Jazz innovator Miles Davis dies at 65 Miles Davis, a...


September 29, 1991|By New York Times News Service

Jazz innovator Miles Davis dies at 65 Miles Davis, a trumpeter and composer whose haunting tone and ever-changing style made him an elusive touchstone of jazz for four decades, died yesterday at a hospital in Santa Monica, Calif.

Mr. Davis, 65, died of pneumonia, respiratory failure and a stroke, his doctor said.

Mr. Davis' unmistakable, voicelike, nearly vibratoless tone -- at times distant and melancholy, at others assertive yet luminous -- has been imitated around the world.

His solos, whether ruminating on a whispered ballad melody or jabbing against a beat, have been models for generations of jazz musicians.

Mr. Davis never settled into one style; every few years he created a new lineup and format for his groups. Each phase brought denunciations from critics.

He came of age in the be-bop era. Many successive styles -- cool jazz, hard-bop, modal jazz, jazz-rock, jazz-funk -- were sparked or ratified by his example.

Mr. Davis was known for a volatile personality and arrogant public pronouncements, and for a stage presence that could be charismatic or aloof. For some stretches of his career, he turned his back on audiences as he played and walked offstage when he was not soloing.

Miles Dewey Davis III was born May 25, 1926, in Alton, Ill., the son of an affluent dental surgeon, and grew up in East St. Louis.

In 1944 the Billy Eckstine band, which then included two men who were beginning to create be-bop -- Charlie Parker on alto saxophone and Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet -- arrived in St. Louis with an ailing third trumpeter.

Mr. Davis sat in for two weeks. The experience made him decide to move to New York, the center of the be-bop revolution.

He enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music in September 1944, and for his first months in New York he studied classical music by day and jazz, in the clubs of 52nd Street and Harlem, by night.

By the next fall, he had joined Charlie Parker's quintet and dropped out of Juilliard. For the next few years, he worked primarily with Parker.

In 1948 he began to experiment with a new, more elaborately orchestrated style that would become known as "cool jazz." Mr. Davis recorded the music in 1949 and 1950 and helped spawn a cerebral cool-jazz movement on the West Coast.

Mr. Davis became a heroin addict in the early 1950s, performing infrequently and making erratic recordings. But in 1954 he overcame the addiction and began his first string of important small-group recordings.

Over the next year, he made a triumphant appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival and assembled his first important quintet, with John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums.

In 1957, Mr. Davis had a throat operation for nodes on his vocal cords. Two days after the operation he began shouting at someone; his voice was permanently damaged, reduced to a raspy whisper.

The Davis group's personnel fluctuated in the early 1960s until he settled on a new quintet in 1964, with Wayne Shorter (who became the group's main composer) on tenor saxophone, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums.

It was one of the most important ensembles in 1960s jazz, pushing tonal harmony to its limits and developing a dazzling rhythmic flexibility.

On the albums "E.S.P.," "Miles Smiles," "The Sorcerer" and "Nefertiti," the group could swing furiously, then open up unexpected spaces or dissolve the beat into abstract waves of sound. The quintet defined an exploratory alternative to 1960s free jazz. The four sidemen also recorded prolifically on their own.

Mr. Davis had touched on rock rhythms in one selection on "E.S.P.," but with the 1968 albums "Miles in the Sky" and "Filles de Kilimanjaro," he began to experiment more seriously with rock rhythms, repeating basslines and electronic instruments.

The Davis bands in the 1970s were anchored by a bassist, Michael Henderson, and brought percussion and syncopated basslines into the foreground. Mr. Davis' trumpet (now electrified, and often played through a wah-wah pedal) supplied rhythmic and textural effects as well as solos.

By the end of 1975, mounting medical problems -- among them ulcers, throat nodes, hip surgery and bursitis -- forced Mr. Davis into a five-year retirement.

Memorial services were being planned for New York City and East St. Louis, Ill.

Elmer Johnson Jr., Plumbing inspector

A memorial service for Elmer L. Johnson Jr., 61, a retired Baltimore County plumbing inspector, will be held at 2 p.m. today at the Connelly Funeral Home, 300 Mace Ave. in Essex.

Mr. Johnson died of cancer Sept. 25 at his home in Essex.

Born May 28, 1930, the son of Mildred Betz and Elmer L. Johnson Sr., he was a 1948 graduate of Kenwood High School.

He married Edna Boone of Tennessee in 1948.

A lifelong Essex resident, Mr. Johnson worked as a plumber for 43 years and for a decade owned the Johnson Plumbing Co.

He was a member of the Maryland National Guard and the Bowley's Quarters Volunteer Fire Department.

Mr. Johnson is survived by his wife; three daughters, Deborah Reithmuller of Snow Hill, Donna Routh of Essex and Lisa Guyll of Bettendorf, Iowa; a son, Elmer Leroy Johnson III of Snow Hill; two brothers, Charles L. Johnson of Bel Air and Richard Johnson of Orlando, Fla.; two sisters, Barbara Holthoff and Doris Clarke, both of Essex; and four grandchildren.

The family suggests memorial contributions be made to the American Cancer Society.

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