Life Of Miles Davis – The Early Years

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

In Alton Illinois, Miles Davis was born in 1926 named Miles Dewey Davis III to a relatively affluent family and was named Miles Dewey Davis III on May 26th 1926. 

His father, Dr. Miles Davis, a dentist who moved the family to East St. Louis in 1927, could only be described as an educated person with a relatively privileged life. 

For instance, he must have been one of the few children in his time and place who had access to the advantages of a substantial family ranch, in northern Arkansas, as did Davis, where as a boy he learned to ride horses.

From an early age Miles’ mother, Cleota Mae Davis, encouraged him to learn to play the piano because she herself was a very good pianist, a fact she kept hidden from her son.

Miles Davis’s father, however, had other plans and gave him a new trumpet when he was 13 years old and set him up with a local teacher to learn the instrument.

The career of Miles Davis as a trumpeter can be seen as someone who has been influenced by his father, who chosen the instrument to provoke his wife, who disapproved of the instrument. As Davis explained later, the choice of the trumpet was a serendipity. 

In a sense, Davis’ instructor Buchanan was also serendipitous because, contrary to the prevailing attitude of the time, he stressed how important it was to play with no vibrato.

The clear signature tone in Davis’ sound was informed by this throughout his life and it was this that influenced his playing and ultimately his life.

As a way of enforcing Davis’ performance, Buchanan would slap the ends of Davis’ fingers if Davis had started performing with heavy vibrato.

The manner in which he plays his trumpet without vibrato became a signature sound for him as he developed over the years. 

He once said;”I prefer the round sound without any attitude to it, just like a round voice, without too much tremolo and not too much baseline bass, just right in the middle for me. If I cannot get the sound I am unable to play anything”.

He became involved in the musicians union when he was 16 years old and began working professionally whenever he was not in school. 

After the following year, and when he was 17, he joined the Blue Devils under the leadership of Eddie Randles. During this time, a second important musical influence came in the form of musicians such as Clark Terry and Sonny Stitt, who tried to convince him to join the tiny Bradshaw band that was passing through town at the time. 

This was not to be, however, since Davis’s mother felt that it was more important for him to finish his final year of high school.

Davis’s parents insisted on his pursuing studies while he was still a teenager, but had this not been the case, he would have been traveling the United States with the Billy Eckstine band which had visited St. Louis, Missouri in 1944.

Already there in the band were Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. For a couple of weeks, Davis was the third trumpet in place of Buddy Anderson because Anderson had become ill. The band left town, which meant Davis had no choice but to stay behind and continue his studies.

This same education would lead him to the Juilliard School of Music in New York City and earn him a scholarship there. 

However, his studies became secondary since he first came in contact with and was introduced to the music of Charlie Parker in New York. 

More than anything else, it was this meeting that would ultimately determine the direction in which his music would take for decades to come.

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