Happy Birthday, Miles Davis: 5 Annihilating Insights From His Autobiography

Today, jazz pioneer Miles Davis, who died in 1991, would have been 85. The year before his death, he published an autobiography detailing his truly amazing life story as well as wild accounts of his interactions with other iconic jazz greats. Between tales of Dizzy Gillespie's fondness of riling up monkeys by making faces though the glass window of a TV studio and Charlie Parker multi-tasking a bucket of fried chicken, a syringe and BJ, Davis uses the word “motherfucker” an estimated 13,593 times and reminisces about his first orgasm. A fascinating read, we remember Davis now with our top five annihilating insights from his autobiography.


5. “Listen. The greatest feeling I ever had in my lifewith my clothes onwas when I first heard Diz and Bird together in St. Louis, Missouri, back in 1944. I was eighteen years old and had just graduated from Lincoln High School. … It was a motherfucker. Man that shit was all up in my body. Music all up in my body, and that's what I wanted to hear. It was something.”

The first lines of the prologue in Davis' autobiography, these few sentences describe a feeling Davis spent the rest of his life chasing, trying to relive. He says that he came close to matching that feeling in 1944, when he was a kid hanging out with all these great musicians

his idols

but never quite got there.

4. “Things take time, you know, you just don't learn something new and do
it overnight. It has to get down inside your body, up into your blood
before you can do it correctly.”

In Chapter 9, Davis talks of his relationship to Sugar Ray Robinson, and connects Sugar Ray's experiences in boxing to his own in music. Davis said that it's not about learning how to do something correctly–you have to do what you want to do, the way you want to do it, and most importantly, you've got to learn how to be cool, and let what happens, happen.

3. Im always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning… Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”

This one comes up in Davis' discussion of the battle in quitting drinking, smoking, and doing cocaine. The thrill of waking up every day to new opportunities is what kept him going during some of the rougher periods in his life.   

2. “A person is lucky if he has one soldier or Gil Evans in his life,
someone close enough to pull your coattail when somethings gone wrong.”

Throughout his autobiography, Davis talks of being surrounded by iconic players, true legends, and yet acknowledges that how rare that is to have such amazing people in your life–and how important it is to hang on to those special people once you find them. 

1. “You've
got to have style in whatever you do–writing, music, painting, fashion,
boxing, anything. Some styles are slick and creative and imaginative
and innovative and others aren't.”

Ultimate life advice from the vanguard of cool. Davis never settled into one style; every few years, he changed up his lineup and restructured the way he approached music. The main creative force behind several different movements in musical history, Davis stands alone for his virtuosity and ability to constantly re-invent his style.

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