Sounds of Jazz & Miles Davis

Jazz is a uniquely African-American music genre. Since the late 1800’s the blending of African sounds imported with the people of West Africa to the Americas including the United States, coupled with the mastery of European musical instruments, jazz was born.

miles-davisCall and response, gospel, and the introduction and use of African beat patterns were distinctly different from the standard musical structure of European music, this created a wholly different sound. Arguably. beginning with the pianist Scott Joplin and Ragtime in the late 1800’s, Jazz continued to develop through the Jim Crow years.  Not to be left out, white musicians and “big bands” began to develop a sub-genre during the 1920’s. Some called, “White Jazz”, the music primarily developed in the Chicago area by, at the time, by well-known white musicians. Many sub-genres of Jazz have developed during the more than 100 year origins of Jazz. For example, bebop and swing music was made popular by artist like Charlie Parker, alto sax player (“Bird Gets the Worm”; 1947) and Dizzy Gillespie, trumpeter and band leader. The sub-genres all had their great artists.

Jazz, the PBS Special by Ken Burns in 2000, described Jazz as a story about race, race relations and prejudice, and Jim Crow, lynchings and civil rights. The following is a quote from the website that promoted the series.  “Jazz is a uniquely American paradox that our greatest art form was created by those who have had the peculiar experience of being unfree in our supposedly free land. African-Americans in general, and black jazz musicians in particular, carry a complicated message to the rest of us, a genetic memory of our great promise and our great failing, and the music they created and then generously shared with the rest of the world negotiates and reconciles the contradictions many of us would rather ignore. Embedded in the music, in its riveting biographies and soaring artistic achievement, can be found our oft-neglected conscience, a message of hope and transcendence, of affirmation in the face of adversity, unequaled in the unfolding drama and parade we call American history”.

 

 

The very definition of Jazz music has, on occasion, been debated. Traditionalist, or followers of the roots of the genre argue that the sub-genres may not even be Jazz. For certain the techniques of improvisations, such as musical creation with the input from the audience or the shift, during the musical piece in tone and cords accented beats or chord progression is for some the evidence of Jazz music. Various chord progressions, for many, define the genre.

 

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Listen to Miles Davis; an interview

 

 

 

However, one of the most notable Jazz musicians ever, was the late great Miles Davis.  Miles Dewey Davis III (May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991), Born in Alton, Illinois, he and his family moved to East St. Louis when Miles was a child.  He got his first trumpet at age 13.  Miles was a prodigy. After high school, he traveled to New York to attend the prestigious, Juilliard School of Music.

It was the traumatic time in 1968 that prompted Miles to see America in a different way.  The upheaval, changed America. The War in Vietnam escalated, massive deaths of young folks and horrifying images on television of all of those caskets returning home added to the seemingly unreal assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  and Robert Kennedy (Democratic Party Presidential candidate).  All of this and the rise of the Black Power movement pushed Miles’ music toward a more electric (amplified) pulse.  According to Davis’ official website, Miles “dug” the triple-whammy he heard in the music of James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly Stone.  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, launch of the breakthrough double album, Bitches Brew. This got Miles on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, the first jazzman to appear on the magazine’s front-page.

Rolling Stone issued it’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of all time in March of 2012. Rolling Stone asked a panel of 271 artists, producers, industry executives and journalists to pick the greatest albums of all time, the selection committee also included 2 polls of their editors. The album, Kind of Blue, is described as revolutionary and ground breaking. On this album, Miles Davis had taken jazz composition and improvisation to new heights. Kind of Blue was ranked number 12 on the list.

 

 

 

jazz-sub-genre-chart

Miles Davis’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (March 13, 2006) solidified him as one of the key figures in the history of Jazz. His career included several sub-genres. Bebop, cool jazz, jazz fusion and others. Davis’ legacy can be traced to his influence in many modern day artists. Chick Corea, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and many others. Davis was notable not only for his genius in Jazz and many of its sub-genres, his profound effect on Rock music, his outspoken civil rights and activist positions, added to our societal discussion. He was an innovator in every sense.

Jazz adapted to the times.  Whether it was slavery, Jim Crow, the Roaring Twenties, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the Sixties and Civil Rights Era and beyond, the inter twining of music into African-American story, is the whole point of Jazz. Creating moods, expressing feelings, whether joy or pain, Jazz, the uniquely African-American music form, effected life and was effected by life.

 

 

 

Cicely Tyson and Miles Davis

Cicely Tyson and Miles Davis

 

Portrait of US jazz trumpet player Miles Davis taken 06 July 1991 in Paris. Portrait du trompettiste de jazz Miles Davis pris lors d'un concert le 06 juillet 1991 à la Halle de la Villette à Paris.        (Photo credit should read PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/GettyImages)

Miles Davis taken 06 July 1991 in Paris.
(Photo credit should read PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/GettyImages)

 

 

citations:
Miles Davis Official Website
PBS – Jazz by Ken Burns

June is Black Music Appreciation Month

 

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