On September 28th of 1991, musician, composer, and bandleader Miles Davis passed away in Los Angeles at the age of 65.
Miles Davis was born in 1926, and raised in a wealthy African American family in Alton, Illinois, where his father had worked as a dentist. Miles was given his first musical instrument, a trumpet, for his 13th birthday. After practicing on his trumpet for a while, Miles eventually learned to play the flugelhorn, piano, synthesizer, and organ. By the age of 15, he was a legit member of the local musician’s union in St. Louis.
As a young adult, Miles Davis left St. Louis to go to college at the prestigious Julliard School of Music in New York City. During his studies at Julliard, Miles began performing in New York City with saxophonist Charlie Parker. Davis soon recorded his first album, The Birth of Cool, which made him a pioneer of cool jazz. He also played on some of the earliest recordings of the style of music that would one day become known as be-bop. His popular albums from the height of his popularity in the fifties include Miles Ahead, Sketches of Spain, MilesTones, and Kind of Blue.
In a career that spanned well over 50 years, Miles Davis recorded many dozen albums, and appeared in at least eight movies. He eventually became one of the most acclaimed and influential figures in the entire history of jazz music. No matter which direction his music took, he did not just work individually, but dragged the whole jazz world along with him, creating or influencing new sounds everywhere he went. In his own words, “I have to change. It's like... a curse.”
His brilliant innovations continued through the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, with groundbreaking albums such as Someday My Prince Will Come (1961), Miles Smiles (1967), In a Silent Way (1969), and Bitch's Brew (1970), to name just a few.
During the seventies, Miles took a year’s long hiatus due to poor health (or was it heroin addiction?), but recovered, and eventually recorded The Man With the Horn in 1981, You're Under Arrest in 1985, and Tutu in 1986. His best-selling album is Kind of Blue. In fact, Kind of Blue is the best-selling album in the history of jazz music.
Miles Davis was right there in the thick of almost every new jazz innovation, and even ventured into punk and new wave. All in all, Miles Davis recorded 48 studio albums and 36 live albums, while also collaborating on other types of albums. In 1986, the New England Conservatory awarded him an honorary doctorate for his astoundingly inventive contributions to music. In 1990, about a year before he died, Miles Davis received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Miles Davis worked on his music until very near his death on September 28th of 1991. He died from the combined effects of stroke, pneumonia, and respiratory failure. It is suspected that he had AIDS, although his publicist denied it.