Miles Davis, in full Miles Dewey Davis III, (born May 26, 1926, Alton, Illinois, U.S.—died September 28, 1991, Santa Monica, California), American jazz musician, a great trumpeter who as a bandleader and composer was one of the major influences on the art from the late 1940s.
Released concurrently with the small-group recordings, Davis’s albums with pieces arranged and conducted by Gil Evans—Miles Ahead (1957), Porgy and Bess (1958), and Sketches of Spain (1960)—were also monuments of the genre. The Davis-Evans collaborations were marked by complex arrangements, a near-equal emphasis on orchestra and soloist, and some of Davis’s most soulful and emotionally powerful playing. Davis and Evans occasionally collaborated in later years, but never again so memorably as on these three masterful albums.
The early 1960s were transitional, less-innovative years for Davis, although his music and his playing remained top-caliber. He began forming another soon-to-be-classic small group in late 1962 with bassist Ron Carter, pianist Herbie Hancock, and teenage drummer Tony Williams; tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter joined the lineup in 1964. Davis’s new quintet was characterized by a light, free sound and a repertoire that extended from the blues to avant-garde and free jazz. Compared with the innovations of other modern jazz groups of the 1960s, the Davis quintet’s experimentations in polyrhythm and polytonality were more subtle but equally daring. Live at the Plugged Nickel (1965), E.S.P. (1965), Miles Smiles (1966), and Nefertiti (1967) were among the quintet’s timeless, influential recordings. About the time of Miles in the Sky and Filles de Kilimanjaro (both 1968), Davis began experimenting with electronic instruments. With other musicians, including keyboardists Chick Corea and Joe Zawinul and guitarist John McLaughlin, Davis cut In a Silent Way (1969), regarded as the seminal album of the jazz fusion movement. It was considered by purists to be Davis’s last true jazz album.
Davis won new fans and alienated old ones with the release of Bitches Brew (1969), an album on which he fully embraced the rhythms, electronic instrumentation, and studio effects of rock music. A cacophonous kaleidoscope of layered sounds, rhythms, and textures, the album’s influence was heard in such 1970s fusion groups as Weather Report and Chick Corea’s Return to Forever. Davis continued in this style for a few years, with the album Live-Evil (1970) and the film soundtrack A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1970) being particular highlights.