Known worldwide for his evolving style and mastery of jazz improvisation, Miles Davis was more than a simple trumpeter. A band-leader, composer and provocateur, Davis became one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century for songs like the iconic "So What" and lesser-known gems like "Filles de Kilimanjaro." Born May 26, 1926, Davis has continued to influence music with his style and innovation far longer than his 65-year life span.
Born in St. Louis, Davis traveled throughout the country as a touring musician. But he did not begin to garner widespread acclaim until the 1950s. He struggled with a heroin addiction that later caused a series of health problems, and he died in 1991 from pneumonia and respiratory failure at the age of 65.
"Mr. Davis's unmistakable, voicelike, nearly vibratoless tone — at times distant and melancholy, at others, assertive yet luminous — has been imitated around the world," read the New York Times obituary.
While Davis was never a lyrical musician, his interviews and media appearances throughout his life proved him to be eloquent, thoughtful and with many words of wisdom for fellow musicians. Here are a few of his best quotes and songs to remember the legendary musician on his birthday:
“Do not fear mistakes — there are none.”
"Jazz is the big brother of revolution. Revolution follows it around."
"The thing to judge in any jazz artist is: Does the man project, and does he have ideas."
"Don't play what's there; play what's not there."
"The music has gotten thick. Guys give me tunes, and they're full of chords. I can't play them ... I think a movement in jazz is beginning away from the conventional string of chords and a return to emphasis on melodic rather than harmonic variation. There will be fewer chords but infinite possibilities as to what to do with them."
“It's not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating, they have to be about change.”
"As long as I’ve been playing, they never say I done anything. They always say that some white guy did it."
"In Europe, they like everything you do. The mistakes and everything. That’s a little bit too much."
"I know what I've done for music, but don't call me a legend. Just call me Miles Davis."
"When you are creating your own s**t, man, even the sky ain't the limit."
"He could very well be the Duke Ellington of rock 'n' roll," Davis once said of one of his favorite musicians, Prince.
"Blue in Green"
"Filles de Kilimanjaro"
"Tout de Suite"
"Miles Runs the Voodoo Down"
"It's About That Time"