Miles Davis // Birth of the Cool

Miles Davis // Birth of the Cool

By NOISYHYPE TEAM, April 11, 2020

Miles Davis was one of the musical giants of the twentieth century. In a career that spanned more than five decades, Miles transformed the face of jazz four or five times and his music resonates far beyond the bounds of his genre. Miles made the most famous album in the history of jazz, Kind of Blue, formed one of the greatest jazz quintets in the 1960s and fused jazz with rock.

By the end of his career his music flowed out across the United States and even into other countries. Despite that, his musical tone always reflected his upbringing in East St. Louis, where he learned to play the trumpet. The people of and around the city seem happy to claim Davis as their own blood, since he managed to earn fame as an African American. Miles Davis, however, grew up in a middle upper class family, and the advantages of living in such a household allowed him to start his career with relative ease. Perhaps, because of the advantages of his upbringing, Miles Davis should not be considered so much a hero of the African American people or of East St. Louis, but simply a hero of jazz.

Miles Davis’ early success, however, would not have occurred without his family’s standings. Davis’ father tested into college and graduated Northwestern University’s School for Dentistry as one of only four African American students (Szwed 6). As a practicing professional, Dr. Davis belonged to a group of upper middle class African Americans in East St. Louis. His class allowed Dr. Davis to make friends with white professionals, and Miles Jr. to make friends with their kids. In fact, Dr. John Eubanks, a neighboring physician, helped start Davis’ musical career by giving him his first instrument (Szwed 16). Even in the early 1900s, musical instruments did not run cheap, and Dr. Eubanks gift really allowed Davis to begin practicing early. If Miles Davis belonged to a struggling household, he may never have been able to afford a trumpet, at least not until much later when his practice time would be compromised.

Retreat and comeback

To the confusion of some in his audiences, Miles started performing with his back to them. While the move was sometimes interpreted as a sign of arrogance, he was in reality doing it to give cues to his band. 

In the mid-1970s, Davis withdrew from the stage. He had outdone himself and lost his musical inspiration. His intense lifestyle – and the drugs – were becoming a lot to handle.

After a six-year break, Davis decided to make a comeback and in 1981 he enchanted his audience at the New York Jazz Festival. The old Miles was back with his pure trumpet riffs and without the electronic boost. He dusted off jazz rock and made it palatable again.

 

Davis recorded two funk albums before moving on to pop music. On his 1985 album “You’re Under Arrest,” he performed Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” and Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time” – but didn’t get the best reviews.

By that time he was nearly 60 and had already revolutionized jazz at least three times. He could do whatever he wanted and could allow himself to joke around with audiences and be friendly to journalists.

Without the burden of having to reinvent the musical wheel yet again, Davis recorded the relaxed album “Tutu” in 1986, which brought him his third Grammy. In 1991, he headed back to the studio to record the first tracks for his last album, “Doo Bop,” with hip hop producer Easy Mo Bee. But he would never get to complete it.

 

In September 1991, Davis suffered a stroke and went into a coma. On September 28, his family decided to take him off life support.