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(Credit: William Gottlieb)


If I were to ask you to name a jazz legend, you would likely fall upon Miles Davis first. His trumpeting virtuosity led him into the world of bebop jazz in the early 1940s. His talent for composition and multi-instrumentalism, impressive as it was, wasn’t enough to understand why almost every discernible record collection sports a copy of Kind of Blue. Their pioneering and transformative approach set Davis and his close collaborators like John Coltrane apart. 

In the late 1940s, Davis decided to move from his roots in high-tempo bebop jazz and join the smaller cult of “cool jazz”. This transition is defined by his Birth of the Cool sessions for Capitol, which were recorded between 1949 and ’50, but commercially released in 1957. 

Heading into the 1950s, Davis began to push at preconceived bounds of jazz. He developed an unprecedented style that caught conformists off guard with its distinct lack of vibrato. Meanwhile, he managed to maintain the intimacy of his low-tempo stylings in a fashion fit to substitute vocals as a bandleader.

Davis stepped into full stride mid-way through the ‘50s after meeting saxophonist John Coltrane. The pair first worked together on ‘Round About Midnight in 1955, an album that also featured the famed jazz bassist Paul Chambers. These three innovative musicians remained close collaborators and, joined by Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley, Bill Evans and Jimmy Cobb, they formed Davis’ famous sextet that brought modal jazz to worldwide consciousness.

This band, led by Davis, reached an apex with 1959’s Kind of Blue, which remains the essential jazz gateway album to this day. The album has been cited by jazz and rock musicians alike over the past six decades as a pivotal influence and a guiding light for innovation and melodic exploration. 

Watch some rare footage below of Miles Davis and John Coltrane trading solos in the late 1950s.

Watch John Coltrane and Miles Davis trade dynamic solos

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