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My Milestones with Miles Davis

Do you remember in the first 21 Jump Street when Channing Tatum takes wifi and curses a certain jazz musician while diving into a gong? Well today, you’ll find out exactly who that it is - along with the many inspirations his work has provided me and other jazz lovers alike.

Miles Dewey Davis III, born on May 26th, 1926 in Alton Illinois, has a long legacy standing as a staple of jazz music. He began trumpet at the age of 13 due to his family being involved heavily in the music scene. He joined the Eddie Randall band that resided in St. Louis in 1941. After three years of touring, Miles was offered a scholarship to Juilliard, a well-known prestigious music education institution that had the best to offer in accelerating one’s musical abilities. Miles had one of his first real tastes in performing when he was 17. Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker called on him when they realized their first trumpet player was out sick with tuberculosis.

The first record I had the pleasure of experiencing was in fact Milestones. This record was a staple in defining Davis’s sound throughout the years. In 2013-2014, it was my first school year in being a part of the jazz band. I was one of two drummers, the other drummer was my good friend Jon Paul. In the beginning, it was hard to grasp some music theory since I hadn’t had much training before. We went from playing basic warm-ups, Lady Gaga, to the 9th track on Milestones, "Milestones". That track helped me understand jazz drumming. Contrary to what you may think, not every jazz drummer's experience is the one of Whiplash. No chairs were thrown at me, but I did have to ask myself if I was rushing or dragging minus the slap in the face when counting in 4/4. I learned to play this record by constantly spinning it and drumming along to it. It took a while, but eventually, our annual school concert came around and I felt we all did it justice. I even had a vibraphone solo that lasted twelve bars. Our instructor, at the time, forced everyone to solo for a good grade. I was sort of anxious and kind of impassioned when he mentioned that we have to make up our own twelve bars. However, I found the performance of the Miles Davis record and soloing was the best thing he could’ve done for us, teaching improvisation without directly giving context to what we were doing. I will forever be grateful for that experience.

Jazz music is a great way to easily learn music theory and improvisation. I’m thankful to have played it a good chunk of my lifetime. As well as learning how these musicians made it out of their struggles and followed what they wanted to pursue. Davis, unfortunately, passed away in 1991. His soul will live on for all the future newcomers to jazz music. Before I end the article, there’s a cool anecdote I must share including Mr. Davis and a young Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Hoffman was working as a lifeguard at NYC’s Metropolitan Towers, coincidentally where Davis was residing. One day, Miles walks down to the pool, and Phillip notices. But when he told the story, Hoffman explains he treated him as a stranger to not make him feel uncomfortable. After swimming about 5 laps, Davis comes to talk to Hoffman in casual conversation. He mentioned nothing about music, only buildings he owned, accidents he got into, and girlfriends. At the end of their conversation, Davis says to Hoffman “I’m Miles” and walks back into his place. What a legendary story. Miles Davis talking to the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman about his life so casually. Sounds like a real-life fever dream.


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