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Discussion Questions - Miles Davis


Miles Davis

"No jazz musician in history, with the exception of Duke Ellington and probably Count Basie made as much good music for as long as Davis. And no jazz musician other than Ellington made as much different music, that was a good as Davis," according to Gerald Early in Miles Davis and American Culture. Miles Davis was able to maintain his popularity in a world where jazz music faced a declining audience and decreased demand. He had a strong work ethic and started practicing the trumpet as a young child. He did all he could throughout his life to learn, improve, and create new ways of playing old styles, an attribute that kept him in the spotlight long after most jazz musicians had faded into the background. Exactly how much did East St. Louis contributes to Miles Davis' success? Could it be that the tough town of East St. Louis prepared him to be relentless and resilient in his musical career which helped him succeed where others failed when jazz was declining? Would Davis have been able to achieve the same success and passion for music if he had not been raised in a wide open city that celebrated jazz and its lifestyle during its prime? (Baltzell, Cassandra)

In Chapter One of Miles Davis an American Culture, author Gerald Early compares Davis to several famous boxers including Sugar Ray Robinson and Jack Johnson. Why does Early do this? How do the qualities Davis possessed as a musician compare with those of a boxer? How does Davis incorporate boxing styles into his music? In the 1970s, Davis recorded a soundtrack with Jack Johnson as a central theme. Why does Davis exemplify Jack Johnson as a black male leader as opposed to traditional black male leaders such as W.E.B DuBois or Martin Luther King? How does Davis view black male assertiveness and express it in his music? (Poehler, Allison)

Explain the different aspects of East St. Louis which contributed to Miles Davis as a jazz musician (the night life, vice district, etc.). Would Miles have become a musical genius anywhere, or was he simply raised in the right circumstances? (Kilhoffer, Zak)

What was the greatest contribution Miles Davis made to the world around him? What factors did growing up around the music scene in East St. Louis have on his career? What contributions, if any, did Davis make to the city? Do you believe his childhood was the motivation for his music, or did other factors mold him into the musician he became? (Grabowski, Matthew)

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