Miles Davis (1926–1991) is widely regarded as one of the most important musicians of the 20th century, being at the cutting edge of bebop, hardbop, and fusion, just to name a few of the jazz movements he helped shape. Along the way, he influenced generations of musicians, including many sidemen who would enjoy influential and successful careers of their own. We take a look at some of the celebrated sidemen who’ve joined Davis in that great jazz combo in the sky.
John Coltrane (1926–1967)
The tenor saxophonist remains one of the giants of jazz. He played in a quintet with Davis from 1955 to 1957, then rejoined Davis in a sextet 1958-1960. In 1959, Coltrane played on the legendary “Kind of Blue,” a universally-lauded album whose influence went beyond jazz and into classical and rock music. Coltrane died of liver cancer in July 1967 at the age of 40.
Paul Chambers (1935–1965)
Chambers was a bassist who joined the Miles Davis Quintet in 1955 and remained with him until 1963. He also played on the seminal “Kind of Blue,” contributing to the album’s opening in a brief duet with pianist Bill Evans. Like Davis and Coltrane, he too suffered from alcohol and heroin addiction, and would die in July 1969 of tuberculosis at the age of 33.
Wynton Kelly (1931–1971)
The jazz pianist also worked with the Miles Davis Quintet from 1959 to 1963. You can hear his work on the tune “Freddie Freeloader” on “Kind of Blue.” Other notables Kelly worked with include Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charles Mingus.
Cannonball Adderley (1928–1975)
Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley played alto sax and joined Davis’ sextet in October 1957, just a couple months before Coltrane came on board. Adderley played on “Kind of Blue” and “Milestones” before starting the Cannonball Adderly Quintet. A Jazz Hall of Fame inductee, he died in 1975 at the age of 47 following a stroke.
Bill Evans (1929–1980)
William John Evans is considered by many to be the most influential pianist of the post World War II era. His collaboration with Davis may have lasted less than a year, but he made a big contribution to “Kind of Blue,” co-writing the songs “Blue in Green” and “Flamenco Sketches.” Evans, who started his own successful group in 1959, also struggled with addiction. He died at in 1980 at the age of 51.
Red Garland (1923–1984)
A former boxer who’d fought Sugar Ray Robinson, William “Red” Garland was a hardbop pianist and pioneer of the block chord technique. Along with Coltrane, Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones, he played with Davis on the Prestige records where the quintet recorded four albums over two sessions in 1956. Garland played with them on “‘Round About Midnight” before being fired by Davis. He would rejoin Davis for 1958’s “Milestones.” For several years during the ’60s, Garland stopped recording and performing, though he later returned to the piano before his death in 1984 of a heart attack at the age of 60.
Philly Joe Jones (1923–1985)
Joseph Rudolf “Philly Joe” Jones played drums for Davis between 1955 and 1958 and Davis has cited him as his favorite drummer, as did Bill Evans. Jones played on the Prestige records, as well as “‘Round About Midnight,” “Porgy and Bess,” “Milestones,” and “Someday My Prince Will Come.”
Gerald Mulligan (1927–1996)
The baritone saxophone great played with Miles Davis in a nine-piece band beginning in 1948, and their work was compiled on the Capitol Records release “The Birth of the Cool.” He played with Davis through 1951 and their work together helped launch a style later known as West Coast jazz. Mulligan also played with Stan Kenton, Chet Baker, Billie Holiday, Stan Getz, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Quincy Jones, and a host of others before he died in early 1996 at the age of 69.
Tony Williams (1945–1997)
Williams began working with Davis while still just 17. He toured and recorded with Davis’ second quintet from 1963-1969, appearing on 15 albums. A versatile performer, he also played with Ray Manzarek of the The Doors, the post-punk outfit Public Image Limited, and the Trio of Doom (featuring Jaco Pastorius and John McLaughlin). Williams died of a heart attack following a gall bladder operation in 1997. He was 52.
J.J. Johnson (1924–2001)
Trombonist James Louis Johnson played with Davis on the Blue Note sessions between 1952 and 1954. He also toured with Davis in 1962, but no recordings of that period survive. Johnson would have great success as a band leader and solo artist, and coaxed to California by Quincy Jones, would score for movies and TV shows including “Cleopatra Jones,” “Starsky and Hutch,” and “The Six Million Dollar Man.” He died at age 77 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Joe Zawinul (1932–2007)
Keyboardist Josef Erich Zawinul was one of the originators of jazz fusion, combining elements of jazz with rock and world music. He contributed to Davis’ albums “In a Silent Way” and “Bitches Brew,” for the latter writing the 20-minute song “Pharaoh’s Dance.” He is only known to have played live once with Davis, in 1991, and is best remembered as a co-founder of the hugely influential Weather Report. Zawinul died from a rare form of skin cancer in August 2007.