Miles Davis is a genius on many levels, and certainly unique in his style of trumpet performance.. That question, ‘What makes Miles Miles?’ is one that I never get tired of pursuing, but let’s limit this post to just one aspect of his characteristic sound.
While his style evolved of his career, Miles’s sound is characterized my that open feel. While many musicians will to fill every second of time with a musical tone of some type, Miles embraced the use of space to create a mood. In the video below, notice how in almost any given 10-15 second spot in the performance the trumpet is silent more than it’s sounding. He creates the mood with ‘splashes of sound’, both in the melody and improv sections. Take a listen and contrast his style with that of others in the group (it may be long if you’re not a Miles fan, but at least sample it to hear the style):
Miles Davis also explored pop music covers – and took heat for it in some circles. However, even as he performs in this genre, he still uses that idea of slashes and splashes of sound, as you can hear in hist take Michael Jackson’s Human Nature.
What can you learn from listening to this? Think of opportunities in your trumpet performance (jazz, classical, contemporary) when you have the chance to choose between filling the entire space with sound or taking the more minimal approach and emphasize ‘space’. Not to say that one or the other is ‘better’ or even stylistically appropriate. Especially beginning/developing trumpet players can get caught up in that whole right/wrong constraint. But in your practice room you have the entire musical universe to explore.
Don’t be afraid to try things out and take some chances with your trumpet performance style. You’ll likely surprise yourself and you may even stumble upon inspiration – and isn’t that what music is all about?