It would be an understatement to say that Miles Dewey Davis III was one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. Widely considered one of the most revolutionary and influential figures in the history of music of the twentieth century, Miles Davis has played an integral role in shaping the sounds of jazz, one of the few uniquely and entirely American genres. Needless to say, the brilliant artistry that coolly flowed from his trumpet speaks for itself and clearly shows what a phenomenally inventive and talented musician he was. One could go on and on discussing, analyzing, and meticulously scrutinizing his music, as has been done readily in the past, but the purpose of this paper is to examine his rare appearances on television and the impact his music had on American culture.
Before diving into his TV appearances, a summary of the man himself and his extraordinary contributions and accomplishments seems to be in order. Trumpet player, band leader, musical innovator, composer and in the words of fellow musician Chico Hamilton, “jazz’s only superstar” (Kart 201), Miles Davis boasts a career that spans five decades, from the mid 1940s to 1991, which is almost unheard of in the music industry where careers tend to be much shorter. His long career includes awards such as eight Grammy awards, a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement, and three Hall of Fame awards. Davis is an icon in the jazz world, not only for his long career but also for revolutionizing the jazz genre. Without Davis’s influence, jazz would not possess the rich and complex sound it has today.
Miles Davis emerged on the scene of New York in 1944 at the same time a revolution in jazz was underway (Merod 72). “Bop,” the shorter version of “bebop,” was a “rebellion” against the big bands, commercialism, racial injustice, and the restrictive harmonic framework of the jazz that was in style at the time (Kingman 385). In this period he played a significant role in the revolution, not as a pioneer or founding father, but rather as a participant, and worked with such notable figures as Thelonious Monk, Dizzie Gillespie and Charlie Parker. It was here that he “learned bop’s arcane language by imitation, informal tutelage, and constant jamming alongside players whose mastery was superior to his own” (Merod 72-74).
Later, Miles Davis is considered to have created the beginnings of the cool and modal jazz forms of the music. Cool jazz, or West Coast Jazz, is played with a laid back feeling to the music using various chord changes. To keep the laid back feeling, drummers use brushes in cool jazz, which avoids the driving beat heard in other jazz forms. Modal jazz is similar to Cool jazz as it uses slow chord changes to create a melody, but keeps those chords in more of a scale format. This kept a more laid back feeling to the music while freeing the soloist to play more creatively within a scale format. Modal jazz is the precursor to free jazz, where the soloist is freed to play whatever he...