Miles Davis: A New Revolution in Sound

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Author: Kofi Natambu
Date: Fall 2014
From: Black Renaissance/Renaissance Noire(Vol. 14, Issue 2)
Publisher: Institute of African-American Affairs (IAAA)
Document Type: Essay
Length: 2,439 words

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On July 17,1955 at the second annual Newport Jazz Festival, Davis was literally invited at the last minute to join a group of prominent Jazz musicians in a staged twenty minute jam session that had been organized by the festival s famed music director, impresario, and promoter George Wein as part of an "opening act" for the then highly popular white headliner Dave Brubeck.

Scheduled merely as a quick programming lead-in to stage changes between featured performances by the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ), the Count Basie and Duke Ellington Orchestras, Lester Young, and Brubeck, nothing special was planned in advance for this short set which, like most jam sessions, was completely improvised by the musicians performing onstage. Davis was then the least well known musician in the assembled group which was made up of Thelonious Monk, individuals from the MJQ, and other individual members of various groups playing in the festival. Wein just happened to be a big fan of Davis and added him because he was "a melodic bebopper" and a player who, in Wein's view, could reach a larger audience than most other musicians because of the haunting romantic lyricism and melodic richness of his style. Wein's insight turned out to be prophetic.

Despite the fact that most of the mainstream audience on hand had only a vague idea of who Davis was, he was a standout sensation in the jam session and his searing performance was one of the most talked about highlights of the festival. Appearing in an elegant white seersucker sport coat and a small black bow tie, thus already demonstrating the sleek, sharp sartorial style that quickly became his trademark (and led to his eventual appearance on the covers of many fashion magazines in the u.s., Europe, and Asia), Davis captivated the festival throng with haunting, dynamic solos and brilliant ensemble playing on both slow ballads and intensely up-tempo quicksilver tunes alike. Taking complete command of the setting with his understated elegance and relaxed yet naturally dramatic stage presence, the handsome and charismatic Davis breezed through two famous and musically daunting compositions by Thelonious Monk ("Hackensack" and "Round Midnight"), and then ended his part of the program by playing an impassioned bluesy solo on a well-known Charlie Parker composition entitled "Now is the Time" which Davis had originally recorded with Bird in 1945. That clinched it. He was a hit. Miles had returned from almost complete oblivion to becoming a much talked about and heralded star seemingly overnight (of course this personal and professional recognition had been over a decade in the making). After a long, arduous struggle as both an artist and individual that began in his hometown of East St. Louis, Illinois when he started to play trumpet at the age of 13 in 1939, Miles Davis had finally "arrived." For the first time since 1950 he was completely clean and off drugs. No longer addicted, Miles now played with a bravura, command, and creative clarity that he had been fervently searching...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A393059770