Miles Davis And The Development Of Improvisation I Essay

This essay has a total of 4029 words and 15 pages.

Miles Davis And The Development Of Improvisation In Jazz Music

Abstract
This essay is a discussion of how the way jazz trumpeter Miles Davis changes his way of
improvising, looking at two pieces from different times. The solos in the pieces were
transcribed by myself and then analysed in detail. From these analyses, several
conclusions on the style of improvising were drawn, and then the conclusions from the two
pieces were compared. The piece ‘New Rhumba', showed how Davis was using his technical
ability to create an impressive solo, but was also leaning towards a more sparse and
spacious form of improvising, where the times he doesn't play are just important as when
he does play, and the solo in ‘So What', showed this new style in full. The analyses of
the two solos also showed Davis' ability to improvise solos in a way that it seemed as
though he had already composed them. They were full of melodic tunes. This was also
emphasized by the fact that Davis often would think of a motif, and would then repeat
this, developing on it, creating variations of it. This all gave the solo a sense of
unity. When people in the audience heard the solos, they would recognize things Davis was
playing late in the solo, as variations on themes he was playing earlier on. On a more
technical basis, it shows the difference in the two solos, of the amount of time Davis
spends on notes outside the chord. In ‘New Rhumba', the earlier piece, his use of
extensions is greater, and there are far more times where he uses flattened, or sharpened
extensions. The later piece, ‘So What', is less active in this area. This essay reveals
some of the aspects of Miles Davis' style, which made him such a legendary, and
influential jazz trumpeter.


Topic: A discussion of the development of improvisation in jazz music in reference to trumpeter Miles Davis.
Miles Dewey Davis was born on the 26th of May 1926, in Alton, Illinois. He became famous
around the world for his incredible trumpet and flugelhorn playing, but he was also an
accomplished keyboard player, and composer.


Although born in Alton, Illinois, Miles Davis lived in East St Louis. He came from a
wealthy middle-class background. It isn't surprising to see that a person with the talent
of Miles Davis came from a Davis' father musical family. His mother played the violin, and
his sister played the piano. Although Miles was not very musical himself, he obviously saw
talent in his son, and for his thirteenth birthday, bought Miles his first trumpet. Miles
was very privileged to come from the family he did, because it meant he was able to have
private trumpet lessons. He learnt from a teacher called Elwood Buchanan, who taught Miles
all the basics he needed to know, before his natural talent and flare for improvisation
took over. Miles progressed quickly at the trumpet, and played in many bands and ensembles
at his school. While still in school, he joined his first independent group as a
trumpeter. They were called Eddie Randall's Blue Devils.


Many jazz musicians influenced Miles Davis. When Billy Eckstine's band played in St Louis,
Miles was able to meet some of these influences; Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.
(Trumpeter and saxophonist respectively) At the age of 18, Davis went to study at the
Juilliard School of Music, in New York. How ever, what he really wanted to be doing was
just playing jazz. He left the school to play in the small clubs of the famous 52nd
street. He did much of his playing with one of his idols, Charlie Parker. Davis joined
Parker's quintet in 1945. Together, they recorded some of the first true bebop songs -
songs such as 'Now's the time'. It was during this time that Miles Davis established his
style as a jazz trumpeter.


Bebop was a jazz style which developed in New York, at the end of World War II. It's
distinctive style is created by the use of dissonant chords and complex rhythms in the
improvised solos. Davis, always pushing the boundaries of what were the accepted styles in
jazz, was at the forefront of this new style, along with such jazz greats as Dizzy
Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Davis was again ahead of his time as he moved on from bebop
to a new style called ‘cool' jazz, bringing other jazz musicians such as Kenton, Monk
and Brubeck with him.


The jazz style known as ‘cool jazz, is perceived as being subdued and understated. It is
a very relaxed style of jazz which was in part founded by saxaphonist Lester Young. Miles
Davis was the most prominent trumpeter in the coming about of cool jazz. Many other jazz
trumpeters drew from his style, and tried to emulate it.


The way Davis improvised was very different from the standards set for jazz trumpeters at
the time, and this is why he had such a profound impact on the jazz world. His solos were
often placed in the middle register, where he could achieve the most tuneful melodies. His
mastery of improvising memorable tunes made it seem almost as though his solos were
composed beforehand.


An analysis, and comparison, of two of Miles Davis' solos, ‘So What', and ‘New
Rhumba', will show in what ways Davis developed the way he improvised, and what effects it
had on his contemporary jazz musicians, and those who followed him.


The piece ‘New Rhumba', recorded in 1966, featured on the ‘Miles Ahead' album, begins
with a basic chord progression of D, then C/A - which means a C chord being played over an
A bass. It then moves onto a more complicated, and cycling chord progression which I will
explain when I come to the part in the piece where there is improvisation over this chord
progression. When the solo begins, it is difficult to determine exactly what the chords
are. I think it can be argued that from bar 49, until bar 65, the accompaniment is based
on one chord; D. In this solo, Davis uses the base notes of the chord, but he also uses
what is called extensions of the chord. There are four main extensions which can be
employed above a D major chord. The 7th, which in this case is a C. The second possible
extension is the 9th. A 9th above a D major chord is an E. The third extension is an 11th,
which in a D major chord is a G, and the last extension which could be used is a 13th,
which in this case is a B. These extensions make up the basis for Davis' solo in ‘New
Rhumba', but as we will see in the analysis, he often plays on these extensions, and uses
flattened extensions, and other notes which are technically not part of the main chord.


Using this for the analysis, in bar 49 - the beginning of the solo - Davis uses the 9th
extension, and in the next bar he again uses the 9th and the 13th extensions. Bar 52 has
some strange notes which don't appear to fit. A flattened 7th, and a flattened 13th.
However, if one looks at the context that these notes are in, one can see that they are
really being used as passing notes, and I don't think they serve any real technical
musical purpose. Bar 54 contains an 11th, and a sharp 11th, but again, the sharp 11th is
simply being used as a stepping stone to get back up to the root note, D. For the rest of
this section there is more use of the 9th and 13th extensions, and there are other notes
which again don't seem to fit, but when one looks at the whole musical phrase, they are
passing notes.


Once we reach bar 65, the analysis becomes much more complicated, as the chord progression
has become more complicated. It starts with an Am7 chord in bar 65, then in the next bar
it moves to D7. Bar 67 contains the chords G▲, and G7. The next bar has the chord C.
Bar 69 moves from F▲, to F7, and then the next bar is Bb7/F. The last two bars of
this new chord progression contain the chords EO/A, and then Gm b5/A.


Due to the complexity of the chord progression that is used here, the notes that Davis
uses outside the chords actually become fewer. He lets the chords guide his improvisation,
more than feeling more free about what notes to play. The accompaniment to bar 65 is an
Am7 chord, Davis sticks to the chord in this bar. Davis also stays on the D7 chord in bar
66, although there is a sharp 7th, but when it is looked at in the context of the whole
musical phrase, it is quite clear that it is a passing note. In bars 67 and 68, where the
chords are G▲ and G7, followed by C, Davis stays totally on those chords. Bar 69 has
the chords F▲ and F7. Davis stays on these chords except for a 9th extension which
he uses in the second half of the bar. Davis plays only on the Bb7/F chord in bar 70,
although there is an E at the end of the bar, but this is clearly anticipating the chord
change into the next bar. When it does change to EO/A, Davis employs a 9th extension in
the latter half of the bar, and in the last bar of this 8 bar section, which has the chord
Gm b5/A, Davis gives the bar colour with the use of a 13th.


The next 24 bars is quite a strange section of the piece. For the first 6 bars of this
section, Davis is playing with a little theme. Each time he plays the theme it is a slight
variation on the last time, with changes in rhythm, and in the actual notes being used.
Throughout these 6 bars, this theme contains the notes C# quickly followed by D. This
gives a strange analysis for this section, as there is a #7 in each bar. However, this #7
is there due to the motif that Davis has found, and is using and varying. In this 6 bar
section Davis also makes use of the 11th extension, as seen in bars 75, 76, and 78. By bar
80 Davis has moved on from this motif, but he is still improvising in a somewhat
disjointed way. When physically looking at the transcript, one can see that he develops a
pattern of playing for a bar, and leaving all rests in the next bar, and then playing
again in the bar after that. This gives the impression of having many different little
tunes incorporated into the solo, before he begins runs again at bar 90. From bars 80 to
90 Davis is making use of extensions, but he is also using notes outside the chord, which
highlights the differences in the little tunes, and the abstractness of the style of
improvising. The 7th, 9th and 13th extensions are widely used, but he also uses some flat
13th's and sharp 13th's. These are often used as passing notes in an ascending phrase, for
example in bar 84, but they are also used in their own right, and this is what separates
this section from the rest of the piece.


The next three bars involves a technically difficult run of notes which obviously contains
many passing notes, but I think their can be an interesting interpretation of bar 91. It
begins on a flattened 3rd, an F. It could be argued that Davis' use of this F, and then
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