Let’s play a game. The subject of today’s post is world-famous, but not much is known about his childhood and upbringing. We’ll share some clues, and your job is to figure out the celebrity we’re writing about before the end of the article.
If you guess correctly, call us at 1-888-299-6441 and we’ll congratulate you personally – and talk to you about a dental plan if you like! If you guess incorrectly, we claim first dibs on your Halloween candy and may call on you for leaf raking duty one Saturday this fall.
Today’s mystery blog subject was a musician whose professional music career spanned 40 years.
Hint #1 I was born in 1926 in Alton, Illinois, the second of three African-American children. My father was an oral surgeon and one of the first African-Americans to graduate from Northwestern University Dental School in Chicago. My mother was a music teacher that played violin and piano and encouraged me to learn one or both.
Music was in the young African-American family’s bloodline on both sides, although the father of today’s mystery guest was quoted in his son’s autobiography that his own Arkansas father (our subject’s grandfather), forbade him from pursuing music. The reason was because the only place African-Americans could play publicly at that time were “barrelhouses” (bars or taverns).
Hint #2 My family moved to East St. Louis when I was one-year-old. My father opened up a successful dental practice there and we lived in a white middle class neighborhood. I enjoyed playing sports before I became interested in music at age seven.
Not only was Dr. Davis a dentist and oral surgeon, but like his own father in Arkansas he became a substantial landowner. The family patriarch owned 1,000 acres of land in Arkansas – an impressive feat for an African American in the early 19th century.
After opening his East St. Louis dental practice, Dr. Davis involved himself socially and politically and taught his children the importance of financial security.
“There’s no excuse for being poor anyway. You see, you’re not supposed to wait on anybody to give you nothing. My father taught me that.” – MDD III
Hint #3 I first began paying attention to music when I was seven years old. I loved listening to the gospel music in the black churches in Arkansas and East St. Louis. My mother was a music teacher and wanted me to play piano. I didn’t know until later that she was a very good blues pianist. When I turned 13 my dad gave me a trumpet. St. Louis was a trumpet man’s town back then. Looking back, I think my dad suggested I take up trumpet because my mother disliked it.
Dr. Davis arranged music lessons for his son with one of his dental patients, a local musician named Elwood Buchanan. Buchanan would slap our subject’s knuckles every time he played his trumpet with vibrato. That lesson stuck because playing a round sound without too much tremolo and bass became his signature sound throughout his career.
Today’s subject began playing professionally at age 17 with Eddie Randle’s Blue Devils. He graduated from East St. Louis High School in 1944. Saxophonist Sonny Stitt tried persuading him to join the Tiny Bradshaw band that was playing locally at the time, but the young trumpeter’s parents wanted him to go to college. That fall he enrolled in New York City’s Julliard School of Music.
Hint #4 I spent my first two weeks at Julliard looking for Charlie Parker (Bird) because that’s who I wanted to learn from. I knew all that Julliard stuff already because I’d studied it myself. I followed Bird around on gigs and made notes of chords and stuff on matchbooks. Instead of going to class I’d spend all my time trying out chords. After a semester and a half and doing my summer school homework in one day, I told my dad to save his money.
Bird and today’s subject recorded constantly the next four years, spearheading what was known as bebop jazz. In the late 1940’s our blog subject began collaborating with Canadian composer and arranger Gil Evans. Their work led to the beginning of the “cool jazz” period and his signature sound that has been described as “melancholy,” “romantic,” and “bittersweet” underlined by “restrained ferocity.”
Over the years MDD III and his assorted groups were the tip of the jazz music spear, including bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz and jazz fusion.
Our subject played a “crucial and inevitably controversial role in every major development in jazz since the 1940’s” according to Rolling Stone’s Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. That refusal to be pigeonholed and stereotyped by his earlier work led to his revolutionizing modern music by meshing rock and jazz. The album title of that 1970 mega-best seller is best omitted in this family-friendly venue.
On the other hand, or what musicians might call the downbeat, despite being hailed as “a pioneer of 20th century music” and “one of the great innovators in jazz,” our subject also struggled with drug and alcohol addiction in different decades, kicking a cocaine addiction a second time in 1979 (the first time was in the mid-1950’s) with the help of actress and eventual third wife Cicely Tyson.
A complex man bedeviled by acute sensitivities and racial slights from his youth, MDD III had a well known reputation for being aloof and a prima donna, often turning his back on audiences when he played. Regardless, there is no denying his invaluable contribution to jazz or the financial wisdom instilled in him by his father the dentist.
At the time of his death in 1991 at the age of 65, jazz trumpeter, composer and songwriter Miles Dewey Davis III had accumulated a net worth of $10 million. Think Dr. Miles Davis II expected that when giving his son a trumpet for his 13th birthday?
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Sources: biography.com, books.google.com, notablebiographies.com, Wikipedia.com, celebritynetworth.com
Photo sources: pinterest.com, vibe.com, abcnews.com
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