Miles Dewey Davis III (May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991) was one of the most distinguished jazz musicians of the latter half of the 20th century. A trumpeter, bandleader and composer, Davis was at the forefront of almost every major development in jazz from World War II to the 1990s. He played on various early bebop records and recorded one of the first cool jazz records.
He was partially responsible for the development of modal jazz, and jazz fusion arose from his work with other musicians in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Free jazz was the only post-war jazz style not significantly influenced by Davis, although some musicians from his bands later pursued this style. His recordings, along with the live performances of his many influential bands, were vital in jazz’s acceptance as music with lasting artistic value. A popularizer as well as an innovator, Davis became famous for his languid, melodic style and his laconic, and at times confrontational, personality. As an increasingly well-paid and fashionably-dressed jazz musician, Davis was also a symbol of jazz music’s commercial potential.
Davis was late in a line of jazz trumpeters that started with Buddy Bolden and ran through Joe “King” Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie. He has been compared to Duke Ellington as a musical innovator: both were skillful players on their instruments, but were not considered technical virtuosos. Ellington’s main strength was as a composer and leader of a large band, while Davis had a talent for drawing together talented musicians in small groups and allowing them space to develop. Many of the major figures in post-war jazz played in one of Davis’s groups at some point in their career.