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WRTI 90.1's Essential Jazz Artist No. 2: Miles Davis

Miles Davis (1926-1991)

Miles Ahead is the name of an album and a film, and also where Miles Davis falls in the Countdown. He's your No. 2 Most Essential Jazz Artist this year.

He once said that he couldn’t play as fast as Dizzy Gillespie, so he stopped fighting it and just slowed everything down. The result became Kind of Blue, the best-selling jazz album of all time. The unusual, cyclical, modal harmonies changed jazz forever, and that’s just one of the “four or five” times Miles said that he “changed music.”

We can’t disagree with that summary, and we can’t stop reveling in the ineffable sound-world and the exquisitely personal musicianship of trumpeter Miles Davis.

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  • For the Kind of Blue recording sessions, the only written-out music Davis gave the band members were bits of melodies and scales; no chords. Everything else they improvised.
  • From that album, “Flamenco Sketches” has five scales, each played “as long as the soloist wishes.”
  • Bebop, Hard Bop, Birth of the Cool, Modal Jazz, Fusion, Third Stream… Miles had a significant part in all of these developments.
  • His father was a dentist, and his mother could play blues piano...but she never told her son that she could.
  • He went to Juilliard but dropped out after spending much of his time jamming at Minton’s Playhouse and elsewhere. He later credited Juilliard with improving his playing technique and understanding of music theory.