Miles Davis is considered one of the four great jazz players along with Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington (Miles Davis Biography, 2004). Davis’ career spans five decades, from the mid 1940’s to 1991, which is almost unheard of in the music industry where careers tend to be short. His long career includes awards such as eight Grammy awards, a life time achievement Grammy, and three Hall of Fame awards. Through his music, Davis inspired many other musicians including The Lounge Lizards and Tangerine Dream. Davis is an icon in the jazz world, not only for his long career, but for revolutionizing the jazz genre. Without Davis’ influence, jazz would not be the rich sound it is today.
Davis is credited with creating the cool and modal jazz forms of the music (Jazz styles, n.d.). Cool jazz, or West Coast Jazz, is played with a laid back feeling to the music using various chord changes. To keep they laid back feeling, drummers use brushes in cool jazz, which avoids the driving beat heard in other jazz forms. Modal jazz is similar to Cool jazz in that it uses slow chord changes to create a melody, but keeps those chords in more of a scale format. This kept a more laid back feeling to the music while freeing the soloist to play more creatively within a scale format. Modal jazz is the precursor to free jazz, where the soloist is freed to play whatever he or she desires. While Davis is not credited with creating free jazz, he certainly opened the door for free jazz to be born.
Davis was also a rebel ahead of his time. He did things with jazz music that no one else dared to do. During the 1950’s, Davis took jazz to a new realm, which was totally off the map laid out by previous jazz musicians, by adding in instruments that are not traditionally featured in jazz (Miles Davis Biography, n.d.). By using these non-traditional instruments, such as a French horn or tuba, Miles created his own sound and style. This is a precursor to cool and modal jazz styles. Later in the 1950’s, Miles out rebelled himself by combining jazz with Spanish Flamenco music on the album “Sketches of Spain” which created another unique sound. This sound remains unnamed today.
Later, in the 1970’s Davis observed that jazz was no longer considered “hip.” The younger generations thought of jazz as music for the dinosaur era. To combat this thought, Davis created fusion jazz (Jazz styles, n.d.). Adding in Funk to his traditional smooth jazz sounds, Davis introduced a new generation to the jazz genre. Davis kept fusing jazz with more modern sounds through the 1980’s until his death in 1991.
No matter how Miles Davis is viewed; rebel or revolutionary, his music will live on for generations to come. Davis is not just an icon for jazz lovers everywhere, but a leader in jazz music. Davis created at least three different, unique jazz sounds through the years, cool, modal, and fusion jazz. Additionally he created two more, which have remained unnamed, through the combination of jazz with non-traditional instrumentation and music styles from other cultures. The debate of who Miles Davis was and how he affected jazz music may rage on for years to come, but no one will ever debate that without Miles Davis, jazz would not be what it is today.
Jazz Styles (n.d.) Retrieved January 5, 2010, from http://airjudden.tripod.com
Miles Davis biography. (2004) Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved January 5, 2010, from http://www.biography.com
Miles Davis biography. (n.d.) Retrieved January 5, 2010, from http://airjudden.tripod.com