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Miles Davis is sometimes described as the ultimate jazz icon. Others call him a musical visionary or simply one of the greatest jazz players that ever lived. His playing is so clear and beautiful that it has been described by some as if his trumpet were singing.
Born in 1926 in East St. Louis, Miles Davis came from a well-to-do family. His grandfather was the first black landowner in Arkansas and Miles' father was successful dentist and racehorse breeder. The young Miles Davis was a good, although not exceptional, trumpet player.
While in high school, Davis honed his craft and toured with Billy Eckstine's band. He then moved to New York under the pretense that he was going to study at the Julliard School of Music. In reality, he began to play with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, becoming the trumpet player in Charlie Parker's band for three years.
By 1949, Miles Davis was leading his own band. He broke from tradition by introducing musicians into his band who played unusual instruments, such as the tuba and the French horn. A more subtle style of jazz was born. Known as Cool Jazz, the nine-piece musical outfit, or nonet, influenced a huge number of musicians, primarily on the west coast of America. The album Birth of the Cool became an instant hit.
In 1955, Davis played a triumphant performance at the Newport Jazz Festival. Always improvising and changing his musical style, Miles Davis would work with Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly and many other huge names of the jazz world. In 1959, Davis recorded the revolutionary album Kind of Blue.
The technique Miles Davis used which marked him out from other trumpet players was his use of spacing. He would use silent spaces in his solos to produce a more relaxed sound. He would also play in a lower register to produce a beautiful tone. From cool jazz, to jazz-fusion, to funk, the music of Miles Davis was ever evolving.
Like many other jazz musicians, Miles Davis had his share of personal demons. He conquered a heroin and cocaine habit by sheer force of willpower alone. Davis also suffered a number of serious illnesses and once almost died in a car crash. Each time, until his death in 1991, Davis fought back and returned to his one passion, music.
He really had the unique power of staying relevant through a 50 year long career. I think that's what sets him aside from the scores of other jazz geniuses. He is known for having wanted to remain hip among the black youth, and succeeded overwhelmingly in this goal. At a few points in his career, he even captured a significant pop music market. This is especially true in the late 60's when his band opened for such pop sensations as The Grateful Dead.