Miles of memories

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  • wkhanna
    Grumpy Old Super Moderator Emeritus
    • Jan 2006
    • 5673

    Miles of memories

    from today's edition of "The Writer's Almanac"

    It’s the birthday of jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer Miles Davis (1926). He was born in Alton, Illinois, and grew up in East Saint Louis. His family was fairly well off, a fact he liked to remind people of, since they tended to assume he came from poverty. His dad was a dental surgeon, and the family had a ranch in Arkansas, where young Miles learned to ride horses. He moved to New York in 1944 to study at the Institute of Musical Art, which is now Juilliard. His true schooling, though, came by way of jam sessions with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and when Gillespie and Parker parted ways, Davis filled Gillespie’s vacancy in Parker’s band.

    Always an innovator, Davis formed a nine-piece ensemble in the late 1940s that included a tuba and a French horn; their aim was to re-create the smooth sound of the human voice, and their album Birth of the Cool (1956) heralded the beginning of the “cool jazz” movement. Though it was historically important, it was a commercial failure, and Davis resented the success of later musicians — mostly white — who enjoyed celebrity under the cool jazz banner.

    He developed a heroin habit in the early 1950s, due partly to the company he kept and partly to depression over romantic troubles and his lack of critical acclaim. He finally beat the habit in 1954, after locking himself in his room at his father’s house until he had come through the difficult withdrawal symptoms. But he was also musically productive during those years, developing a “hard bop” style. He wrapped up the 1950s by releasing one of the most celebrated jazz albums in history, Kind of Blue (1959), which was based on modal scales rather than chords, and was more melodic than some of his earlier work.

    In the late 1960s, Davis began introducing some electric guitar and piano into his records, inspired in part by Jimi Hendrix and James Brown. He cut what some consider his last pure jazz album, In a Silent Way, in 1969, and then moved increasingly toward funk and rock and roll; his jazz-rock fusion double album Bitches Brew (1970) was hugely successful — his first gold record — and won him a lot of new fans even as it alienated his old ones. He was the first jazz musician to be featured on the cover of Rolling Stone, and began opening for rock acts like the Grateful Dead, Santana, and Neil Young.

    He broke both ankles in a car accident in 1972, which slowed him down, and checked out of public life altogether in 1975, ill and exhausted and battling a cocaine addiction. There was a three-year period where he didn’t play his trumpet at all, and it took some time to get his chops back when he returned to music in the early ’80s. This time he surprised the critics and fans alike by taking an interest in British New Wave music. He died of pneumonia and a stroke in 1991.


    Practicing Curmudgeon & Audio Snob
    ....just an "ON" switch, Please!

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