No jazz musician was an active part or catalyst of more stylistic changes than trumpeter-bandleader Miles Dewey Davis. One of the true enfant terribles in jazz history, Miles was a master changeling and influential innovator on his horn, with his music, as a bandleader, in fashion, and one of the great musical icons of the latter half of the 20th century. Not blessed with the high level trumpet virtuosity of either of his close elders Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie, or even Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, or Freddie Hubbard, Miles made an uncanny virtue of his relative instrumental shortcomings. He crafted a sound and a way of playing the trumpet that influenced all who followed him.
But Miles Davis’ greatest impact was as a stylistic trendsetter. When he first came on the scene, he was a modest trumpeter who learned his craft around St. Louis and migrated to New York ostensibly on a scholarship to Julliard. In reality he went to New York to get next to what Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were doing. He came under the tutelage of both Parker and Gillespie. He also learned from such masters as Coleman Hawkins, and by working in the orchestras of Billy Eckstine and Benny Carter. Thus he was immersed in the crucible of bebop development. In 1948 he put together a nonet with unusual instrumentation, including French horn and tuba, to record the landmark album Birth of the Cool. Later his work with one of the arrangers on that project, Gil Evans, set new standards for jazz soloist and orchestrated large ensemble via their Miles Ahead, Sketches of Spain, and Porgy & Bess collaborative recordings.
With John Coltrane in his mid-late 50s band he began to play in modes, rather than standard chord changes, recording the landmark Kind of Blue in 1959. In the mid-60s he further expanded the parameters of his music with a quintet of younger musicians, including composers Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. In the late-60s his early experiments with electronic instruments, and rock and ethnically diverse rhythmic codes gave wing to what was first labeled jazz-rock, later simply fusion. And in the mid-70s he left the scene, only to return several years later rejuvenated further by rock and pop and determined to lead the world’s greatest instrumental pop-funk band. Throughout it all the music took flight on the wings of his distinctive, introspective trumpet style.
Miles Davis and John Coltrane playing So What .