Part 1: Early Life to Modal Jazz
“East St. Louis was a very good place for jazz music at this time. jazz musicians would travel up and down the Mississippi River playing on party boats.”
Miles Davis was born on May twenty-sixth, 1926. He grew up on the east side of St. Louis and there he received his first musical education. Miles had a pretty average up-bringing, besides the fact that he was an African American and was subject to racism, even so his father was a prominent dentist and he had several siblings. East St. Louis was a very good place for jazz music at this time. jazz musicians would travel up and down the Mississippi River playing on party boats. In his autobiography Miles Davis says that some of his first experiences with jazz music came from sitting by the river listening to the sounds lofting from the boats.
Miles was one of the top trumpeters at his high school and began to play with local jazz bands but eventually Miles outgrew East St. Louis. He was ready for the big city. Miles Davis moved to New York in 1944 so that he could attend Julliard School of Music. New York during the early part of the twentieth century was the epicenter of jazz and still is to some degree.
The best musicians, composers, and venues were all located in New York City. It’s not a surprise Miles wanted to go there. When Miles arrived in the city he was quickly astonished by the sheer size of New York and the quick paced movement of the locals. He started taking music classes but his real goal was to track down and find “Bird” and “Diz” Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
Miles an Dizzy
“They were masters of be-bop, which incorporated complicated chord changes at blazing speeds.”
When Miles moved to New York in 1944 Charlie Parker known by his nickname Bird was considered to be one of if not the best jazz soloist, only matched by his rival, the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. They were masters of be-bop, which incorporated complicated chord changes at blazing speeds. Once Miles hooked up with these two, his heroes, his studies at Julliard seemed less important and he dropped out. Miles knew bebop wouldn’t be his thing he was good but realized he would never be able to play the crazy fast licks like Bird or Diz. He needed to find his own voice, his own path.
Miles found that if he played in the middle register he could better express his musical ideas, instead of playing high pitched notes like in bebop. In 1957 miles produced the Birth of Cool tracks, his first major recording project. Then later the Kind of Blue album in 1959. These two albums showed a separation from the bebop style, it involved more layers of instrumentation and simple melodic lines in the middle register. Like many jazz musicians of the time Miles struggled with drug use, luckily he was able to quit the habit during his early years.