So many of us look up to role models, heroes whom we try to emulate. But all too often we find ourselves falling short and feeling frustrated. Yet there are inner strengths which we can tap to find our individual voice. And sometimes the results can be absolutely spectacular, defying all expectations.
In the history of jazz there is no example more inspiring and compelling than that of Miles Davis. When he first came to New York in the fall of 1944, supposedly to study at Juilliard, he was really intent upon pursuing bebop performing opportunities on 52nd Street with his saxophone idol, Charlie Parker. And in fact, the following year, at the tender age of nineteen, Davis had the good fortune to be included in an historic recording session, the first featuring Parker as a leader.
Yet, Davis early realized that he was out of his depth here, unable to match the blistering speed of his saxophone hero or the stratospheric brilliance and rhythmic virtuosity of trumpeter of Dizzy Gillespie. But, resilient and resourceful, he was determined to find his own voice. Rather than trying to compete with these greats, he looked inside himself to mine his particular strengths. What he came up with was a distinctive style and aesthetic, something very different.
His was a mellower sound in the trumpet’s middle register, where understatement, restraint, and even a touch of vulnerability became his distinctive trademark. Davis was soon to earn a place in the jazz pantheon for a series of recordings made for Capitol Records in 1949 and 1950, subsequently released as Birth of the Cool. Listeners heard this new sound of Davis as part of a nonet–an ensemble consisting of the three rhythm instruments of piano, bass and drums, together with six wind instruments arranged in pairs, in high and low ranges: trumpet and trombone, French horn and tuba, and alto saxophone and baritone saxophone. Pieces like “Jeru,” “Israel,” and ” Boplicity” are now part of the Cool canon.
Capitol Records’s liner notes suggest the effect this had at the time: “Under one branch of the modern jazz tree, it’s cool and quiet. Here a unique group of musicians is gathered–exponents of a carefully casual style that flows with studied ease. The jazz they play is pleasant, almost unobtrusive, but with each new hearing it reveals a surprising wealth of sparkling new ideas. Some of these stylists’ most imaginative music is collected in this album–thoroughly intriguing performances that truly qualify as classics in jazz.”
Davis never stood still after this. Two other landmark recordings from the 1950’s were Sketches of Spain and Porgy and Bess, both major collaborations with Gil Evans. In the following decades Davis was on the cutting edge of fresh developments, whether it be hard bop, modal jazz, jazz-rock fusion or MIDI sequencng and sampling.
Lynne adds: Josh is very intrigued by Miles Davis’s ability to accept the fact that he could not do what other great jazz musicians relied on for their reputations. Instead, by exploring his own gifts to their fullest, he developed a whole other form of jazz. After that he continued to innovate, as if by making that choice he had discovered the fountain of eternal creativity.