Miles Davis as the Influence of Jazz

Topics: Miles Davis, Jazz, Bebop Pages: 5 (1762 words) Published: May 28, 2011
Question 11

Miles Davis was one of the greatest and most important figures in jazz history. Miles Dewey Davis III was a musician, composer, arranger, producer and bandleader all in one. Davis was at the forefront of almost every major development in jazz after World War 2. He was one of the most influential and innovative musicians of the twentieth century along with Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong. His versatility landed him at the forefront of bebop, cool jazz, modal, hard bop and fusion (Kirker, 2005:1). His sound went on to influence many other newer forms of music today such as pop, soul, R&B, funk and rap. As one of the last trumpet players, Davis employed a lyrical, melodic style that was known for its minimalism as well as introspection (Kirker, 2005:1). Davis’s influence also extended as far as his ability to assemble great up-and-coming musicians and nurture their creativity within his many bands. Miles Davis and his music is the epitome of jazz, symbolizing jazz as innovative, cool, complex and unpredictable (Kirker, 2005:1). Born in Alton, Illinois and raised in East St. Louis, Davis was given his first trumpet at the tender age of thirteen. By the age of fifteen, he was playing in public with bandleader Eddie Randall and studying under local trumpeter Elwood Buchanan. His teacher advised Davis to develop a straight, vibrato-less tone unlike popular trumpeters of the period like Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge. The playing without vibrato became his clear signature tone throughout his career and a characteristic of the ‘cool’ sound which supplied overtones similar to vibrato (Kirker, 2005:1). In 1944, Davis was accepted into the Juilliard School of Music. However, he was more interested in locating Charlie Parker who was his idol. Parker introduced him to other musicians and soon they were playing gigs at nightclubs alongside Fats Navarro, Freddie Webster and J.J Johnson who were the future leaders of the bebop revolution. Bop or bebop was a rebellion against the big bands, commercialism, racial injustice and the restrictive harmonic framework of jazz during that time (Kingman, 1990:385). It was also during his participation in the Parker quintet that Davis perfected his approach to difficult melodic lines and rhythms that were played at breakneck speed (Merod, 2001:72). Davis was soon finding his own voice, exploring the harmonies and phrasings of bebop, and contributing cautious but pure-toned solos (Kirker, 2005:1). His first attempt at leading a group came in 1949 and was the first of many occurrences where he would take jazz in a new direction. Along with arranger Gil Evans, he created a nonet (9 members) that used non-traditional instruments in a jazz setting such as the French horn and Tuba (Judden, 2001). An emphasis was also placed on a diminished use of vibrato in both reeds and brass, producing a drier, ‘cool’ sound. Davis and Evans were searching for a big band sound outside the confines of swing and bebop which would lead to the birth of cool jazz later. Cool jazz has followed closely behind bop that it has the same dispassionate objectivity, complexity, and careful avoidance of the obvious that almost tends to obscurity (Kingman, 1990:388). However, these features were exhibited in a music of understatement, retrainess and leanness. They signed on Capitol Records which led to the release of their album “The Birth of the Cool”, a movement that challenged the dominance of bebop and hard-bop (Sony Music, 2010). “Boplicity” is an example where the tempo has been slowed but the bop characteristics still remain intact. The light style of drumming, with emphasis on cymbal, bass keeping the beat and an important bop characteristic, the unison playing at the beginning of the piece (Kingman, 1990:388). Davis challenged the fundamental premises of bebop by creating music of haunting tonal qualities without relying on speed, an idea that he had already pioneered while playing with Charlie...
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