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The Life Of Miles Davis - The Birth Of The Cool

Jul 2, 2008
The first major development in the life of Miles Davis was when he started started his recording career in 1945 in New York City. Initially he was heavily under the influence of Charlie Parker becoming a member of his unofficial quintet and appearing on many of Parker's originative bebop recordings in the autumn of that year .

In Davis' very first recordings he was accompanied by tenor saxophonist Herby fields and the blues singer Rubberlegg Williams. It was early days as yet though and Davis, although already having a distinctive style lacked confidence and his technique needed development. He was known to play his notes somewhat throttled at times and he would stumble in his solos now and then.

This novice segment in his career would not last that long because by 1948 he was beginning to flower as a solo artist. He had now served his apprenticeship on stage and record as a sideman and began to work with a nonet which is, for those who are not familiar with the name a piece of music or group for nine instruments or voices. Unusually for the time, this particular nonet featured the French horn and tuba.

After a number of gigs at New York's Royal roost the group were signed by Capitol records and recorded several singles that were released in 1949 in 1950. These Recordings featured arrangements by Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis and Gil Evans. Davis found at this time a productive collaboration with Gil Evans which would continue over the next 20 years on many of his major works. The recordings produced at this time saw little use until 1957 until they were released as the album the "birth of the cool".

The year 1949 saw the artists first visit to Europe where he performed in the Paris Jazz Festival in May of that year. This visit was to prove seminal in Davis' life if for no other reason than the fact that to the French they had become something of a cult. The experience of this cult status was so different then he was used to in America that are affected him strongly, so much so that Davis dated his problems with narcotics from this point on. Returning to America Davis now found himself, while playing in the jazz clubs of New York, in frequent contact with people who used and sold narcotics and like many at the time became a heroin addict.

Between 1950 and 55 Davis mainly recorded as a leader in a variety of small group settings. Included were sideman such as Sonny Rollands, John Lewis, Kenny Clarke, Jack McLean, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Thelonious Monk, J. J. Johnson, Percy Heath, Milt Jackson and Charles Mingus. It was a productive time but Davis was now a heroin addict and because of that he became unreliable and developed a reputation for unreliability.

It was a big problem and his solution was to return to St. Louis where, in the winter of 1953 -- 54 he locked himself in a guest room. This was in his father's farm and lasted for 12 days until the drug was out of his system. It is notable that during this period he did have help with his addiction from the famous boxer sugar Ray Robinson.

After this and in 1954 after going clean, Davis made a series of important recordings which were eventually collected on albums including; Walkin', Bags' Groove and Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants. One other very important development did occur in 1954 which must be made note of and that was that Davis started to use the Harmon mute.

For those who are not familiar with the term the Harmon mute is a trumpeter's device that darkens and subdues the trumpet sound. If you have ever seen Davis in concert you will have seen him using this device in front of his trumpet and of couse heard the distinctive muted trumpet tone that it creates. It was this tone that would be associated with Davis for the rest of his life.
About the Author
Murray Hubick is an accomplished artist and writer who is also a self proclaimed jazz addict. To read his latest series of articles on the Life of Miles Davis ; his influences, who inspired him how this artist consistently held the position of being at the forefront of just about every major development in jazz from World War II to the 1990's go to www. lifeofmilesdavis.com
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