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Miles Davis was a musician who used his personal limitations to his advantage. He lacked the virtuosity of a Dizzy Gillespie and the compositional ability of Duke Ellington, but he made up for it in developing a unique mid-range tone trumpet style that is likened to the voice of Billy Holiday.
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. Those old trumpet players used to tell me “Little Davis!” Play with a straight tone.” -Miles Davis
Davis was born May 26th, 1926 in East St. Louis. From an early age he was exposed to the jazz scene in St. Louis, MO. He became the apprentice of Clark Terry who stressed tone and the importance of sight-reading. His love of jazz prompted him to seek out a musical education which sent him to New York City where he was accepted at Juilliard. However, it was the bebop scene on 52nd street and Harlem where Miles realized where he would receive his true education. He dropped out of Juilliard in his second year. “The shit they was talking about was too white for me.” Miles said of the music school. However, by the same token, Miles had a true passion for European classical music and admitted that it was nearly all he and his wife would listen to at home.
I would go to the library and borrow scores by all those great composers, like Stravinsky, Alban Berg, Prokofiev. I wanted to see what was going on in all of music. Knowledge is freedom and ignorance is slavery, and I just couldn’t believe someone could be that close to freedom and not take advantage of it. -Miles Davis
His personality was often contradictory, which enhanced his allure. His taste for beautiful women, expensive cars and stylish clothes made him the quintessential hip celebrity of his era. His demeanor was strong and unyielding. He was addicted to heroin and kicked it. He condemned other black musicians for being overt entertainers, clowning and dancing for white audiences. Miles would play with his back turned to audiences as a show of black pride. In 1959 he was beaten by a white policeman for being seen with a white woman. The incident gained national attention and became a symbol for black nationalism.
In addition to his volatile attitude, perhaps his most important characteristic was his malcontent for nostalgia. Davis was always looking for the next frontier, and this attitude can be seen in directing all of his transformations from Bebop to the Birth of the Cool to the Blue Period to Hard Bop leading to Gil Evan’s and Kind of Blue to Electric Miles. His career can be viewed in periods similar to artist’s like Picasso. Picasso had periods, the rose period, the blue period, cubism; he kept changing and evolving his style. Miles Davis had a similar attitude about his musical styles. Once he’d worked a style, he had to move on, create something new, search deeper into the music.
I never thought that the music called “jazz” was ever meant to reach just a small group of people, or become a museum thing locked under glass like all other dead things that were once considered artistic. -Miles Davis
By the mid 1950′s Miles Davis was at the pinnacle of the jazz scene. He had already spearheaded the movements of cool jazz and was moving into modal jazz, leading a major shift in the genre. Once a musician enters that realm, the realm of being a leader in changing theories, they have to continue evolving in order to stay relevant. However, Miles Davis appeared less concerned with his legacy than with his own satisfaction of the music being pleasing to him; a true testament to the spirit of jazz.
Those songs to me don’t exist, you know? “So What” or Kind of Blue, I’m not going to play that shit, those things are there. They were done in that era, the right hour, the right day, and it happened. It’s over; it’s on the record. -Miles Davis
When you’re creating your own shit, man, even the sky ain’t the limit. -Miles Davis
My future starts when I wake up every morning. Every day I find something creative to do with my life. -Miles Davis
Always look ahead, but never look back. -Miles Davis