Life Of Miles Davis – The Early Years

The life of Miles Davis started in Alton Illinois where he was born and named Miles Dewey Davis III on May 26th 1926 to a relatively affluent family. Dr. Miles Davis, his father, was a dentist who moved the family to East St. Louis in 1927. In all, it could only be considered a relatively privileged life. For instance, there could not have been many children in his time and place who had the advantage 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, wanted Miles to play piano as she was very good blues pianist herself, a fact she kept hidden from her son. Davis's father however had other ideas and when Miles was 13 his father gave him a new trumpet and arranged lessons for him with the local music teacher.

You could say that Miles Davis' career as a trumpeter was someone due to serendipity because as Davis was later to suggest, his father's choice of instrument was made largely to provoke his wife who disliked the instrument. Davis' instructor Buchanan could in a sense, also be considered serendipitous because unlike the fashion of the time he stressed the importance of playing without vibrato. It was this which informed Davis' playing and his clear signature tone throughout his life.

By way of enforcement Buchanan would slap Davis' knuckles every time he started using heavy vibrato. In time the way of playing his trumpet without vibrato became very important to his signature sound to the point where he once remarked;"I prefer the round sound with no attitude in it, like around voice with not too much tremolo and not too much baseline bass. Just right in the middle. If I can't get that sound I can't play anything."

Davis was a member of the musicians union by the age of 16 and when not at school was working professionally. During the following year and at the age of 17 he played with the bandleader Eddie Randles' Blue Devils. At this time another early and important influence came in the form of the musicians Clark Terry and Sonny Stitt who tried to persuade him to join the tiny Bradshaw band that was then passing through town. However, this was at yet not to be because Davis's mother felt it more important that he finished his final year of high school.

In these early days Davis's parents were both very insistent on his continuing formal academic studies. But for this, Davis would've been on the road with the Billy Eckstine band which had visited St. Louis in 1944. Already in the band were Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, Davis was taken on his third trumpet for a couple of weeks because of the illness of Buddy Anderson. When the band left town Davis had no choice but to stay behind and continue his studies.

These same studies would take him to New York City and a scholarship at the Juilliard school of music. Study however, became secondary because in New York he came into contact with and was introduced to the music of Charlie Parker. It was this meeting more than anything else that would set the direction of his music for many years to come.

By: Murray Hubick

About the Author:

Murray Hubick is an accomplished artist and writer who is also a self proclaimed jazz addict. To read his latest series of articles on the Life of Miles Davis ; his influences, who inspired him how this artist consistently held the position of being at the forefront of just about every major development in jazz from World War II to the 1990's go to www.