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Thread: So how exactly did Miles Davis change jazz so much?

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    Question So how exactly did Miles Davis change jazz so much?

    I plead ignorance!

    Ok, now that that's out of the way, I'm really curious. It's hard to find anyone who wouldn't list Miles as the ultimate jazz musician (Duke Ellington also I guess). But how exactly did Miles change jazz? I mean...did he introduce new harmonies? Did he look at melody in a whole new fashion? Did he just sound different than everyone else? Was it because he was good at promoting himself?

    I'm sorry if this has been beat to death, but I didn't find anything like it in a search.

    Also, assuming he did change jazz as much as I have been told, can you give me two recommendations for listening: 1) Typical jazz before Miles 2) Typical Jazz after/during Miles. I have "Kind of Blue" and "Birdland 1951," but that's it.

    Thanks!

    -G

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    www.jakehanlon.com Jakeweiser's Avatar
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    I think the idea that Miles changed jazz is a bit of a generalized statement. Many people credit him with a lot of the success. In a lot of cases, Miles was the name on the marquee. In a lot of cases Miles was a member of a group of musicians who had like minds and his name was the strongest, with the biggest reputation.

    Miles was indeed a visionary, a great horn player, a melodic improviser and a great composer. Miles got in with Bird and that clearly to me is the launching point. Here was this kid that Bird brought in, and bam instant credibility.

    The Cool jazz thing was Miles' colaberations with Gil Evans and that crew of people.

    Kind of Blue was his colaberations with Bill Evans, his interest in impressionistic music and Gil Evans' influence on him.

    The 60's quintet was I would say more a result of his band members then himself. Wayne wrote a lot of that music and that rhythm section was beyond special.

    Miles never really did anything totally new all by himself. He was able to surround himself always with great young players and as a group, they were innovative many times. I think the Electric period was very much a Miles Davis thing, where he purposfully wanted to push the music forward radically.

    imo at least
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    Registered User harmolodic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jakeweiser View Post
    Miles never really did anything totally new all by himself. He was able to surround himself always with great young players and as a group, they were innovative many times. I think the Electric period was very much a Miles Davis thing, where he purposfully wanted to push the music forward radically.
    imo at least
    I know what you mean, but isn't the very act of finding the right musicians, getting the right music, allowing them to find themselves, etc., an innovation? in other words, although it's very collaborative (it's jazz, after all), I'd argue that that performing these actions was, in fact, doing something totally new, all by himself. Catalyst as innovator.

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    Registered User John L's Avatar
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    I agree with that. Miles changed jazz primarily as a leader (although his cool approach to trumpet playing was also very influential in its own right). Miles consistently led jazz groups in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s that were on the frontier of something new, influenced the course of the music, and left huge marks on jazz history. Nobody else in jazz history has that kind of record, moving from cool to hard bop to modal to structured free to fusion, all of the time making compelling and influential music. It amazes me how many new young jazz groups are STILL basing their sound primarily on Miles' second quintet of more than 40 years ago.

    Sure, a lot of the success was in surrounding himself with the right musicians at the right time. But that is part of the point. Saying that it was the musicians and not Miles is like saying that it was the JBs, not James Brown. NOT.

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    I thought one of his major contributions was very clearly and well-executed use of George Russell's ideas from "The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization" and the advancements of modal jazz, and, of course, the whole electric thing.

    From the Wikipedia entry on Russell:
    "Russell's theory proposes the concept of playing jazz based on scales or a series of scales (modes) rather than chords or harmonies. The Lydian Chromatic Concept explored the vertical relationship between chords and scales, and was the first codified original theory to come from jazz. Russell's ideas influenced the development of modal jazz, notably in the album Jazz Workshop (1957, with Bill Evans and featuring the "Concerto for Billy the Kid") as well as his writings; Evans later introduced the concepts to other members of Miles Davis's working band, which employed them in recordings beginning with the album Kind of Blue."

    Russell did this on his own, too. I love "Ezz-thetics", it's a total blast.

    I'm still a relative newbie to jazz, though, so I'm happy to be corrected.

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    I agree with the guy who said he was at the helm of virtually every major movement in jazz, even though he may not have created them himself... he learned from the best bebop musician... he had arguably the best hard bop group... he did the modal thing... and then the electric thing.... these were all pervasive movements in jazz.
    "When I die I want them to play The Black and Crazy Blues, I want to be cremated, put in a bag of pot and I want beautiful people to smoke me and hope they get something out of it." - Roland Kirk

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    Quote Originally Posted by Redington View Post
    From the Wikipedia entry on Russell:
    "Russell's theory proposes the concept of playing jazz based on scales or a series of scales (modes) rather than chords or harmonies. The Lydian Chromatic Concept explored the vertical relationship between chords and scales, and was the first codified original theory to come from jazz. Russell's ideas influenced the development of modal jazz, notably in the album Jazz Workshop (1957, with Bill Evans and featuring the "Concerto for Billy the Kid") as well as his writings; Evans later introduced the concepts to other members of Miles Davis's working band, which employed them in recordings beginning with the album Kind of Blue."
    While Russell may have influenced Davis in the adoption of modal improvisation (I don't know enough about this link to comment), this passage assigns way too much significance to Bill Evans. Miles was experimenting with modal ideas well before Evans joined his group.

    Guy

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    Maybe getting overly concerned about where he 'changed' jazz is to miss the point.

    Miles Davis has bewitched generation after generation because of the way he sounded, the beautiful (and extremely) varied contexts he set up for musicians (himself included) to play in.

    His place in 'changing' the 'history' of jazz is of far less significance than the fact that he sounded (both as a player, composer and setter up of situations (directions?)) quite unique.

    It's an error of the historic approach to assessing jazz musicians to constantly evaluate in terms of what musicians changed. Surely speaking with your own voice...and in a voice that is rich with beauty...is the ultimate achievement for any musician?

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    Registered User groovy mcgee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bev Stapleton View Post
    It's an error of the historic approach to assessing jazz musicians to constantly evaluate in terms of what musicians changed. Surely speaking with your own voice...and in a voice that is rich with beauty...is the ultimate achievement for any musician?
    Agreed.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bev Stapleton View Post
    It's an error of the historic approach to assessing jazz musicians to constantly evaluate in terms of what musicians changed. Surely speaking with your own voice...and in a voice that is rich with beauty...is the ultimate achievement for any musician?
    I absolutely agree with you. My question is based on what I know of classical music and trying to see if there's similarities with the evolution of jazz. There's no question that Beethoven changed classical music as we know it...as did Wagner, Debussy, and Schoenberg did later on. I was just wondering if Miles did something similar, and if so, how.

    -G

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    Registered User Saundra Hummer's Avatar
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    Bill Evans may have had more of an influence on Miles than many might think, as Bill was a constant around the time Miles was playing, and using the Lighthouse as a home base. Miles was at the Lighthouse amost every day, and Bill at times was a regular, and he would come in and work things out, take a bit of time and just play his heart out to an empty club and there were the times when Bill played with Scotty LeFaro that everyone, expecially the musicians, were coming by to hear, they were working out sets, and charts, not playing to a crowd, that usually happened at night or on weekends, the rest of the time was their own to do as they pleased, and it was great to catch and the musicians were in and out doing the same. They, Bill and Miles were often there, so much so, that it seemed like it was a daily happening.
    Sandi from Hermosa Beach

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    Miles and Beyond robmid's Avatar
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    Here's some examples of how Miles changed jazz.

    Pick up anything he did with his second quintet. ESP, Miles Smiles Nefertiti, etc. And then listen to anyting anyone else was doing at the time. Absolutely nothing sounded like Miles. Nothing. And all the old swing guys were still swining and the post bop guys were still bopping.

    Miles took jazz in a new direction then. And for the past 40 years, jazz musicians have been trying to catch up. And then, of course, when everyone was trying to catch up, he changed direction again with In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. And a whole lot of other people have been trying to catch up with that stuff as well. (But has anyone equaled In a Silent Way or Bitches Brew?)

    Miles was aways one step ahead of everyone. Even his music in the 80's. You may or may not like it but nobody in jazz was doing anything like Miles. I once saw Miles in a jazz festival as the headliner. There were a lot of pretty good acts before him but when Miles came on it was as if everthing before was totally forgotten. They felt like second class warm up acts next to Miles. Miles delivered! It was simply astonishing.

    I think he became very comptetive very early on. He wanted to be the best, to be ahead of the crowd, to be on the leading edge. And when he wasn't (in the mid 70's when all the fusion bands like Weather Report and Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock were bringing in bigger crowds and selling more records), he was pissed and resentful!

    Miles said "I need to keep changing, it's like a curse."

    But a blessing for all of us.

    Cheers,
    RM

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    Quote Originally Posted by SirGarrote View Post
    I absolutely agree with you. My question is based on what I know of classical music and trying to see if there's similarities with the evolution of jazz. There's no question that Beethoven changed classical music as we know it...as did Wagner, Debussy, and Schoenberg did later on. I was just wondering if Miles did something similar, and if so, how.

    -G
    I don't think comparisons with Classical music work. For instance Kind of Blue popularized the use of modes. It didn't invent its use in jazz. It wasn't the first time that it was used in jazz. A very short time later the innovations of Ornette and Coltrane are bringing about the avant guard. This is different from people like Wagner and Schoenberg trying to destroy tonality because the believed it had run it's course.

    In jazz the development of a new type of music seems to be more of a collabrative effort then it is in classical. Bird is the star of Bebop, but Dizzy, Monk, Kenny Clarke, Charlie Christian and Oscar Petiford and Max Roach all had major roles in its development.

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    Quote Originally Posted by robmid View Post
    Here's some examples of how Miles changed jazz.

    Pick up anything he did with his second quintet. ESP, Miles Smiles Nefertiti, etc. And then listen to anyting anyone else was doing at the time. Absolutely nothing sounded like Miles. Nothing. And all the old swing guys were still swining and the post bop guys were still bopping.
    I disagree with this analysis. I was recently listening to some of George Russell's early 60s albums on Riverside and they seemed to anticipate a fair amount of what Miles did with the second quintet.

    The second quintet really "crystallized" or took that style of music to a very advanced label, but Miles didn't come up with that stuff out of the blue.

    Guy

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    Ian Carr once did a documentary where he claimed Miles changed jazz three times - with Birth of the Cool, the Second Quintet (he refers to a 'time, no changes' approach) and then electric jazz.

    The trouble I have is that in each case you can hear his fellow musicians being at least equally responsible, let alone the other musicians outside his groups experimenting in similar areas (the development of jazz-rock outside of Miles has been long noted). Miles did seem to have a knack for pulling musicians together and giving an open ended platform for interesting things to happen.

    But none of this really matters - if you pull Miles out of those projects what would the result be? I for one would not want to hear 'Birth of the Cool' or 'ESP' or 'In a Silent Way' with any other trumpet! Maybe that's just because it's what I'm used to; but once it's there it become very hard to hear the music without.

    Re: the classical parallel. I agree with the view above that change in jazz is more collective, more socio-economically determined. But I wonder if that is not equally true of classical music. Popular discussion of classical music tends to work through 'great masters' moving things on - but I suspect if you were to look deeper you'd find your Mozarts, Debussys and Wagners to have been just as much a part of their own contexts with their innovations already being signalled in the music around them.

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