Sunday, January 06, 2019

Miles to Go: Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound by Kathleen Cornell Berman

Mornings in East St. Louis
Miles Davis
sits close to the radio.

Blocks from home,
Miles watches riverboats
bringing musicians
up the Mississippi River,
from New Orleans.

The perfect place for a boy
who loves music.

Like iconic jazz musicians Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke before him, Miles Davis fell under the spell of jazz by that same river. Music drifted through his windows, and he felt the hot beats of the dance bands, the sad sound of blues, and the rhythmic harmonies of the gospel songs, and when his father gave him a gleaming trumpet and music lessons, his path was set.

Miles played with the school band and local bands, and he got good, good enough to be accepted by Julliard School of Music in New York, but the music "on The Street," 52nd Street, where the jazz clubs were, was changing fast.

Everybody's buzzing about

Bebop was hard and fast, with jumpy, unpredictable harmonies and rhythms and fast notes. But...

Bebop was about change.

Miles Davis soon gets good enough to play with the bop stars--Charlie "Bird" Parker's searching sax and Dizzy Gillespie's fast and fizzy high notes--but he has other ideas about how he wants to play.

Miles hears music differently.

He doesn't like to play a lot of notes
... only the important ones.

Miles remembers what his dad had said, "Don't be a mockingbird that copies others," and finally he finds his own band and his style, a sound that was his own, strong, but sweet, a new sound, with relaxed rhythm and pure notes, and one day he wows the crowd at the Newport with his sound--the new jazz.... and becomes one of the major musicians of the century.

In her Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound (Page Street Kids, 2019), author Kathleen Cornell Berman follows jazz legend Miles Davis through his formative years as a jazz musician who searches himself to invent a new way to play, one true to himself and true to the art of jazz. Appropriately, Berman tells Miles' story in smooth but rhythmic free verse that tells of the inner struggle that leads to memorable music in any time, ably assisted by the art of Keith Henry Brown, who uses soft watercolor illustrations in full page and spot art style to portray for middle readers the music scene that was Miles Davis's own in the world of mid-century music. For young musicians and jazz lovers, this book should be a first purchase for middle-school and public libraries.

For serious fans, Berman adds an appendix with author's and illustrator's notes, a selected discography, and a bibliography of articles and books on the life and work of Miles Davis.

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