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Drugs and Miles Davis

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Throughout America's music history, the use and abuse of illegal drugs has been widespread, and some great musicians' lives have been utterly devistated and ruined by drugs. Often times it seems as though, in studying their histories, many musicians are falsely led to believe that if they use certain drugs, their playing will improve, or become more creative. Many great musician's lives have been tragicly cut short because of their drug use, and God only knows where some of them would be today had they not fallen into the trap of believing a chemical substance can improve their musicianship. The tragic thing is that by the time they realize that the drugs are only hurting their performance, the addiction has already taken control of their lives and their music.

The first real drug epidemic in the American music scene came when jazz was in its developmental stages in the first half and the middle of the 20th century. While there was a heroin epedimic across

the nation at the time, not just with musicians, the latter half of the 20th century has suffered several musical casualties to the drug. As the great players, such as Charlie Parker, began using, the up and coming

musicians who idolized him were well aware of his drug use. Upon seeing their idol shoot up, then go on stage and rip through bebop like it was nothing, these young players began to think, "If I tried it, I might be able to play like that." One of these young players, who would eventually be come one of the most historical figures in jazz, was Miles Davis.

Miles came from a well off middle class family. His dad was a successful dentist, so money was never an issue. Miles' father encouraged the arts, while his mother discouraged it because the chances of making a good living are slim to none. However, Miles ended up going

to Juliard for trumpet and his career began when he started playing with other musicians in New York, rather than focusing on school. It was when Miles was playing in Billy Eckstine's band that Davis had his first major encounter with drugs. Davis had tried cocaine earlier when he was in the dressing room with Billy Holiday after a set at the Down Beat, but he said it did nothing for him. However not too long after that, with Eckstine's band, trumpet player Hobart Dotson gave Miles a rock of coke which he described saying, "All I know is that all of a sudden everything seemed to brighten up, and I felt this sudden burst of energy." Shortly after this, Miles was introduced to the most detrimental drug he'd use, heroin. It was saxophonist Gene Ammons who was responsible for Miles' first taste. In the midst of all this drug use, Miles was to naive at the time to realize what an addiction was, and that he was on the path towards it. To some, it is a mystery why people with such potential would make such poor decisions to ruin their bodies and their lives with such drugs. Simply put, it was the same reasons people find themselves doing such things today: peer pressure. Pianist Walter Davis explained, "I just know that when you got high at that time, you wre further into the clique....It was in to be doing that. When somebody was playing well conversation went like this: you would always hear somebody say, 'Who the hell is that?' Guy say, 'Well, that's such and so,' and the next question would be, 'Does he get high?' You say, 'Yeah, he gets high as a motherfucker.'" For Miles, it was more of a right of passage. He does heroin and it signifies that he is not a "square", but a real player like Bird and all the other great players who were users. The players seemed to know that the drug itself wouldn't make it better, but being in with the in crowd of good players who did would bring them closer to the greats and therefore make them greater. Afterall, it was when Miles was living with Bird that he solidified his heroin addiction.

Although there was a belief, especially among the young immature players, that the use of drugs can make you a better player, there is overwhelming evidence and examples of how the use of drugs has been detrimental to the music. Several times Miles had pawned everything of value that he owned, even his horn, so he could get his fix. Somehow Miles was able to pull himself together when it came time for a recording session. But as soon as the music stopped Miles had to find a way to get high. There were only two things that interested Miles at this point, music and drugs. Later in his life Miles admitted that his use was beginning to hurt the music. When asked about the record 'Blue Room', Miles implied that the problem with it was his drug



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