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The Impact of Miles Davis on Modern Jazz

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Miles Davis is a legendary person in the history of jazz. The sound of his trumpet has enchanted thousands of listeners. He was always open to some new, exotic, and even chaotic innovations; that is why he could be rightfully called the Picasso of Jazz.

What is interesting is that Miles Davis’s origin differs from the one of the majority of jazz musicians. Being a prominent dentist’s son, he did not spend his young years in poverty. In 1945 Miles went to New York to study at Julliard School of Music. But he soon dropped out in order to play jazz in the small clubs on 52nd Street. (Carr, 1998, p.556). At the age of 18, in a St. Louis nightclub, he was asked to play together with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie; that was his first taste of bebop. In 1945 he made his first recordings with Charlie Parker. This session included the classic blues performance “Now’s the Time”, which established Davis immediately as a master of understatement and an alternative trumpet stylist to Gillespie. (Carr, 1998, p.556)

An important landmark in Davis’s career was his collaboration with Gill Evans. The latter “was a gentle soul whose soft voice and unassuming modesty went with a home-made approach to arranging and composing.” (Cook, 2005) Miles and his nonet released an album known as “Birth of the Cool.” Richard Cook (2005) writes that

“-tuba and French horn play a vital role, but they are not used as improvisers: instead they follow lines of counterpoint and harmony that which give the ensemble a tonally hollow, almost lugubrious timbre which is alleviated by the spring in the solos and the rhythm section.”

It must be mentioned, that this was some kind of innovation in contemporary jazz music. The collaboration of Miles Davis and Gil Evans was very fruitful. As a result, they created three greatest jazz albums: “Miles Ahead” (1957), “Porgy and Bess” (1958), and “Sketches of Spain” (1959-60). Ian Carr, the author of Davis’s biography, describes the period of 1954-1960 as “a six-year period of sustained creativity, which in terms of range, quality and innovation has no parallel in jazz.”(Carr, 1998, p.557)

Miles Davis is fairly called the pioneer of modal jazz. Kind of Blue was a very successful jazz record. The record introduced modality as an original opportunity for creative work providing musicians with considerable freedom in solos improvising. “For Davis, modal jazz was the ideal setting for melodic inventiveness. If melody was a goal, it is only logical that players would require harmonic and rhythmic freedom, for a melody is defined by both its notes and its rhythms.”(Boothroyd, 2010, p.59)

In the 1960s, Miles organized a new band of much younger musicians; the quintet gathered together the most talented musicians of the time: Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Tony Williams (17-year-old drummer) and Wayne Shorter (saxophone). They recorded several wonderful albums, the greatest of which is My Funny Valentine. Davis never stopped experimenting, and beginning with 1965, his team and himself started to explore a new direction that became known as “time-no-changes”. The period of 1969-70 was full of activity and Miles Davis’s work at that time refers to a jazz-rock-fusion line. According to Ian Carr, the key albums that had a global influence were In a Silent Way (February 1969) and Bitches Brew (August 1969),the former an exquisite expression of Davis’s contemplative and lyrical side, and the latter a double-album with wide emotional range and a dark brooding atmosphere all its own. (Carr, 1998).

In the 1970s Miles Davis continued his innovative creative work. The musician felt this need, as it comes out of his memories: “In Europe I always had sellouts but in the United States, we played to a lot of half-empty clubs in 1969. That told me something,” (Davis, Troupe, 1990, p 297). Miles started to explore electric music ground. “On the Corner” is a great album of that period, in spite of the fact that it was not too successful. The record unusually combined the elements of electronic jazz, New York street music, Eastern drones, and African rhythms. Miles innovative step was the use of amplified trumpet with a wah-wah. The latter gave the instrument the effects of electric guitar. What was even more unusual is that sometimes he made long pauses in his playing. The critics were astounded with the blend as they could not connect it with the common principles of free jazz. At the same time that approach attracted new fans. Miles’s own opinion concerning this recording was the following: “The music was about spacing, about free association of musical ideas to a core kind of rhythm and vamps of the bass line.” (Davis, Troupe, p.322.)

A new stage in Miles career began in 1980s and this period summarizes his entire career path. “He steadily regained all his trumpet magnificence – the huge singing sound, the stamina, the use of the entire range from the lowest notes to the extreme upper register, and his lyrical genius.”(Carr, 1998).

Miles Davis made a huge contribution into the history of jazz. Davis was really different from other trumpet players and compositors. He was undoubtedly a talented musician, who created an amazing number of works. His soul was thirsty for changes and every few years he invented some new ways for his music to sound, which has made him the greatest jazz innovator of all times.

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