10 Miles: An annotated guide
July 23, 2015
There are many musicians who come to define a musical genre but there are far fewer who are able to transcend genre altogether and be about music in its purest form .
Often their greatness is such that their artistry can be conjured up with just a single name.
If you look up the word “miles” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary one of the definitions is “a relatively great distance, degree, or interval —used chiefly adverbially in plural [as in] ‘was miles ahead of them in education’”. This definition feels somehow very appropriate when you are talking about Miles Davis.
In terms of the distance or interval Miles travelled musically, it was vast. His career started in the 40s where he was part of the bebop revolution that gave birth to modern jazz and lasted for over 40 years spanning almost every major stylistic movement within jazz. But longevity wasn’t his only achievement, it was also the degree that he consistently operated at – a truth borne out by the fact that he was at the forefront of every major shift in jazz music over that period not just playing it but defining it.
In this time he honed and perfected a unique trumpet style with a sound that could be both lyrical and fierce – initially augmented by a mute and later by all form of electronics. In addition to his musical talent, Miles possessed an incredible ability to bring together and shape the most disparate musical figures into tight, focused groups that then went on to produce many of the seminal (and in some cases definitive) recordings and performances of the jazz canon. Finally he was a style icon who’s sharp threads, European sports cars, bad ass attitude and keen eye for the ladies gave jazz its first true superstar and who, still to this day, is the template for effortless cool.
So to listen to Miles is to listen not just to some of the most extraordinary music ever made but also a running history of modern jazz which, many would argue, was the true soundtrack to a large part of the 20th century.
Listen for yourself with the 10 tracks below. Miles ahead indeed.
1945 – Bebop
The birth of bebop was a true revolution in jazz – blowing away the old order of swing and replacing it with fast, highly improvised, intellectually demanding music and sowing the seeds of modern jazz in the process. It came about in New York in the mid-forties spearheaded by the legendary Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie amongst others. As it happens the 19 year old Miles cut his teeth with Parker and played on what are now considered some of his key recordings. Listen to Koko by Charlie Parker which features Miles on trumpet.
1949 – Cool Jazz
After the fire of bebop had freed jazz from just being dance music, there was a move to cool things down just a bit and blend some of the innovations with more of an arranged chamber music sound. Again Miles was there and led what is now seen as the definitive manifesto of this music – an LP fittingly called The Birth of the Cool. Here he is playing Godchild from that session.
1954 – Hard Bop
The 50s ushered in a hardening of the jazz sound which made a more overt connection between the innovations of bop and its source material the blues – this music was called hard bop and yet again our man Miles was right on it. Listen to this classic number with an all star cast of players called Walkin’.
1958 – Modal Jazz
As the 50s progressed, Miles’ ever restless nature pushed him to move on from the somewhat rigid harmonic structures of hard bop into a more fluid sound based increasingly open improvisation on simplified chords – a style now called modal. Although in 1959 Miles recorded Kind of Blue which is, without dispute, the highest statement of this style (and the biggest selling jazz album of all time) it all starts with the fittingly title Milestones from the eponymous LP featuring none other than John Coltrane on tenor sax.
1963 – Classic Quintet Mk 1 (what people now think of as jazz).
After the turbo charged stylistic evolution of the 50s, Miles settled into a classic quintet structure from which he pushed the bounds of jazz relentlessly without ever giving in to the screaming excesses of free jazz. This is a first iteration of Miles’ group throughout most of the 60s playing a lesser known tune called Joshua.
1966 – Classic Quintet Mk 2 (even more what people now think of as jazz).
The classic quintet was made up of Miles, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. This is essentially the marker, alongside the classic Coltrane quartet, for what a modern jazz group sounds like. Constantly inventive, soulful and fierce this group’s telepathic togetherness is unmatched. From their classic album Miles Smiles here is Footprints.
1968 – Going Electric
As the 60s progressed Miles was increasingly interested in rock music and, more specifically, players like Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, for their ability to innovate in the genre while keeping a firm grounding in their black roots in line with the political and civil rights climate of the time. While In a Silent Way is the LP that officially kicks off Miles’ electric period it is this loving tribute to his (soon to be wife) Betty Mabry based on the chords of Hendrix’s When the Wind Cried Mary that signals his intent.
1970 – Jazz Rock
As the hippie dream evaporated to give way to the harsh reality of the 70s, Miles pushed his electric leanings forward into a straighter rock vibe. Albums like Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson and Live-Evil all became a core part of post self-respecting rock fan’s collections with their extended jams, psychedelic artwork and heavy sounds. From Bitches Brew listen to the 7” single version of Miles Runs the Voodoo Down.
1972 – Jazz Funk
As more electricity coursed through jazz’s veins and the sound of the ghetto veered from soul into harder edged funk Miles was on to it producing the seminal On the Corner album with its heavy street beats and wah-wah drenched sound. Listen to One and One to get a taste.
1985 – Jazz Pop
From the mid 70s to the early 80s Miles basically disappeared due to illness and recurring health problems. When he returned, his style had changed again to encompass some of the pop hits of the day and a much more mellow, less demanding, but still highly accomplished sound. Listen to his beguiling cover of Cyndi Lauper’s Time after Time.
1991 – Jazz Hip Hop
In his final studio statement before passing away, Miles attempted one final stylistic leap by fusing jazz with the sounds of hip hop – a music many argue it itself descended from the blues and jazz. Although the Doo-Bop album received mixed reviews it still points to the fact that almost 50 years on from his first recordings Miles was still pushing to find and evolve his musical language. Listen to Mystery from that album.
– Federico Bolza
With one of the most powerful, diverse single catalogues in the history of rock – ‘Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Singles’ due out this month – our Artist of the Month for May is the unutterably incomparable Primal Scream.Read more
With their first UK shows in five long years kicking off in just a few weeks time, Daryl Hall and John Oates are our Artists of the Month for April.Read more
As Pop’s Premier Party Patriarch prepares to undertake yet another superb series of shows, we celebrate Billy Ocean, our Artist of the Month for MarchRead more
With their newly re-mastered album, ‘I Trawl The Megahertz’ out now, pop perfectionists Prefab Sprout are our Artists of the Month for February.Read more
As his unmissable, ground breaking one man show ‘Springsteen On Broadway’ streams on Netflix, The Boss is our Artist of the Month for January.Read more
With the ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’ 20 Year Collectors’ Edition released on December 7th, our final Artist of the Month of 2018 is Manic Street Preachers.Read more
With ‘In The Blue Light’ released this month, and with his final tour coming to a close, our Artist of the Month for September is perhaps the greatest contributor to the American Songbook, Paul Simon.Read more
Ten years since their rulebook-defying, multi-platinum eponymous debut, The Script are our Artists of the Month for August.Read more
With a new tour and a comprehensive set of vinyl reissues on the way, our Artist of the Month for July is cult alt. rock Glaswegian outfit Teenage Fanclub…Read more
As the former Kinks frontman turns his eyes back stateside on ‘Our Country: Americana Act II’, out June 29, we present Ray Davies, our Artist of the Month for June…Read more
As we revisit one of The Boss’ most urgent, powerful eras, our artist of the month for May is the one and only Bruce Springsteen.Read more
Far too prolific to have a single signature tune, ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’ is nonetheless the track our Artists of the Month, Eurythmics, are perhaps best known for. but it wasn’t the first or last song about the popular nocturnal hallucinations. Here’s our dreams top ten…Read more
There are few bands that have not only come to define a decade, but also to transcend it, with music that’s inarguably timeless. Ladies and gentlemen, our Artists of the Month for March: Annie Lenox and Dave Stewart. Eurythmics.Read more
Legendary authors of countless Rock Classics and with brand new music surfacing shortly, our Artist of the month for February is the one and only ToTo…Read more
40 years on from perhaps his greatest masterpiece – and in the year that will see War of The Worlds return to UK stages as well as turntables worldwide – we’re celebrating the orchestral genius of Jeff Wayne.Read more
For teaching a generation that ridicule is nothing to be scared of. Ladies & Gentlemen. Our December Artist of the Month. Adam Ant.Read more
Joining forces with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the late Roy Orbison releases ‘A Love So Beautiful’, a re-scored collection of classics from his inimitable songbook. We couldn’t be prouder to name America’s Maestro our Artist of the Month.Read more
One of the most groundbreaking, inventive and entertaining artists of the modern era, George Michael was also one of a handful of stars to successfully walk the line from Pop Sensation to Critically Acclaimed Artist.
For these and countless other reasons, George Michael is our Artist of the Month.Read more
With the seminal ‘Through The Barricades’ celebrating its 30th anniversary this month, the peerless Spandau Ballet are our artists of the month for September. Plus you can win a a pair of tickets to Spandau Ballet’s Through the Barricades Remastered/Revisited documentary screening and live Q&A on 12th September at The Soho Hotel.Read more
This month, we join the world in celebrating the life and music of Elvis Presley. The King is our Artist of the Month.Read more
There’s a lot of nonsense spoken about jazz, usually by people who know nothing about the genre…Read more
Join us as we look back on one of the most incredible careers in pop…Read more
As Foo Fighters prepare to headline one of the biggest stages of them all, we’re proud to crown Dave Grohl and co our Artist of the Month for June.Read more
With his ‘Americana’ album out now, our Artist of the Month is Kinks frontman and international treasure, Ray Davies…Read more
Is it really 10 years since the release of Manic Street Preachers’ eighth studio album and muscular return to form, ‘Send Away The Tigers’? The Manics are our Artist of the Month for April.Read more
Miles Davis Quintet: Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series, Vol 5, is now finally available as a 3 LP set.Read more
As one of the most original, influential and culturally fascinating artists to have emerged in the 20th century, the man born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota in 1941 has also proved to be one of its most divisive…Read More...
Miles Davis Quintet: Freedom Jazz Dance: The Bootleg Series, Vol 5, is out now.Read More...
Dr John Cooper Clarke and The Stranglers’ Hugh Cornwell run down ‘This Time It’s Personal’ – out now – one track at a time…Read more
Affectionately known as ‘The Bard of Salford’, performance poet John Cooper Clarke’s career has spanned some 40 years…Read more
Iconic artists photographed and mapped around New York City!Read more
Learn more about the latest addition to the Miles Davis bootleg series…Read more
- So whatMiles Davis
- SummertimeMiles Davis
- 'Round MidnightMiles Davis
- Someday my Prince will comeMiles Davis
- Miles runs the Voodoo timeMiles Davis
- and lots more!...
Great news! This long list of classic jazz albums is finally being reissued with original artwork and liner notes.Read more
A Run Down Of Buckley’s CoversRead more
Find out more about the new Miles Davis and Robert Glasper and Original Soundtrack to the new film ‘Miles Ahead’…Read more
Jeff Buckley is our Artist of the Month throughout March. This week we uncover 6 great videos that shed a new light on our hero.Read more
Take a look at Jeff Buckley’s musical influences…Read more
Watch the video for ‘I Know It’s Over’…Read more
Here are 4 rare and amazing performances from our Artist of the MonthRead more
Discover more about the Original Soundtrack…Read more
An intro to Janis Joplin’s biggest track and an insight into the 60’s with these 2 ultimate playlistsRead more
To celebrate the release of the film ‘Janis: Little Girl Blue’, Janis Joplin is our Artist of the Month for February.Read more
Listen to 3 tracks from the forthcoming Bootleg series now!Read more
Bob Dylan’s 5th album “Bringing It All Back Home” was released in 1965 and was half acoustic half electric. What’s the story behind this artwork?Read more
‘Bob Dylan – The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol 12’ is a deluxe 6CD anthology that will be released on November 6th.Read more
Did you not get a chance to see him live in Cyprus Avenue earlier this month? Then we’ve got a surprise for you…Read more
Last week, we brought to you 4 ultimate playlists… This week we give you 3 new playlists to rediscover overarching themes from the Van Morrison catalogue.Read more
An intro to Van Morrison’s amazing catalogue with these 4 ultimate playlists.Read more
Stop everything you’re doing and join the club of very famous Van-atics!Read more
Discover Paul Young’s life in music, from his influences to favourite live shows…Read more
In the UK alone, Van Morrison has earned over 20 top 20 albums, including an astounding 13 which were top 10… Van Morrison is our artist of the month for September!Read more
Don’t miss out on Paul Young’s Top Tracks and Ultimate Setlist playlists…Read more
Paul Young is one of the 80s biggest stars. Let’s take a look back at his performances on Top of the Pops…Read more
Paul Young became one of the 80s biggest pop stars, but how many of these facts do you know?Read more
Federico tells us the story of Miles Davis, with 10 chosen tracks which form “the ultimate soundtrack to a large part of the 20th century”.Read more
There are many miles of love for Miles Davis’ recently released Bootleg 4 reissue…Read more
Sadly the Foos won’t be playing Glastonbury this year, but here are our top 5 favourite videos of the band, including funny Dave Grohl moments…Read more
Time to revise all your classics before Glastonbury with the ultimate playlistRead more
They’ve been going for 20 years and headlining Glastonbury this month… How many of these facts did you know?Read more
The Foo Fighters are our artist of the month. Gearing up to headline Glastonbury, the band are set to have a great summer and have lots more to come.Read more
Big news from the Miles Davis camp…Read more
We’ve selected 5 videos you have to watch!Read more
Every month at Legacy HQ, we will be picking essential tracks from our Artist of the Month in this brand new playlist.Read more
Did you know our Artist of the Month turned his life around aged 32? Have you ever heard ‘Hallelujah’ in hebrew?Read more
As his new album ‘Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour’ is released this month, we will be looking back at Leonard’s finest throughout the month of May.Read more