Born in Alton, Ill., on May 26, 1926, Davis grew up in East St. Louis in an upper middle class family. After receiving his first trumpet in his preteen years, he played in his high school band as well as took private lessons and gigged in R&B bands. After meeting bebop maestros Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, Davis had jazz on his mind in 1944 when his father sent him to New York to attend Juilliard. Instead of taking classes he hooked up with Bird, playing in his quintet from 1946-'48. After that Davis set off to form his own groups, including his first great quintet comprising John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones in 1955; and his second primo quintet Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams in 1963-'68.
In the first two decades of his solo career, Davis recorded several masterpieces, including Birth Of The Cool, Miles Ahead, Porgy And Bess, Sketches Of Spain, Milestones and Kind Of Blue. In the '60s, Miles and his quintet recorded brilliant music, much of which was released in 1998 on the 6-CD The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings, 1965-'68. What's noteworthy about this box set is how it opens a window onto one of Davis' most fertile periods, a time when he and his bandmates were engaged in the fine art and magical alchemy of jazz improvisation. His music was evolving from the acoustic sphere into a free-form jazz fusion approach.
Davis' most radical veer from jazz tradition came in the late '60s and early '70s when, under the intoxicating influence of such artists as Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, Davis ushered in the age of fusion with a steamy electric concoction of bubbling funk, explosive rock and abrasive jazz. The music ruffled the feathers of jazz purists who were unwilling to accept Davis' vision for the ever-evolving genre. However, rock fans were blown away. The trumpeter's 1970 fusion masterwork, Bitches Brew, sold over 400,000 copies in a year, making it the biggest selling jazz album in history.
Even though Davis died Sept. 28, 1991, the trumpeting jazz titan continues to impact the contemporary music world.
In 1962, Davis was elected by the Readers into the Down Beat Hall of Fame.