Miles Davis - the great inventor

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Davis devoted himself to a career in jazz that would establish him as the most consistently innovative performer in the history of the music.

From 1945 to 1948 Davis contributed to Parker's pioneering bop recordings, absorbing the principles of harmonic substitution and elaboration essential to the style after receiving tuition from Thelonious Monk. Davis, who was not as technically able as Gillespie, evolved a refined and often restrained melodic idiom that perfectly comple­mented Gillespie's virtuosity. It was the encounter with Gil Evans that helped Davis to develop his first new musical inovation: 'cool' jazz. 'Hot' was a term used in early jazz to describe those elements (chiefly syncopation, expressive tone and blue notes) that reflected the music's African influences. This type of jazz stood in sharp contrast to the polished, westernized dance music with which it competed. Davis stated that the group with the intention of bringing back true melodies into jazz pieces, and in doing so it unintentionally created an idiom that would be more popular than bop with white audiences. Nevertheless, the Davis nonet owed much to the surface mannerisms of bop: the ensemble's interpretation of Move, for example, featured a head theme strongly influenced by its melodic style, and was accompanied throughout by bop drumming supplied by Max Roach. It is ironic that cool jazz, derived from a style conceived in reaction to the white commercialization of jazz, only became a commercial success when borrowed and transformed by white musicians. Brubeck built on Roach's previous attempt to compose jazz in waltz metre (Jazz in 3/4 Time, 1956-57) by employing a wide variety of metrical schemes, including the quintuple time of the famous track 'Take Five', composed by his alto saxophonist Paul Desmond (1924-77).This piece, the first jazz instrumental recording to sell over one million copies, is also an early example of modal jazz, fusing thirty-two-bar song form and modal techniques.

In the interim, the artist who had initiated cool jazz had returned to the bop style of his early years. In 1949, Davis was one of the ambas­sadors of bop attending the first Parisian jazz festival, after which he returned to the USA thoroughly disheartened by the American jazz scene and descended rapidly into the drug problems by then almost universal among bop musicians. The four albums from 1956, recorded in a spurt of activity as Davis completed his contract with Prestige before moving to Columbia, were made by a quintet comprising Davis, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane (1926-67), pianist Red Garland (1923-84), bassist Paul Chambers (1935-69) and drummer Philly Joe Jones (1923-85). Widely considered to represent the peak of both Davis's early work and the post-bop style, the performances of the Miles Davis Quintet set new standards of sophistication in accompaniment, thanks to the particularly strong rapport between the three members of the rhythm section. Over this secure foundation, a potent tension between Davis's understated improvisations and Coltrane's passionate cascades of notes gave the jazz pieces great intensity. Davis hired as his temporary replacement Sonny Rollins (b. 1930), who had, in partnership with Roach, developed the rhythmic complexity and thematic subtleties of Parker's formulaic improvisations. By the end of the year, Coltrane had rejoined Davis and his rhythm section in New York. With the addition of alto saxophonist Julian 'Cannonball' Adderley (1928-75), the new sextet recorded a seminal album in the evolution of modern jazz, titled Milestones (1958).

In addition to its stature as one of the finest small-ensemble albums in the post-bop style, Milestones was an early landmark in the develop­ment of the modal jazz that constituted Davis s second significant stylistic innovation. If the 'cool' school had reacted against the some­times aggressive virtuosity and structural limitations of bop, modal jazz turned away from the complexities of bop harmony. In the track on Milestones entitled 'Miles', innovative modality is perfectly fused with a conventional jazz structure. Davis's solo is a masterpiece of restraint, closely adhering to the limited notes at his disposal and generating thematic patterns with inspired, spontaneous logic. Kind of Blue is held in high esteem by jazz musicians because its sophisticated music was recorded with virtually no prior rehearsal.

Evans independently pioneered modal techniques, recording in 1958 on the album Everybody Digs Bill Evans the track 'Peace Piece', which was influenced by the work of Debussy, Satie and Chopin. John Coltrane's departure from Davis allowed the saxophonist to develop as a leader in his own right, producing early albums such as the hard-bop tinged Blue Train (1957) and harmonically adventurous Giant Steps (1959). Coltrane also showed a continuing interest in Davis's modal tech­niques, as revealed in the live album Impressions (1961), in which his irrepressible energy produced fifteen minutes of uninterrupted solo improvisation. Davis retorted: 'Try taking the saxophone out of your mouth.' Until his death in 1967, Coltrane grew in stature as a leading light of the emerging jazz avant-garde.

After repeating My Funny Valentine on tour in Japan, Davis replaced Coleman with Wayne Shorter, who was then playing with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. This quintet brought Davis's characteristic mixture of modal with hard-bop techniques to its zenth, until the group disbanded in 1968, by which time the trumpeter's attention had begun to turn towards the radical new paths offered by jazz-rock fusion.