Miles Davis: Compositions, Improvisation and Trumpet

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  • 0:01 Miles Davis
  • 0:53 Bebop
  • 1:40 Jazz Fusion
  • 2:12 1970s & 1980s
  • 3:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

Miles Davis (1926-1991) was a legendary trumpeter and composer who pioneered the genres of bebop and jazz fusion. Learn about his career, albums, and improvisational work in jazz, then test your remembrance of the lesson's details.

Miles Davis

The name Miles Davis is synonymous with jazz. As a famous trumpeter and composer and winner of nine Grammy Awards, he sat on top of the world of jazz for decade upon decade. Born in 1926, Miles Davis started his music career at a young age. By the time he was 17, he even shared the stage with the legendary Dizzy Gillespie. Today, we'll take a look at his illustrious career, focusing on his compositions, his use of improvisation, and of course, his trumpet.

As a young man studying at the Juilliard School of Music, Davis spent his nights performing at Harlem clubs. During this time, Davis honed his skill of improvisation. Rather than sticking to prescribed sheets of music, the young Davis composed music in the moment. In short, he'd just let his trumpet share what he was feeling.


Speaking of his trumpet, he played it with an original flare. While trumpeters like Louis Armstrong usually played with vibrato or slight variations of one note or pitch used to produce a rich sound, Davis became famous for his fast, improvisational style. Earning the fitting name bebop, his compositions usually consisted of fast-paced, improvised harmonies and melodies.

Other musicians were awed by his unique style and flocked to him. In the 1950s, he played alongside famous musicians like Jimmy Cobb, Gil Evans, and John Coltrane and released albums such as Birth of the Cool and Porgy and Bess. In 1959, he released Kind of Blue, one of the best-selling jazz records of all time.

Jazz Fusion

Always pushing the musical envelope, the late '60s saw Miles Davis compose works in the style of jazz fusion. Despised by some in the jazz community, jazz fusion can be summed up as a mixture of jazz and rock music. Regardless of how some felt about this new style, the late '60s saw Bitches Brew, a Davis jazz-fusion album soar. It even earned him the cover of Rolling Stone, making him the first jazz artist to receive this coveted honor.

'70s & '80s

Sadly, the 70s saw Davis fall back into a drug addiction that had haunted him for much of his adult life. During this decade, the prolific artist composed very little. Fortunately, he and his trumpet bounced back in the '80s. This time Miles Davis took on pop music. His 1985 album, You're Under Arrest, included jazz renditions of '80s pop hits. In it, Davis took on the music of pop icons like Cyndi Lauper and Michael Jackson.

Continuing to delight music lovers of all ages, Davis won a 1986 Grammy for his album, Tutu and a 1989 Grammy for his album, Aura. Not surprisingly, the early 1990s saw Davis honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Tragically, the early 1990s also saw his death. In September of 1991, the King of Cool died at the age of 65.

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