten-minute guest solo as part of Mel Lewis‘s band at the Village Vanguard. This was followed by appearances with a new band, a four-night run at Kix in Boston, and two shows at Avery Fisher Hall on July 5 as part of the Kool Jazz Festival. Recordings from a mixture of dates from 1981, including the Kix and Avery Fisher Hall gigs, were released on We Want Miles (1982), which earned him a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance by a Soloist.
In January 1982, while Tyson was working in Africa, Davis “went a little wild” with alcohol, and suffered a stroke that temporarily paralyzed his right hand. Tyson returned home and cared for him. After three months of treatment with a Chinese acupuncturist, he was able to play the trumpet again. He listened to his doctor’s warnings and gave up alcohol and drugs. He credited Tyson with helping his recovery, which involved exercise, piano playing, and visits to spas. She encouraged him to draw, which he pursued for the rest of his life.
Davis resumed touring in May 1982 with a line-up that included French percussionist Mino Cinelu and guitarist John Scofield, with whom he worked closely on the album Star People (1983). In mid-1983, he worked on the tracks for Decoy, an album mixing soul music and electronica that was released in 1984. He brought in producer, composer, and keyboardist Robert Irving III, who had collaborated with him on The Man with the Horn. With a seven-piece band that included Scofield, Evans, Irving, Foster, and Darryl Jones, he played a series of European performances that were positively received. In December 1984, while in Denmark, he was awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Prize. Trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg had written a contemporary classical piece titled “Aura” for the event which impressed Davis to the point of returning to Denmark in early 1985 to record his next studio album, Aura (1989). Columbia was dissatisfied with the recording and delayed its release.
In May 1985, one month into a tour, Davis signed a contract with Warner Bros. that required him to give up his publishing rights. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis publicly dismissed his more recent fusion recordings as not being “‘true’ jazz.” Davis shrugged off the comment, calling Marsalis “a nice young man, only confused.” Marsalis appeared unannounced onstage during Davis’ performance at the inaugural Vancouver International Jazz Festival in 1986. Marsalis whispered into Davis’ ear that “someone” had told him to do so. Davis responded by ordering him off the stage. Davis had become increasingly irritated at Columbia’s delay in releasing Aura. The breaking point appears to have come when a producer at Columbia asked him to call Marsalis and wish him a happy birthday. The tour in 1985 included a performance in London in July in which Davis performed on stage for five hours. Jazz critic John Fordham concluded, “The leader is clearly enjoying himself.” By 1985, Davis was diabetic and required daily injections of insulin.
He released You’re Under Arrest, his final album for Columbia, in September 1985. It included cover versions of two pop songs: “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper and “Human Nature” sung by Michael Jackson. He considered releasing an album of pop songs, and he recorded dozens of them, but the idea was rejected. He said that many of today’s jazz standards had been pop songs in Broadway theater and that he was simply updating the standards repertoire.
Davis collaborated with a number of figures from the British post-punk and new wave movements during this period, including Scritti Politti. At the invitation of producer Bill Laswell, he recorded some trumpet parts during sessions for Public Image Ltd.’s Album, according to John Lydon in the liner notes of their Plastic Box box set. In Lydon’s words, however, “Strangely enough, we didn’t use [his contributions].” According to Lydon in the Plastic Box notes, Davis favorably compared Lydon’s singing voice to his trumpet sound during these sessions.
1986–1991: FINAL YEARS
After taking part in the recording of the 1985 protest song “Sun City” as a member of Artists United Against Apartheid, Davis appeared on the instrumental “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Toto for their album Fahrenheit (1986). Davis intended to collaborate with Prince, but the project was dropped. Davis also collaborated with Zane Giles and Randy Hall on the Rubberband sessions in 1985 but those would remain unreleased until 2019. Instead, he worked with Marcus Miller and Tutu (1986), became the first time he used modern studio tools such as programmed synthesizers, sampling, and drum loops. Released in September 1986, its front cover is a portrait of Davis by Irving Penn. In 1987, he won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Soloist.
In 1988, Davis had a small part as a street musician in the Christmas comedy film Scrooged starring Bill Murray. He also collaborated with Zucchero Fornaciari in a version of Dune Mosse (Blue’s), published in 2004 in Zu & Co. of the Italian bluesman. In November 1988, he was inducted into the Knights of Malta at a ceremony at the Alhambra Palace in Spain (hence the “Sir” title on his gravestone). Later that month, Davis cut his European tour short after he collapsed and fainted after a two-hour show in Madrid and flew home. Rumors of his health were made public after the American magazine Star, in its February 21, 1989 edition, published that Davis had contracted AIDS, prompting his manager Peter Shukat to issue a statement the following day to deny the claim. Shukat revealed Davis had been in the hospital for a mild case of pneumonia and the removal of a benign polyp on his vocal cords and was resting comfortably in preparation for his 1989 tours. Davis later blamed one of his former wives or girlfriends for starting the rumor and decided against taking legal action. He was interviewed on 60 Minutes by Harry Reasoner. In October 1989, he received a Grande Medaille de Vermeil from Paris mayor Jacques Chirac. In 1990, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In early 1991, he appeared in the Rolf de Heer film Dingo as a jazz musician.
When listeners hear the name Miles Davis, they might think of some of his early works like Kind of Blue and Birth of the Cool, but those albums were just the beginning. Even as a young musician, Davis was always ahead of his time. He never liked to look back on the past and was always looking to the future as jazz began to change.
Davis was one of the key musicians of his time to make groundbreaking strides in the music industry and, as he got older, he began to turn his attention to the the next generation of talented musicians that were doing the same.
One of the young artists Davis took notice of was Prince, who he saw himself in as someone who was determined to do something different and push the boundaries of art.
“Prince does so many things, it’s almost like he can do it all,” Davis wrote in his autobiography. “He can be the new Duke Ellington of our time if he just keeps at it.”
Despite a few failed attempts at collaborating with each other in the in the mid-1980s, the two did come together to play a show at Paisley Park on December 31, 1987, where Prince rang in the new year with a benefit concert for the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless. Tickets were $200 per person, with 400 people in attendance that night at Paisley Park.
Although Davis wasn’t on stage with Prince the whole time, the two played together on a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” and Davis remembered his experience visiting Paisley Park in his autobiography, where Prince actually hosted him overnight, a rare honor.
“When Prince asked me to come to Minneapolis to bring in the new year of 1988 and maybe we could play a song or two together, I went. In order to become a great musician the musician has to have the ability to stretch and Prince can certainly stretch,” Davis wrote. “Me and [bassist] Foley went out to Minneapolis. Man, Prince has got a hell of a complex out there. Record and movie equipment, plus he had an apartment for me to stay in. The whole thing seems like it’s about a half a block.”
In this clip Prince interacts with Davis for a brief moment, scat singing in response to the improvised melodies Davis plays on his trumpet, but he mostly keeps his focus on giving cues to the band.
According to an article by a fan who attended the show, although the video only shows about five minutes of Prince and Davis on stage together, the two jammed on the same song for 30 minutes, with Prince saying to the crowd, “You’ll expect an awful lot for $200.”
Davis died just a few years later in 1991. The performance at Paisley Park would be the one and only time the two legends would play together live.
On July 8, 1991, Davis returned to performing material from his past at the 1991 Montreux Jazz Festival with a band and orchestra conducted by Quincy Jones. The set consisted of arrangements from his albums recorded with Gil Evans. The show was followed by a concert billed as “Miles and Friends” at the Grande halle de la Villette in Paris two days later, with guest performances by musicians from throughout his career, including John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, and Joe Zawinul. In Paris, he was awarded the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. After returning to America, he stopped in New York City to record material for Doo-Bop, then returned to California to play at the Hollywood Bowl on August 25, his final live performance.