Miles Dewey Davis III, 8–9 Years Of Age, 1934–1935
Miles Dewey Davis III was born on May 26, 1926, to an affluent African-American family in Alton, Illinois. His father, Miles Dewey Davis, Jr., was a dentist. In 1927, the family moved to East St. Louis, Illinois. They also owned a substantial ranch near Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where Davis’ father and grandfather were from. It was both in East St. Louis and near Pine Bluff that young Davis developed his earliest appreciation for music listening to the gospel music of the black church.
Davis’ mother, Cleota Mae Davis (née Henry), wanted her son to learn the piano; she was a capable blues pianist but did not tell Miles. His musical studies began at 13, when his father gave him a trumpet and arranged lessons with local musician Elwood Buchanan. Davis later suggested that his father’s instrument choice was made largely to irk his wife, who disliked the trumpet’s sound. Against the fashion of the time, Buchanan stressed the importance of playing without vibrato; he was reported to have slapped Davis’ knuckles every time he started using heavy vibrato. Davis would carry his clear signature tone throughout his career. He once remarked on its importance to him, saying, “I prefer a round sound with no attitude in it, like a round voice with not too much tremolo and not too much bass. Just right in the middle. If I can’t get that sound I can’t play anything.” Clark Terry was another important early influence.
By age 16, Davis was a member of the music society and, when not at school, playing professionally first at the local Elks Club. At 17, he spent a year playing in Eddie Randle’s band, the Blue Devils. During this time, Sonny Stitt tried to persuade him to join the Tiny Bradshaw band, then passing through town, but Davis’ mother insisted that he finish his final year of high school. He graduated from East St. Louis Lincoln High School in 1944.
He is among the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz and 20th century music which he kicked in gear when Davis became one of the cadre of musicians who held nightly jam sessions at two of Harlem’s nightclubs, Minton’s Playhouse and Monroe’s.
With his ever-changing directions in music, Davis was at the forefront of a number of major stylistic developments in jazz over his five-decade career