top of page

The Musician who turned his back against his audience

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

One could safely say Miles Davis is to Jazz what Little Richard was to Rock and Roll. In one Survey he is described as the greatest Jazz musician ever. Like all geniuses he was stubborn and unconventional, lived by his own rules, did drugs, women and alcohol. He was also opinionated and was cocky to the point of arrogance. Not that you could blame him, he was the royalty of Jazz, the creme de la creme. This was a musician that was so full of himself or shall we say so sure of himself that he severally turned his back on his audience, and when asked on one occasion why he did this he said " they have come to listen to the music and not to watch my face" He was that confident. Here was a guy courted by the Jazz royalty and he had many a fight with Jazz purist who accused him of veering off the originality of Jazz, by trying to mix other music genres to his jazz, not that he cared. After all he was a member of a group that had Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillepsie. The famed Herbie Hancock was once a pianist in his band.

The Legendary Charlie Parker

Early Life

Miles Davis was born in 1926 in the State of Illinois and was one of 3 children, one could say he picked up his self assurance or what is termed arrogance from his privileged background as far back as the 20's at the height of segregation and discrimination he lived an affluent life as his father was a Dentist and his mum a teacher and a violinist. In the course of his father's career they moved around and they lived in a white neighborhood Davis started Elementary school around the White area and like all great musicians they always start music when they are bought a musical instrument as a gift by someone. In Davis case His father's White friend John Eubanks bought him a trumpet in 1935 aged 9.

He took music lessons from one Elwood Buchanan who was a musician and his Fathers Patient. By age 13 his dad bought him another trumpet and Davis continued taking music lessons and performed in bands and performed in music competitions and he lost severally because according to him he was black., but later confessed he learnt great lessons from such events. Davis not only played the trumpet but had to learn to read music notes when he was challenged by a friend to interpret a note and he couldn't. Davies was popular with the ladies and he had already sired a child from his then girlfriend while in High School named Irene Birth. this was in 1944. He graduated from High school in 1944 in absentia

In July 1944, Billy Eckstine visited St. Louis with a band that included Art BlakeyDizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker, Miles Davis was Invited to jam with them, from then on the Icon and genius called Miles Davis was Born.

Music Career/Life

After graduating from high school Davis accepted his fathers advice to study music in New York at the Prestigious Institute of Musical Arts where he studied Music theory, Piano and Dictation, he could only manage 3 semesters there as the life of jamming with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillepsie had caught up with him he could not complete College but had learnt how to read and play music which was enough for his stellar career.

Miles Davis Jamming with Charlie Parker in the New York Scene

Davies was jamming in Charlie Parker's band that also included Gillepsie, Davis participated in several sessions in Charlie Parker's band known as the Reboppers

He was playing with several groups, played with both Parker's and Gillepsie's. In 1946 he had his second Child from a lady named Cawthorne. In 1947 he formed his own band a quintet known as Miles Davies all Stars and recorded song tracks like "milestones" "half Nelson" " sipping at Bell"

This quintet lasted till 1963 before it was disbanded as some of the members said they wanted to pursue their own careers. Davis kept on tinkering and assembling new band members and he once recruited Herbie Hancock as his pianist. He toured extensively across Europe and America. It was with Hancock and other members of the quintet that he completed " Seven Steps to Heaven " in 1963.

Seven Steps To Heaven album sleeve

Miles Davies as mentioned earlier used to travel extensively across the US and Europe and they made another album "Miles Davis in Berlin " 1965

Miles Had health Challenges, of course he had his drug problems as well, He had hip replacement surgery in 1966 and also spent 3 months at the Hospital due to Liver Infection.

When he resumed touring from his 3 months hospitalization instead of going to normal concert venues he was Jamming in Colleges and this led to loss of income, He had also started dating actress Cicely Tyson in 1966.

As was said Miles was a super celebrity and he was besought by a lot of beautiful women and in one of the more unsavory comments about his person, He was once accused of pimping Women, Characteristic of him he was said not to deny the accusation, but rather replied " the ladies did not give me much"

In 1968 he got married to a model songwriter called Betty Mabry who was described by Davis as " high Class Groupie" the marriage did not last long as he divorced her in 1969 after accusing her of Sleeping with Jimmy Hendrix. Betty had earlier introduced him to the New York Social scene where he met Rock, Funk and musicians of other genres

Miles Davis & Betty Mabry

In 1969 Davis was shot 5 times in a vehicle while traveling in a car with another of his lovers Marguerite Eksridge , But before this incident occurred he had released an album called " in a silent way" which critics said was a deviation from pure jazz, more like Rock and Roll, could be due to the influence of Betty on him. In 1970 Marguerite gave birth to their son Erin.

Miles had a knack of changing his quintet due to various reasons and he formed another one that played a double album in 1970 called " Bitches brew" The album sold half a million copies. Though not very acceptable to some Jazz purist.

Because of the maverick nature of Davis he sometimes stopped playing music, and on some occasions while on stage he would just turn his back to his audience and sometimes refuse to blow his trumpet.

He rekindled his relationship with Cicely Tyson in 1979 whom he first met in 1966 as he claimed she helped him cure his cocaine addictions and cured him of some of his demons. They got married in 1981 in the House of Sammy Davis Junior and the Officiating Minister was Andrew Young.

Cicely Tyson and Miles Davies

The marriage was tumultuous and they ended up divorcing in 1989

Davis had a knack for abandoning music and would come back after persuasions, such was the case in 1979 when his contract with Colombia records was up for renewal and Clive Davis the head of Colombia was replaced by George Butler. Davis had before leaving Colombia instructed one Buckmaster to intervene in Davis life, who was then living in squalor in a roach infested house, being kept clean by his sister and he used to hide his face between the dark curtains and would not peep outside. He was neighbors with Chaka Khan.

Chaka Khan

In 1982 whilst his Wife Cicely Tyson was in Africa shooting a film Miles Davis suffered a stroke, and Tyson had to fly back to nurse him back to health and he recovered the use of his right hand due to acupuncture and other therapy and could play his trumpet again.

Davis After the Stroke

After getting healed Davis assembled another seven man band and recorded some albums and resumed touring, he toured Europe where he was much loved and respected he was given an award in Denmark. Not shy of controversy in 1985 while on a tour he signed for Warner Brothers that required him to give up his publishing rights, he was dissed for this by non other than Wynton Marsalis who claimed his jazz fusion album was a diversion from what the purist called real Jazz, Davis replied and said " Wynton is a nice young man, only confused." Davis also once walked Marsalis off his stage, imagine, such was Davis Celebrity power.

Wynton Marsalis

Davis had many health challenges and by 1985 had been diagnosed as diabetic and had to be placed on Insulin injection daily. He after much challenges finally released an album in 1985 for Colombia records called " You are under arrest" It included 2 pop songs by Cyndy lauper ( time after time) and Michael Jackson's (human nature). He had wanted to release a pop song, but Jazz enthusiasts did not give him room. He had also mooted doing a song with Prince.

Davis performed in Sun city in 1987 as a member of Artist United against Apartheid.

I have not done Justice to the most successful jazz musician of all time, adored and worshiped, a lover of gorgeous women, a fashion Icon idolized by many. a man of class and panache he played over 100 tracks among the most Popular being, " Birth of Cool", Relaxing, steaming" " Sketches of Spain" " bitches Brew" just to mention a few.

Davis succumbed to death in 1991 as a result of the many complications of his health challenges.

I do not think I have done justice to the live and times of this greatest of musical Icons. If 1000 persons write about this guy you could get 1000 perspectives, such is the immensity of material on this guy.

His career was littered with awards, he won 8 Grammy awards among many others

I would list a few of his non Grammy awards and his inductions, to put into perspective the greatness of this man.

Year Award Source :

1955 Voted Best Trumpeter, Down Beat Readers' Poll

1957 Voted Best Trumpeter, Down Beat Readers' Poll

1961 Voted Best Trumpeter, Down Beat Readers' Poll

1984 Sonning Award for Lifetime Achievement in Music

1988 Knight Hospitaller by the Order of St. John

1989 Governor's Award from the New York State Council on the Arts

1991 Knight of the Legion of Honor

2008 Quadruple platinum certification for Kind of Blue

To our Music freakdom audience please consider this literature as Historical done in simple readable format for your enjoyment.

Many thanks to the following media Wikipedia, Pinterest, google search, Microsoft encarta and the various media whose images we have used.

One last line from me, it was argued in some circles that Miles Davis turned his back on his audience so he could give cues to his band mates as it was easier doing so facing them rather than the audience. be that as it may.

Click the link below to listen to the songs of the Artists featured on the blog

748 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

Godson Jideonwo
Godson Jideonwo
Jul 08, 2020

Love this.Waiting for a piece on George Clinton.

bottom of page