10 Kind of Blue Facts About Miles Davis

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Jazz trumpeter and composer Miles Dewey Davis III was not what you would call a humble man. At the very least, the multi-talented musician made it a little bit easier to describe his career when he himself said that he "changed music five or six times." Davis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, 15 years after his passing, for being "one of the key figures in the history of jazz." It was an understatement, since Davis was responsible for popularizing the cool, modal, and fusion forms of jazz, and has influenced musicians in every genre; Davis collaborated with Jimi Hendrix and Prince. Had Hendrix not died, Davis and the guitar legend would have recorded together. Here are some facts about Miles Davis, who was born on May 26, 1926.

1. HE WAS FIRST TAUGHT THE TRUMPET, TO HIS MOTHER'S DISAPPROVAL.

Elwood Buchanan was one of Miles Davis's father's dental patients—and drinking buddies—and became Davis's trumpet teacher. On Davis' 13th birthday, his father bought him a new trumpet. His mother, Cleota, wanted him to have a violin; it caused a great argument between the couple but, as Davis wrote, "she soon got over it." In high school, Davis began studying with a German trumpeter named Gustav who played first trumpet with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Buchanan was still Davis' high school music teacher, and one day in a formative moment of Miles' life, Buchanan stopped the band to admonish young Davis on his use of vibrato, saying he had "enough talent" to use a style all his own.

2. HE PLAYED WITH CHARLIE PARKER, WHO WAS ALSO HIS ROOMMATE.

When the Billy Eckstine band visited St. Louis in 1944, Dizzy Gillespie and Parker were members, and they invited Davis to replace Buddy Anderson as third trumpet (Anderson came down with tuberculosis, went back home to Oklahoma, and became a jazz pianist). After the experience, Davis was determined to move to New York City and get in touch with Parker again. After spending his first month's allowance in one week in New York, Davis went on his search. Despite saxophonist Coleman Hawkins' warnings to steer clear of Parker because of his heroin problem, Davis and "Bird" were roommates for a year.

3. HE ATTENDED JUILLIARD.

"Up at Juilliard," Davis said, "I played in the symphony, two notes, 'bop-bop,' every 90 bars, so I said, 'Let me out of here,' and then I left." In his autobiography, he recalled that along with just being bored with school—Davis was, after all, by this time playing in jazz clubs and with the likes of Charlie Parker every night—he found Juilliard to be "white-oriented" and "racist." One example was when a white female teacher told his class the reason black people played the blues was because they were poor and had to pick cotton. Davis wrote that he raised his hand, stood up, and said, "I'm from East St. Louis and my father is rich, he's a dentist, and I play the blues. My father didn’t never pick no cotton and I didn’t wake up this morning sad and start playing the blues. There's more to it than that." The teacher said nothing more on the subject.

4. HE TURNED DOWN WORKING WITH DUKE ELLINGTON IN ORDER TO FINISH BIRTH OF THE COOL.

Davis credited composer/pianist/bandleader Ellington as the root source for his landmark 1957 album Birth of the Cool, which made it all the more interesting when Davis had to turn him down.

Ellington—whom Davis had never met—sent for the young musician. Hearing that Ellington liked his style was a big deal to the young musician; Davis wrote that it "sent my ego climbing to the sky." When Davis went to meet his hero, Ellington was dressed in shorts with a woman sitting on his lap. Ellington invited him to join his band that fall, but Davis turned him down because he was working on Birth of the Cool. While his excuse was genuine, Davis also didn't want to play the same music night after night, which is something he feared would happen if he accepted Ellington's offer. He never spoke to Ellington again and sometimes wondered what would have happened if he had said "yes."

5. HE KICKED HEROIN COLD TURKEY.

In 1949, Davis became addicted to heroin. He would often say that it was because “I got bored and was around cats that were hung,” but in his autobiography he says that it was because of his depression at the time. He managed to quit in 1954, after growing sick and tired of it. "You know you can get tired of anything," Davis told Rolling Stone in 1969. "You can even get tired of being scared. I laid down and stared at the ceiling for 12 days, and I cursed everybody I didn't like. I was kicking it the hard way. It was like having a bad case of flu, only worse. I threw up everything I tried to eat. My pores opened up and I smelled like chicken soup. Then it was over."

6. HIS VOICE BECAME PERMANENTLY RASPY AFTER NOT FOLLOWING HIS DOCTOR'S ORDERS.

Davis had a throat operation in 1957 to remove nodes from his vocal cords. He was told not to raise his voice for 10 days. Two days after he was told this, he shouted at someone—either a record company owner or a booking agent—who, according to Davis, "tried to convince me to go into a deal I didn't want," permanently damaging his voice and giving it a rasp.

7. AMONG HIS PRE-SHOW RITUALS WERE AVOIDING FOOD (AND SEX).

He said that like fighters Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson, he avoided shaking hands before performances (he supposedly didn’t want the oil from other people’s hands to mess up how his hands felt). Also like a boxer, he tied his shoelaces as tightly as possible, on shoes that were one size too small. Davis also declined food and sex before playing, purposely making himself hungry and unsatisfied.

8. HE HAD ISSUES WITH THELONIOUS MONK.

As Charles Mingus revealed in "An Open Letter to Miles Davis," printed November 30, 1955 in Down Beat magazine, Davis kept railing on Monk to "lay out" during a gig because he got the chords wrong. Later, during a recording session, he "cursed, laid out, argued, and threatened" the pianist/composer, and asked producer Bob Weinstock why he hired Monk, a "non-musician," in the first place.

9. HE DISAPPEARED FOR YEARS.

Davis stopped performing in the spring of 1976, and disappeared from the public eye. He hid away in his Manhattan brownstone until 1981. Fans of his hung out on his New York City block and went through his garbage. Rumors of a series of operations led people to believe he was dying. It turned out that beginning in 1975 he had an artificial hip implant, more throat polyp surgery, a painful leg infection, gallbladder issues, a bleeding ulcer, pneumonia, and chronic insomnia, and was too drugged up to perform.

10. HE HAD A LONG TALK WITH A YOUNG PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN.

When he was in his early 20s, the late Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman worked was a lifeguard at New York City's Metropolitan Towers, where Davis lived. One day, Davis came to the pool. "I didn't want to make him feel uncomfortable, so I pretended I didn't know him," Hoffman said. "He was wearing a Speedo with sunglasses and he had a towel and he got in the pool with his sunglasses and doggie-paddled about five laps, got out, took his sunglasses off and started talking to me because I don't think that he knew that I knew who he was." Davis then sat with Hoffman and talked for half an hour while looking at the city, talking about buildings he owned, accidents he got into, and girlfriends. "Everything except music," Hoffman said. "At the end of it he said, 'I'm Miles...' and he walked away."

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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25 Facts About John Lennon For His 80th Birthday

Before he was one of the world's most iconic musicians, John Lennon—who was born in Liverpool on October 9, 1940—was a choir boy and a Boy Scout. Let's take a look at some facts you might not have known about the leader and founding member of The Beatles.

1. John Lennon grew up near Strawberry Field.

By the time he was 5 years old, John Lennon had been all but abandoned by his parents, so instead went to live with Mimi and George Smith, his aunt and uncle, in Woolton, England. He lived near a local Salvation Army orphanage, and loved to explore its garden, which was known as Strawberry Fields. In Barry Miles’ book Many Years From Now, Paul McCartney recalled how it was "a secret garden. John's memory of it [was] … There was a wall you could bunk over and it was a rather wild garden, it wasn't manicured at all, so it was easy to hide in.”

2. John Lennon was a choir boy and a Boy Scout.

Yes, John Lennon—the great rock 'n' roll rebel and iconoclast—was once a choir boy and a Boy Scout. Lennon began his singing career as a choir boy at St. Peter's Church in Liverpool, England and was a member of the 3rd Allerton Boy Scout troop.

3. John Lennon’s first instrument was the banjo.

Getty Images

The first song John Lennon learned to play as a teenage rock ‘n’ roll fan was Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day.” But he didn’t master the tune on any instrument you might pose with in front of the mirror. “My mother Julia taught it to me on the banjo, sitting there with endless patience until I managed to work out all the chords,” Lennon once said. The infamous banjo went missing after Julia’s death in 1958 and became the subject of the 2012 novel Julia’s Banjo, which spawned the stage adaptation Lennon’s Banjo.

4. John Lennon hated his own voice.

Incredibly, one of the greatest singers in the history of rock music hated his own voice. Lennon did not like the sound of his voice and loved to double-track his records. He would often ask the band's producer, George Martin, to cover the sound of his voice: "Can't you smother it with tomato ketchup or something?"

5. Songwriting was “torture” to John Lennon.

Lennon wrote some of the most indelible pop songs of the 20th century—and he apparently hated every minute of it. Speaking with Rolling Stone just days before his death, Lennon revealed that songwriting was “absolute torture” for him. “I always think there’s nothing there, it’s sh*t, it’s no good, it’s not coming out, this is garbage ... and even if it does come out, I think, 'What the hell is it anyway?'" he said. The only exceptions, he added, were the “10 or so songs the gods give you and that come out of nowhere.”

6. "Twist and Shout" was not kind to John Lennon's vocal cords.

On February 11, 1963, The Beatles spent one very long day recording 10 songs that would appear on their debut album, Please Please Me. At the end of the 12-hour session, they tackled “Twist and Shout,” a song that required Lennon—who was already hoarse—to shred what remained of his voice.

“The last song nearly killed me,” Lennon said of “Twist and Shout” in 1976. “My voice wasn’t the same for a long time after; every time I swallowed it was like sandpaper. I was always bitterly ashamed of it, because I could sing it better than that; but now it doesn’t bother me. You can hear that I’m just a frantic guy doing his best.”

7. John Lennon was dissatisfied with all of The Beatles' records.

While dining with his former producer, George Martin, one night years after the band had split up, Lennon revealed that he'd like to re-record every Beatles song. Completely amazed, Martin asked him, "Even 'Strawberry Fields'?" "Especially 'Strawberry Fields,'" answered Lennon.

8. John Lennon was the only Beatle who didn't become a full-time vegetarian.

George Harrison was the first Beatle to go vegetarian; according to most sources, he officially became a vegetarian in 1965. Paul McCartney joined the "veggie" ranks a few years later. Ringo became a vegetarian not so much for spiritual reasons, like Paul and George, but because of health problems. Lennon had toyed with vegetarianism in the 1960s, but he always ended up eating meat, one way or another.

9. John Lennon’s signature eyeglasses were far from trendy.

While filming the 1967 black comedy How I Won the War, John Lennon took a liking to the round spectacles that were part of his soldier character’s wardrobe. These weren’t designer glasses, but rather the utilitarian handiwork of the UK's National Health Service. Lennon loved the ugly “granny” frames so much that he made them his signature look for the rest of his life.

10. John Lennon loved to play Monopoly.

During his Beatles days, Lennon was a devout Monopoly player. He had his own Monopoly set and often played in his hotel room or on planes. He liked to stand up when he threw the dice, and he was crazy about the properties Boardwalk and Park Place. He didn't even care if he lost the game, as long as he had Boardwalk and Park Place in his possession.

11. John Lennon was the first Beatle to get married.

Lennon wed Cynthia Powell, whom he’d met in art school, on August 23, 1962. The reason for their union: Cynthia was pregnant, and on April 8, 1963, she gave birth to the couple’s only child, a son named Julian. Beatles manager Brian Epstein worked to keep John’s marriage a secret, but his efforts were futile. When the Fab Four performed on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, a caption reading “Sorry girls, he’s married” appeared on screen when Lennon got his closeup during “’Till There Was You.”

12. John Lennon was the last Beatle to learn how to drive.

John Lennon at a press conference on September 11, 1964.Vern Barchard, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Lennon got his driver's license at the age of 24 (on February 15, 1965). He was regarded as a terrible driver by all who knew him. He finally gave up driving after he totaled his Aston-Martin in 1969 on a trip to Scotland with his wife, Yoko Ono; his son, Julian; and Kyoko, Ono's daughter. Lennon needed 17 stitches after the accident.

When they returned to England, Lennon and Ono mounted the wrecked car on a pillar at their home. From then on, Lennon always used a chauffeur or driver.

13. There’s only one Beatles song featuring just John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

In 1969, while honeymooning in Paris with Yoko Ono, Lennon began writing a song about the controversy surrounding their recent marriage. When he got back to London, Lennon went over to McCartney’s house to finish the composition, which he had already titled “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” Lennon and McCartney then quickly booked a session at Abbey Road and recorded the song as a duo (Starr was filming The Magic Christian with Peter Sellers and Harrison was on vacation).

“John was in an impatient mood so I was happy to help,” McCartney said. “It’s quite a good song; it has always surprised me how with just the two of us on it, it ended up sounding like The Beatles."

14. John Lennon reportedly used to sleep in a coffin.

According to Allan Williams, an early manager for The Beatles, Lennon liked to sleep in an old coffin. Williams had an old, abandoned coffin on the premises of his coffee bar, The Jacaranda. As a gag, Lennon would sometimes nap in it.

15. John Lennon recorded one of pop’s first diss tracks.

Everyone remembers Lennon’s 1971 album Imagine for the utopian title track. But the LP also features “How Do You Sleep,” a rather nasty attack on Paul McCartney. “Those freaks was right when they said you was dead,” Lennon sings in the opening verse, referencing the infamous “Paul Is Dead” myth. Lennon later sings, “The only thing you done was yesterday,” referring to the Paul-penned Beatle favorite “Yesterday.” In fairness, Lennon was responding to a handful of subtler lyrical jabs on McCartney’s 1971 album Ram.

16. The last time John Lennon saw Paul McCartney was on April 24, 1976.

William Lovelace, Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

McCartney was visiting Lennon at his New York apartment. They were watching Saturday Night Live together when producer Lorne Michaels, as a gag, offered the Beatles $3000 to come on the show. Lennon and McCartney almost took a cab to the show as a joke, but decided against it, as they were just too tired. (Too bad! It would have been one of the great moments in television history.)

17. John Lennon was supposed to sing lead on The Beatles' first single, 1962's "Love Me Do."

Lennon sang lead on a great majority of the early Beatles songs, but Paul McCartney took the lead on their very first one. The lead was originally supposed to be Lennon, but because he had to play the harmonica, the lead was given to McCartney instead.

18. John Lennon stole the harmonica heard on “Love Me Do.”

Lennon is known as the bad boy of The Beatles, and true to form, he added a bit of delinquency to the group’s 1962 debut single, “Love Me Do.” The song is notable for John’s use of harmonica, and he reportedly played the signature riff on a mouth organ he swiped from a music shop in Arnhem, The Netherlands, in 1960. In terms of musicianship, Lennon didn’t exactly commit thievery, but he based his harmonica lick on the one heard in Bruce Channel’s “Hey! Baby

19. "All You Need Is Love" was the best lyric John Lennon ever wrote.

A friend once asked Lennon what was the best lyric he ever wrote. "That's easy," replied Lennon, "All you need is love."

20. John Lennon wanted Jesus and Hitler for the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

After British pop artist Peter Blake came up with the cover concept for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band—the band surrounded by cardboard cutouts of famous figures from throughout history—he asked all four Beatles to make lists of people to include. One of Lennon’s picks was Jesus Christ, even though he’d recently gotten into a heap of trouble for saying The Beatles were “more popular” than the Christian messiah. Blake’s team never actually made up a Jesus cutout, but they did create one for another of John’s controversial selections: Adolf Hitler. The Führer apparently made the final cover, but he’s behind the band, so you can’t see him.

21. John Lennon was the final Beatle to have a #1 solo hit in America.

By the time John Lennon released 1974’s Walls and Bridges, Paul McCartney had topped the Billboard Hot 100 three times. George Harrison and Ringo Starr (yes, Ringo) had each reached the summit twice. Among ex-Beatles, only Lennon had yet to notch a #1 single. That finally changed with “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” a jaunty dance number featuring Elton John on piano and backup vocals. It reached #1 on November 16, 1974, giving Lennon his first—and only—U.S. chart-topper.

22. John Lennon had a deep and abiding love of cats.

Though Lennon did have a couple of dogs, he was absolutely crazy for cats. He had many of them over the years, each one holding a very special place in his heart. As a kid, he had a cat named Elvis—named after Elvis Presley—but discovered that Elvis was a female when she gave birth to a litter of kittens. Still, the name stuck. More than a dozen feline friends would follow over the years.

23. John Lennon made his final concert appearance after losing a bet.

After helping Lennon record “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night,” Elton John bet the former Beatle that the single would reach #1 in America. A doubtful Lennon took the wager, agreeing to perform with John at Madison Square Garden if he lost. Sure enough, the song topped the Hot 100 on November 16, 1974, and 12 days later—on Thanksgiving night—Lennon joined John for three songs, including the Beatles classics “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” It would be Lennon’s final proper concert appearance.

24. John Lennon was into new wave and punk.

John Lennon seen in 1966.Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On December 6, 1980, two days before he was murdered, John Lennon sat for an interview with Andy Peebles of the BBC. During the chat, Lennon professed his admiration for punk provocateurs the Sex Pistols, English ska revivalists Madness, and American new-wave party-starters The B-52’s, among others. Lennon credited his assistant Fred Seaman with hipping him to these new artists, even though he was initially reluctant to listen.

25. The last photographer to snap John Lennon’s picture was Paul Goresh.

Ironically (and sadly), Lennon was signing an album for the person who was to assassinate him a few hours later when he was snapped by amateur photographer Paul Goresh on December 8, 1980.

Lennon obligingly signed a copy of his latest album, Double Fantasy, for Mark David Chapman. Later that same day, Lennon returned from the recording studio and was gunned down by Chapman, the same person for whom he had so kindly signed his autograph.

Morbidly, a photographer sneaked into the morgue and snapped a photo of Lennon's body before it was cremated the day after his assassination. Yoko Ono has never revealed the whereabouts of his ashes or what happened to them.

This post has been updated for 2020.