Davis, Miles (Dewey), III (Alton, IL, 26 May 1926 - Santa Monica, CA, 28 Sept 1991)


Trumpeter and bandleader


Davis grew up in East St. Louis, and took up trumpet at the age of 13; two years later he was already playing professionally. He moved to New York in September 1944, ostensibly to enter the Institute of Musical Art but actually to locate his idol, Charlie Parker. He joined Parker in live appearances and recording sessions (1945-8), at the same time playing in other groups and touring in the big bands led by Benny Carter and Billy Eckstine. In 1948 he began to lead his own bop groups, and he participated in an experimental workshop centered on the arranger Gil Evans. Their collaborations with Gerry Mulligan, John Lewis, and Johnny Carisi culminated in a series of nonet recordings for Capitol under Davis's name and later collected and reissued as Birth of the Cool. In 1949 Davis performed with Sonny Rollins and Art Blakey, and with Tadd Dameron, until heroin addiction interrupted his public career intermittently from mid-1949 to 1953. Although he continued to record with famous bop musicians, including Parker, Rollins, Blakey, J. J. Johnson, Horace Silver, and members of the Modern Jazz Quartet, he worked in clubs infrequently and with inferior accompanists until 1954.


In 1955 Davis appeared informally at the Newport Jazz Festival. His sensational improvisations there brought him widespread publicity and sufficient engagements to establish a quintet (1955-7) with Red Garland, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, and John Coltrane, who in 1956 was joined and later replaced by Rollins. In May 1957 Davis made the first of several remarkable solo recordings on trumpet and flugelhorn against unusual jazz orchestrations by Gil Evans. In the autumn he organized a quintet, later joined by Cannonball Adderley, that proved short-lived; in the same year he wrote and recorded music in Paris for Louis Malle's film Ascenseur pour l'échafaud. Upon his return to the USA he re-formed his original quintet of 1955 with Adderley as a sixth member. For the next five years Davis drew the rhythm sections of his various sextets and quintets from a small pool of players: the pianists Garland, Bill Evans (1958-9), and Wynton Kelly; the drummers Jones and Jimmy Cobb; and the bass player Chambers. Personnel changes increased in early 1963, and finally Davis engaged a new rhythm section as the nucleus of another quintet: Herbie Hancock (1963-8), Ron Carter (1963-8), and Tony Williams (1963-9). To replace Coltrane, who had left in 1960, Davis tried a succession of saxophonists, including Sonny Stitt, Jimmy Heath, Hank Mobley (1961), George Coleman (1963-4), and Sam Rivers; ultimately he settled on Wayne Shorter (1964-70).


. . . .  Influential new members joined him in the late 1960s and early 1970s: Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, Keith Jarrett, John McLaughlin, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Bill Cobham, Al Foster, and Airto Moreira. As with Davis's previous colleagues, the excellence of these sidemen bore eloquent witness to his stature among jazz musicians.



 Barry Kernfeld


The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, © Macmillan Reference Ltd 1988