September 19, 2021

Miles Davis, the embodiment of jazz

Miles Davis was the embodiment of jazz. Music was his obsession and women his hobby. Co-founder of cool jazz and father of hard pop, this is his story.

Miles Davis was the ‘blackbird’ of jazz, a black gangster image known by the nickname ‘Prince of Darkness’ who, waving his trumpet, revolutionized the jazz world.

It all started in 1938. On May 25, Miles turns 12 and his father, a prosperous dental surgeon, gives him a trumpet. The little one puts the instrument to his lips, blows and discovers his musical vocation.

Supported by his parents (his mother was a great music lover and hobby violinist), Miles began to study music theory. Three years later, he is already one of the members of the local union of musicians. His teacher, Edgar Buchaman, introduces him to the world of jazz. At 16 he already played in his first band, the Blue Devils. Shortly after, he joined the trumpet section of the Billy Eckstine Orchestra, where he met Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. At his father’s request, Parker takes Miles to New York in 1944 to enter the prestigious Juilliard High School of Music. At night the young trumpeter participates in the historic sessions of the clubs on Calle 52, where he alternates with the founders of the new jazz.

In 1945 he made his first recording with ‘Bird’ Parker and in 1948 he formed his own band.

In 1945 he made his first recording with ‘Bird’ Parker and in 1948 he formed his own band.

The following year, Miles leads the historic recording sessions of Birth of the cool, which will appear on the Capitol Records label, the evolutionary base of jazz. The trumpeter also makes legendary 1950s recordings for ‘Prestige’ with John Coltrane. At the beginning of that decade, Miles escapes from cocaine.

At just 29 years old, in 1955 he achieved popular recognition by tying with Dizzy Gillespie in a magazine poll. Down beat. Inspired, he surrounds himself with musicians addicted to ‘bebop’ and creates ‘hard bop’, a revolutionary form of jazz.

Trumpet at the ready, he became one of the great jazz stylists. During the four decades of his reign, Miles brings pure jazz to the great public without making any concessions, becoming a myth in life.

His whispering, raspy voice since he had polyps removed from his vocal cords in 1956, contributes to this. This is the first of his conditions, and it is that Miles struggles throughout his life against serious diseases such as diabetes and pneumonia, has heart failure and chronic hip problems and breaks both legs in a traffic accident in 1972. Punished for his ailments, he displays the scars on his body with the pride of the survivor.

Miles Davis, nicknamed ‘The Prince of Darkness’, portrait

Third parties

His addictions contribute to undermining his health and he became a pimp during the 1950s to finance his heroin use. Addicted to ferraris and pistols, he is an educated man who expresses himself with the language of the ghetto. His continuous flight from his bourgeois origins makes him a misfit who defines himself with extreme crudeness: ‘Rebel and black, nonconformist, cold and stylish, angry, sophisticated and ultra clean, add whatever trait you want: I was all those things and more. ‘

He is a genius, yes, but he is also boastful, vulnerable, brutal and cruel, his tormented personality is especially focused on women, his confessed weakness, despite his bisexual condition.

He is a genius, but his tormented personality focuses on women, his confessed weakness, despite being bisexual

The first of his five wives, dancer Frances Taylor, claims to have feared for her life on several occasions during their marriage, and in the late 1970s another of his girlfriends had to be hospitalized after being punched in the jaw.

In those years he is a man who spends the day in his pajamas, abusing cocaine and bourbon and who walks around with a loaded gun. At the end of that decade, he managed to get off drugs again, a stage that is portrayed in the tape Miles Ahead (2015).

The prince declares: ‘I don’t do rock or jazz because both are white definitions; I make black music and I do it according to the day I live, without alienating myself with past reminiscences. ‘

Restless spirit, insatiable researcher, the genius is constantly evolving: bebop, cool jazz, orchestral jazz, modal jazz, jaz-funk-rock, hip-hop. Along with him are hundreds of musicians, today jazz stars.

Miles Davis with BB King, at the Palau de la Música in Barcelona in 1973

Miles Davis with BB King, at the Palau de la Música in Barcelona in 1973

Third parties

In 1985 he ventured into pop, and interpreted Time After Time by Cindy Lauper. When being rebuked by critics, always confident of himself reacts: ‘What’s wrong with making a pop album?’ ‘I’ve always played ballads that I like.’

In 1986 he performed again in Spain during the tour of the ‘Tutu’ with full numbers.

Among his albums, Sketches of Spain stands out, in which he covers the Aranjuez Concert by Joaquín Rodrigo, as well as the aforementioned Miles Ahead, Kind of Blue, We want Miles, Star people, Heard round the world Y Decoy.

Miles Davis, the embodiment of jazz

In the twilight of his days he is a man in love, who together with his fifth wife, the actress Cicely Tyson, seems to have found harmony: ‘My wife gives me balance, if it weren’t for her now I would be doing things other than music’ .

But his excesses take their toll. On September 28, 1991, Miles died in Santa Monica, victim of pneumonia, respiratory difficulties and a stroke. New York’s Woodlawn Cemetery is his last resting place.

The ‘Prince of Darkness’ forced by zanatos to park his trumpet, finally rests in peace.