Genre: jazz

Quotable: --

Born: Miles Dewey Davis III

When: May 26, 1926

Where: Alton, IL

Died: Sept. 28, 1991


Organized by dates of recording, not release. Hover over an album cover for the name and year(s) of recording. Click on album cover to see album’s DMDB page.

The Studio Albums – Prestige (1951-56):

The Studio Albums – Columbia (1955-85):

The Studio Albums – Warner Bros. (1986-91):

Select Compilations:

Live Albums:

Key Tracks:

  • Round Midnight (1956)
  • Bye Bye Blackbird (1956)
  • Miles Ahead (1957)
  • Fran-Dance (1958)
  • Summertime (1958)
  • It Ain’t Necessarily So (1958)
  • So What (1959)
  • Someday My Prince Will Come (1961)
  • Seven Steps to Heaven (1963)
  • My Funny Valentine (1964)
  • E.S.P. (1965)
  • Miles Runs the Voodoo Down (1970)
  • It’s About That Time (1970)
  • Shout (1981)
  • Jean Pierre (1981)
  • Time after Time (1985)
  • Human Nature (1985)

Album Sales (in millions):


Singles Sales (in millions):




Over five decades, Miles Davis made his mark as a jazz “musician, composer, arranger, producer, and band leader.” MD “To examine his career is to examine the history of jazz from the mid-‘40s to the early ‘90s, since he was in the thick of almost every important innovation and stylistic development in the music during that period, and he often led the way in those changes, both with his own performances and recordings and by choosing sidemen and collaborators who forged new directions.” WR

His “30 years at Columbia was one of the longest exclusive signings in the history of jazz, and one that spanned at least a half-dozen distinct generations of changes in the music – virtually all of which were anticipated or led by Miles or his former sidemen.” MD Among his recordings with Columbia is Kind of Blue, undisputedly the coolest jazz album ever recorded.” MD

Early Years/Personal Life (1926-44)
Davis’ father was a dental surgeon and his mother was a music teacher. He “grew up in the black middle class of east St. Louis after the family moved there shortly after his birth. He became interested in music during his childhood and by the age of 12 began taking trumpet lessons.” WR “His mastery of the instrument” WR suggested he was “a child prodigy” WR so “while still in high school, he started to get jobs playing in local bars and at 16 was playing gigs out of town on weekends.” WR “He came under the spell of older jazzmen Clark Terry, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine, and others who passed through.” MD

“At 17, he joined Eddie Randle’s Blue Devils, a territory band based in St. Louis. He enjoyed a personal apotheosis in 1944, just after graduating from high school, when he saw and was allowed to sit in with Billy Eckstine’s big band, who was playing in St. Louis. The band featured trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Charlie Parker, the architects of the emerging bebop style of jazz, which was characterized by fast, inventive soloing and dynamic rhythm variations.” WR

A Budding Career (1944-50)
“It is striking that Davis fell so completely under Gillespie and Parker’s spell, since his own slower and less flashy style never really compared to theirs. But bebop was the new sound of the day, and the young trumpeter was bound to follow it.” WR “He accepted admission to the Juilliard School in 1944, but it was a ruse to get to New York and hook up with Bird and Diz.” MD “Shortly after his arrival in Manhattan, he was playing in clubs with Parker, and by 1945 he had abandoned his academic studies for a full-time career as a jazz musician, initially joining Benny Carter’s band and making his first recordings as a sideman.” WR

“He can be heard on sessions led by Parker that were released on Savoy in 1945 (with Max Roach), ’46 (with Bud Powell), ’47 (with Duke Jordan and J.J. Johnson), and ’48 (with John Lewis). In 1947, the Miles Davis All-Stars (with Bird, Roach, Lewis, and Nelson Boyd) debuted on Savoy. His years on 52nd Street during the last half of the 1940s brought him into the bop orbit of musicians whose legends he would share before he was 25 years old.” MD

Birth of the Cool (1948-50)
Davis had a brief taste as a bandleader for one session in 1947, but organized his own nine-piece band in the summer of 1948. Bolstered by “a contract with Capitol Records, the band went into the studio in January 1949 for the first of three sessions…The band’s relaxed sound…had a profound influence on the development of the cool jazz style on the West Coast. In February 1957, Capitol finally issued the tracks together on an LP called Birth of the Cool.” WR

This new sound was “a movement that challenged the dominance of bebop and hard-bop. Miles’ subsequent record dates as leader in the early ’50s (on Blue Note, then Prestige) helped introduce Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean, Horace Silver, and Percy Heath, among many others, establishing Miles’ role as the premier jazz talent scout for the rest of his career.” MD

Prestige Records (1951-56)
“The trumpeter's progress was impeded by an addiction to heroin that plagued him in the early ‘50s. His performances and recordings became more haphazard, but in January 1951 he began a long series of recordings for the Prestige label that became his main recording outlet for the next several years. He managed to kick his habit by the middle of the decade.” WR

During his five years with Prestige, Davis’ most notable recordings were a set of four albums – 1957’s Cookin’, 1958’s Relaxin’, 1959’s Workin’, and 1961’s Steamin’. While not released until his post-Prestige years, the albums were all recorded at sessions from 1955-56. The entirety of those albums, as well as Davis’ other work with Prestige, can be found on the 8-disc box set, Chronicle: The Complete Prestige Recordings.

Columbia Records and the First Great Quintet (1955-61)
“An historic set at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1955 resulted in George Avakian signing Miles to Columbia Records, and led to the form¬a¬tion of his so-called “first great quintet,” featuring John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones.” MD They “began recording his Columbia debut, ‘Round About Midnight, in October. As it happened, however, he had a remaining five albums on his Prestige contract, and over the next year he was forced to alternate his Columbia sessions with sessions for Prestige to fulfill this previous commitment.” MD This resulted in the Prestige albums already mentioned.

“In May 1957, just three months after Capitol released the Birth of the Cool LP, Davis again teamed with arranger Gil Evans for his second Columbia LP, Miles Ahead. …Davis fronted a big band on music that extended the Birth of the Cool concept and even had classical overtones. Released in 1958, the album was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.” WR

“In December 1957, Davis returned to Paris, where he improvised the background music for the film L’Ascenseur pour l’Echafaud (Escalator to the Gallows).” WR “He added saxophonist Cannonball Adderley to his group, creating the Miles Davis Sextet, who recorded the album Milestones in April 1958. Shortly after this recording, Red Garland was replaced on piano by Bill Evans and Jimmy Cobb took over for Philly Joe Jones on drums.” WR

“In July, Davis again collaborated with Gil Evans and an orchestra on an album of music from Porgy and Bess. Back in the sextet, Davis began to experiment with modal playing, basing his improvisations on scales rather than chord changes. This led to his next band recording, Kind of Blue, in March and April 1959, an album that became a landmark in modern jazz and the most popular disc of Davis’ career.” MD

“Davis again followed his pattern of alternating band releases and collaborations with Gil Evans, recording Sketches of Spain, containing traditional Spanish music and original compositions in that style.” WR

The Second Great Quintet (1961-68)
“By the time Davis returned to the studio to make his next band album in March 1961, Adderley had departed, Wynton Kelly had replaced Bill Evans at the piano, and John Coltrane had left to begin his successful solo career, being replaced by saxophonist Hank Mobley (following the brief tenure of Sonny Stitt). Nevertheless, Coltrane guested on a couple of tracks of the album, called Someday My Prince Will Come.” WR

“Davis and Evans teamed up again in 1962 for what became their final collaboration, Quiet Nights. The album was not issued until 1964.” WRSeven Steps to Heaven, recorded in the spring of 1963 [featured] an entirely new lineup consisting of saxophonist George Coleman, pianist Victor Feldman, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Frank Butler. During the sessions, Feldman was replaced by Herbie Hancock and Butler by Tony Williams.” WR

“Miles’ ‘second great quintet’ slowly coalesced over 1963-64, into the lineup of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams (who was 17 years old when he joined Miles). They recorded with producer Teo Macero and toured around the world together until 1968, achieving artistic and commercial success that was unprecedented in modern jazz.” MD

“This unit embarked on a series of albums of original compositions contributed by the band members, starting in January 1965 with E.S.P., followed by Miles Smiles, … Sorcerer, Nefertiti, Miles in the Sky…and Filles de Kilimanjaro. By the time of Miles in the Sky, the group had begun to turn to electric instruments, presaging Davis’ next stylistic turn.” WR

Jazz-Rock Fusion (1968-72)
“1968 was a cataclysmic year of sea change for Miles and for America, a year of upheaval – the escalation of the war in southeast Asia, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and the rise of the Black Power movement were among the factors that pushed Miles’ music toward a more insistent electric (amplified) pulse. At the same time, Miles dug the triple-whammy he heard in the music of James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly Stone.” MD

“By the final sessions for Filles de Kilimanjaro in September 1968, Hancock had been replaced by Chick Corea and Carter by Dave Holland. But Hancock, along with pianist Joe Zawinul and guitarist John McLaughlin, participated on Davis’ next album, In a Silent Way (1969), which returned the trumpeter to the pop charts for the first time in four years.” WR

“What began in 1968 with Miles’ quintet quietly adopting electric piano and guitar, blew up into a full-scale rock band sound on 1969’s breakthrough double-LP Bitches Brew.” MD “Though certainly not conventional rock music, Davis’ electrified sound attracted a young, non-jazz audience while putting off traditional jazz fans. Bitches Brew, released in March 1970, reached the pop Top 40 and became Davis’ first album to be certified gold.” WR.” It also “landed him on the cover of Rolling Stone, the first jazzman to appear on the magazine’s front-page.” MD

“At the core of Bitches Brew, whose sessions took place the week after the Woodstock festival in August 1969, there was the final small group known as the ‘third great quintet’ – Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette – augmented by John McLaughlin, Larry Young, Joe Zawinul, Bennie Maupin, Steve Grossman, Billy Cobham, Lenny White, Don Alias, Airto Moreira, Harvey Brooks, and former quintet members Hancock and Carter.” MD

“Six months later in February 1970, Miles kicked off the Jack Johnson sessions, shuffling many of those same players over the next two months, plus Sonny Sharrock, Steve Grossman, Michael Henderson, Keith Jarrett and others. In no uncertain terms, the jazz-rock fusion movement had been launched full-tilt.” MD “Davis’ former sidemen became his disciples in a series of fusion groups: Corea formed Return to Forever, Shorter and Zawinul led Weather Report, and McLaughlin and former Davis drummer Billy Cobham organized the Mahavishnu Orchestra.” WR

In Decline (1972-80)
“Starting in October 1972, when he broke his ankles in a car accident, Davis became less active in the early ‘70s, and in 1975 he gave up recording entirely due to illness, undergoing surgery for hip replacement later in the year.” WR “A series of live LPs (domestic and imported from Japan) and other archival releases from the ’50s and ’60s were made available over the next five years to fill the void.” MD

Still, his reputation and legacy were well documented at this point. “By now, he was an elder statesman of jazz, and his innovations had been incorporated into the music, at least by those who supported his eclectic approach. He was also a celebrity whose appeal extended far beyond the basic jazz audience.” WR

Resurgence (1980-85)
“Five years passed before he returned to action by recording The Man with the Horn in 1980 and going back to touring in 1981” WR “with a top-tier lineup of young players – Mike Stern, Marcus Miller, Bill Evans (no relation), Al Foster, and Mino Cinelu (all of whom went on to success¬ful careers).” MD “They remained stable (abetted by John Scofield) in 1983 on Star People. The lineup then morphed on 1984’s Decoy, as Miller was replaced by Daryll ‘Munch’ Jones, Robert Irving III was added on synthe¬siz¬ers and programming, and Branford Marsalis shared saxophone parts with Evans.” MD

“Miles’ final album for Columbia Records was released in 1985, the cryptically titled You’re Under Arrest. It (re)-introduced Miles’ nephew Vince Wilburn into the lineup (he played briefly on The Man with the Horn), as Bob Berg took over the big chair from Evans and Marsalis. The album debuted two ballads that would be staples of Miles’ performances for the rest of his career, Michael Jackson’s Human Nature and Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time.” MD

Warner Bros. (1986-91)
“In 1986, after 30 years with Columbia,” WR “began recording for Warner Bros., a prolific period that yielded one new album every year (the first four co-produced with Marcus Miller): Tutu (1986), Music From Siesta (1987, a film soundtrack collabora¬tion with Miller), Live Around the World (1988), Amandla (1989), Dingo (1990, an orchestral collabora¬tion with Michel Legrand), and his final studio album. the hip-hop informed Doo-Bop (1991), whose title tune gave Miles a posthumous Rap/R&B hit single in 1992.” MD

After His Death (1991-2010)
“In 2001, one decade after his death – and in honor of his 75th birthday celebra¬¬tion – Legacy formally (re-)launched The Miles Davis Series with the original motion picture soundtrack album for Columbia Pictures’ Finding Forrester (starring Sean Connery and directed by Gus Van Sant), consisting almost entirely of Miles Davis music. Five new digitally remastered titles followed.” MD “Altogether since 1997, the Miles Davis Series has reissued digitally remastered and restored versions (many of them expanded editions) of: ‘Round About Midnight (1957), Miles Ahead (1957), Porgy and Bess (1958), Milestones (1958), …Kind Of Blue (1959), Sketches of Spain (1960), Someday My Prince Will Come (1961), …In a Silent Way (1969), …Bitches Brew (1970), A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1971).” MD and more, most notably live albums either reissued or dug up from the vaults.

“In 2001 came The Essential Miles Davis, the double-CD 23-track collec¬tion gathered from the discographies of the six companies for whom Miles did his most important recordings (Savoy, Capitol, Prestige, Blue Note, Columbia, and Warner Bros.).” MD Other compilations included “the single-CD The Best Of Miles Davis & Gil Evans, the double-CD The Best Of the Miles Davis Quintet 1965-’68, the single-CD Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Best Of The Complete Columbia Recordings 1955-1961, [and] The Best Of Miles Davis.” MDThe Miles Davis Story, the first major documentary to be produced on Miles in nearly 15 years, was issued in 2002 on VHS and interactive DVD formats.” MD

Biography Source(s):

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Last updated May 29, 2011.