Although Miles Davis is probably the most iconic figure in jazz, exploring his massive catalogue can be quite a massive feat. The man was like the David Bowie of jazz in the sense that every album would have a different and distinct mood. You truly never knew what direction he’d take next. Throughout his career, Davis evolved from cool jazz to jazz fusion, pushing all kinds of forward thinking musical boundaries in the process. These soundscapes range from being cool, laid back, haunting, and intense. Whichever tone Davis was going for, he was a master of mood and texture. So let’s dive into 25 essential tracks by the Prince Of Darkness!
Written By Blake Hall
25. Seven Steps To Heaven (1963, Seven Steps To Heaven)
A very nice and peaceful song from an often overlooked album. There’s nothing too attention grabbing about this one but it’s just great to relax to. This was recorded at a time when Davis had evolved from his Kind Of Blue sound, yet he wasn’t quite at his jazz fusion era yet.
24. Milestones (1958, Milestones)
A melodic foreshadow to the timeless sound of Kind Of Blue, which he would go on to record the following year. You can tell Davis was warming up here for the sounds he’d fully explore on that album. Although this one is more quick paced than anything off that album.
23. ‘Round Midnight (1957, ‘Round Midnight)
The finest moment from the first essential Davis album. Davis takes this cover of a Thelonious Monk’s classic and takes it to fresh and interesting places. It’s especially memorable when John Coltrane kicks in around the three minute mark (also worth noting this was before Coltrane had even released his first album).
22. E.S.P. (1965, E.S.P.)
This came out around the time Davis was exploring searching for his jazz fusion sound. The crew smokes their way right through this one. The melody reminds me of something from the Kind Of Blue era but sped up.
21. Maiysha (1974, Get Up With It)
I’ve always found this to be one of Davis’s most magical moments. It kind of has a reggae touch blended with a distinctive tropical psychedelic sound. The abrasive keyboard may be a bit much for some, but I love every moment of this one. I love the bass amp on this one too. A song that manages to sound both relaxed and abrasive.
20. Nature Boy (1955, Blue Moods)
A bit of an unusual Davis track. This was released before he was even an iconic figure of jazz. This is a very soft and mellow little composition. Davis is backed by a vibraphone instead of the usual saxophones and pianos. Yet this evokes such a uniquely relaxed sound that’s endlessly soothing and enjoyable.
19. Joshua (1963, Seven Steps To Heaven)
In a sense, it really isn’t much of a stand out track. It’s just a great bopper in the purest sense. It simply makes me relaxed and happy. Very pleasant, yet exciting listening.
18. Pharoah’s Dance (1970, Bitches Brew)
The slow burner opening track off the iconic Bitches Brew. It takes a while to build up but, once it does, it sinks straight into a dark, colorful warped soundscape. Its psychedelic blend of heavy guitars, spacey keyboards and funky grooves just sounds out of this world. I can’t even fathom how this must’ve sounded to people in 1970.
17. Little Church (1971, Live Evil)
Such a weird, fascinating and one of a kind soundscape. Davis blends the softer shades of In A Silent Way and haunting sound of Bitches Brew to creates something ethereal and unique. It seems calm on the surface but something just seems off. There’s whistling, off kilter harmonies and a bizarre buzzing noise in the background. What I also find original about it is that the uncomfortable tone never really escalates anywhere nor does it mellow out. It just retains its off kilter mood.
16. Solea (1960, Sketches Of Spain)
My favorite moment off Sketches Of Spain. It’s such a unique one of a kind Spanish influenced groove that doesn’t really sound like anything else out there (that I know of, at least). It’s constantly moving with a quirky, yet relaxed bass amp. This backs Davis up as he gradually brews an intense, dramatic atmosphere. It’s worth noting that this was the primary influence for White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane. Davis also cites this as one of his personal favorite compositions.
15. What I Say (1971, Live Evil)
Here, you can really hear the Jimi Hendrix influence that Davis was loudly absorbing during this period. A tirelessly energetic funky groove that’s so fun to get lost into. The way the rhythm grooves endlessly with the spacey keyboard is just plain awesome. I can only imagine how magical a Davis and Hendrix collaboration would’ve been (which was in the talks shortly before Hendrix died). I imagine it’d sound something like this.
14. Generique (1958, Ascenseur Pour L’échafaud)
Davis recorded this one for a French film noir in the late 50s. There is something ethereal and haunting about this one, despite how peaceful and cool it sounds. The high pitched trumpet evokes a sound of loneliness. This was expertly featured during a significant moment in the South Korean thriller “Burning”.
13. Spanish Key (1970, Bitches Brew)
Such a fascinating and tireless groove. Everyone just completely shines here with endless amounts of layers and sonic textures for a Spanish/African influenced psychedelic soundscape. It sounds out of this world.
12. Bitches Brew (1970, Bitches Brew)
Another slow burner of great intensity and psychedelic mysticism. The bass amp sounds downright menacing. A lengthy, yet deeply rewarding piece with all kinds of memorable and layered moments.
11. He Loved Him Madly (1974, Get Up With It)
This one sounds like it came from another planet. It’s a richly layered and dark mood piece that simply drifts for a half hour. It never builds up or slows down, rather it just leaves the listener in a unique kind of trance. It effortlessly fuses all kinds of forward thinking ideas that went on to be a primary influence for Brian Eno as he was heading towards his ambient phase. I can’t think of anything that sounds like this. It even sounds alien within Davis’s catalogue.
10. Nefertiti (1968, Nefertiti)
A truly intense and unique experiment, which sounds like foreshadowing to the jazz fusion direction that would be fully adapted a year later. What makes this one so unique is that it doesn’t change the melody once during its entire eight minutes. This is effective because, firstly, the melody is fantastic and leaves the listener in a trance. Secondly, it’s focused on pushing all of the possibilities within its repetitious melody for a highly captivating listening experience. Especially in the drumming. In a sense, the entire song feels like one giant drum solo backed up with rich sonic texture. A masterful mood piece.
9. It Never Entered My Mind (1959, Workin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet)
One of the most warm and quietly emotional Davis tunes. There is a simplistic warmth and sensitivity here that fits right in with the best of Kind Of Blue. It makes me think of ex lovers as they peacefully accept that they simply weren’t meant to be. This one is a timeless beauty.
8. Miles Runs The Voodoo Down (1970, Bitches Brew)
14 minutes of pure nightmare fueled bass grooves, fascinating solos and Davis brewing the intensity. This has some of the most adventurous and out of this world moments within Davis’s catalogue. There are so many layers to unravel within this one, making it my favorite moment off Bitches Brew.
7. Right Off (1971, A Tribute To Jack Johnson)
Downright one of the coolest moments in Davis’s career. This is the closest Davis ever came to downright making a rock and roll song. It continues the jazz fusion soundscapes from In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew but brings something a little more down to earth and rocking to the table.
6. So What (1959, Kind Of Blue)
The ultimate classic Davis track. And for good reason, it’s one of the most timelessly cool things I’ve ever heard. It was my gateway to Miles Davis (and jazz in general) as a sophomore in high school and its impact has only grown stronger over the past decade. I still catch fresh subtleties every time I re-listen to it. Music at its coolest and most timeless.
5. Blue In Green (1959, Kind Of Blue)
As strange as it may sound, this is like the music equivalent of a warm cozy blanket. This one just takes me to another place within its grounded melancholia. It has the power to soothe a rough day.
4. Flamenco Sketches (1959, Kind Of Blue)
Simply one of the most beautiful compositions I’ve ever heard. A soundscape which to me is all about embracing the moment and appreciating the good things. The entire thing sounds like sincere bliss and joy, like it’s at complete peace with itself. A powerful way to conclude this masterpiece of an album.
3. All Blues (1959, Kind Of Blue)
This has always been my favorite moment off Kind Of Blue. Simply for how laid back and beautiful of a groove it is. It’s the kind of song that never fails to chill me out and enjoy the moment. The melodies are so perfect and warm. Such an endlessly likable song.
2. Shhh/Peaceful (1969, In A Silent Way)
The first half of my favorite Miles Davis album (and arguably my all time favorite album in general). This is such a stunningly magical piece of music. It marks the moment when Davis fully made the conversion to jazz fusion. There really isn’t much trace of anything Davis had done prior to this. There isn’t focus on melody but rather its all about the mood, layers and solos. This is such a perfect song to just space out to and let it take you where it pleases. It’s such a fantastic, richly layered ethereal mood piece.
1. In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time (1969, In A Silent Way)
This song transports you to a world of its own. Simply a hypnotic work of brilliance and my all time favorite jazz composition. Within its minimalism and quiet beauty is a sound of sheer awe, joy and mystique. I especially enjoy the It’s About That Time segment, which features a groove so subtle that you hardly even notice it until it locks you into a trance. Eventually, it picks up the energy that sounds like its own flavor of rock and funk. Afterwards, we head right back to the blissful opening segment. I just find the entire soundscape to be so blissful. As much as I love Davis’s jazz fusion era, he never again made anything this warm and inviting again.