Miles Dewey Davis III was born on 25 May 1926 in Alton, Illinois. After his family moved home, Miles grew up in East St. Louis, a small town on the east bank of the Mississippi.
Following the abolition of slavery, Miles' family had become established and amassed a fortune within just two generations. His father, a dentist and major landowner, gave his son a trumpet for his thirteenth birthday, on which Miles made huge steps within a short time. Just two years later he was already a major player on the local jazz scene.
Intent on pursuing his music more intensively, Davis then decided to travel to New York, the centre of bebop jazz.
His parents were not enthusiastic about the ambitions of their son to show such a strong interest in the music of the black underclass. As a compromise, Miles studied classical music at the Julliard School of Music in New York, an arrangement which also gave him the opportunity to go to the jazz clubs in the evening.
Although he took part in his first recording session as early as 1945, he still felt somewhat insecure and out of his depth due to his lack of experience. Slowly, however, he developed his own lyrical style, and by 1948 he had begun to establish himself as one of the best-known faces on the international music scene.
During this period, bebop had entered something of a dead-end street in terms of musical development, leading Davis to move in other stylistic directions. The new style might be described as the forerunner of the 'cool' West Coast jazz school. Although he was an internationally recognised trumpeter by now, Davis was unable to find working during these years and the subsequent period, and because he was also attempting to overcome his addiction to heroin at the time, he found himself hardly able to play the trumpet by early 1954. While withdrawing from heroin use, which he eventually did without any outside help, Davis rediscovered his old strengths. This achievement was followed by one of most creative phases, when he effectively rewrote the history of jazz. With his mixture of lyrical and swinging play, supported by the strong rhythmic drive of his band, he finally seemed to have found his style.
Davis reached the pinnacle of his success in the early 1960s, although the special aura that surrounded him was based not merely on his musical achievements but also on his unusual behaviour. He would often simply walk off stage in the middle of a set, never to return, rarely spoke to his constantly changing line-up of support musicians and seemed to care little about the applause of the crowd.
This was followed by another creative crisis, as he was unable to come to terms completely with the development of free jazz. This artistic uncertainty and a series of style changes only added to his continuing health problems, however, and in 1975 his condition became so serious that he was unable to play at all for the a time. After making a number of other albums und successfully combining the rock and jazz styles during the 1980s, Miles Davis died on 28 September 1991 in Santa Monica, California as a result of a lung infection.