Miles Dewey Davis III, born on May 26, 1926, was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader and composer who enjoyed a four-plus decade jazz career. An adolescent during the bebop era, he chose not to settle into one musical style. Instead he founded a new format every few years and was often initially criticized for doing so.
Davis’ 45 year career found his playing in five different, occasionally overlapping phases. They were: bebop (1945-1948), cool jazz (1949-1958), hard bop (1952-1963), modal jazz (1958-1968) and fusion or electric jazz (1969-1991). For the most part, these new phases were accompanied by landmark releases such as 1949’s The Birth of the Cool, 1958’s Milestones and 1969’s Bitches Brew. The latter went on to be considered a standard for the emerging jazz-fusion movement.
Furthermore, the platter’s musical mix of funk, jazz and rock—as well as the fantastic cover art—served as a crossover to rock audiences. A new generation discovered Davis. From 1970 through 1975 Davis favored rock music and was also influenced by Jimi Hendrix. He even shared a concert bill with The Grateful Dead.
He left it all behind though in 1975 when he retired. His addiction to alcohol and heroin, his relentless pursuit of perfection, and heavy touring schedule had finally taken their toll on his health. He suffered from bursitis, throat nodes and ulcers and never once touched his trumpet.
As the fusion genre began to wane in the 1980s, Davis came out of retirement. He returned to an idea that had worked well in the bebop years. He began to play his own adaptations of hit songs such as Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and once more touched the souls of others.
As the decade came to a close, rumors surfaced that Davis had AIDS. He denied this although he was actually taking azidothymidine (AZT) which is used for the treatment of HIV/AIDS. On September 28, 1991 Davis died from the combined results of a pneumonia, stroke and respiratory failure in Santa Monica, California. He was 65.
Davis was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York. Anyone wishing to visit his resting place could stop at the booth at the front gate and get a map. In lieu of a map, one may drive past the booth keeping the fence to the left.
Turn right at Robin Avenue and merge onto Knollwood. Turn left on Heather Avenue. Davis is buried in the Alpine section. His stone is adjacent to Duke Ellington’s stone.
Davis, considered to be one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, would be posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. In 2008 his hit 1959 album Kind of Blue went platinum for the fourth time. In 2009 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution acknowledging and celebrating its 50th anniversary further ensuring Davis was not forgotten in the end.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.