Miles Dewey Davis III (May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991) was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. Widely considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, Davis was at the forefront of almost every major development in jazz from World War II to the 1990s, He played on various early bebop records and recorded one of the first cool jazz records.
Miles was partially responsible for the development of hard bop and modal jazz, and both jazz-funk and jazz fusion arose from his work with other musicians in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
His final album blended jazz and rap. Many leading jazz musicians made their names in Davis’s groups, including pianist Herbie Hancock, saxophonist John Coltrane, saxophonist Kenny Garrett, and guitarist John McLaughlin.
As a trumpeter, Davis had a pure, round sound but also an unusual freedom of articulation and pitch. He was known for favoring a low register and relatively sparse playing that served the song rather than display flashy playing, but Davis was also capable of highly complex and technically demanding trumpet work.
In March and April 1959, Davis re-entered the studio with his working sextet to record what is widely considered his magnum opus, Kind of Blue.
He called back his former pianist, Bill Evans, months away from forming what would become his seminal trio, for the album sessions as the music had been planned around Evans’ piano style. Equally crucially, both Davis and Evans had direct familiarity with the ideas of pianist George Russell regarding modal jazz, Davis from discussions with Russell and others prior to what came to be known as the Birth of the Cool sessions, and Evans from study with Russell in 1956.
Miles, however, had neglected to inform his current pianist Kelly as to Evans’ role in the recordings, Kelly subsequently playing only on the track “Freddie Freeloader”, and not being present at all on the April dates for the album.
“So What” and “All Blues” had been played by the sextet at performances prior to the recording sessions, but for the other three compositions, Davis and Evans prepared skeletal harmonic frameworks which the other musicians saw for the first time on the day of recording, in order to generate an improvisational approach.
The resulting album has proven to be a huge influence on other musicians. According to the RIAA, Kind of Blue is the best-selling jazz album of all time, having been certified as triple platinum (3 million copies sold).
Miles Davis died on September 28, 1991 from a stroke, pneumonia and respiratory failure in Santa Monica, California at the age of 65. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York.
On March 13, 2006 Davis was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He has also been inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame, Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame, and Down Beat’s Jazz Hall of Fame.