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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.
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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 use saying, "Hell man, I was playing badly on that date. I was...you know." When news of an arrest involving Miles, Bird, Art Blakey, and Dexter Gordon broke, Down Beat magazine did an article about how drugs were ruining jazz musicians and mentioned the arrests. This resulted in Miles being banned from performing in certain clubs until he was acquitted in Janruary of 1951. In another instance of being called out on not only his drug problem, but other musicians as well, an Ebony magazine article called "Is Dope Killing Our Musicians?" showed a picture of known junkies which included Miles, Billie Holiday, Fats Navarro, Art Blakey, and Dexter Gordon. Upon reading this Miles was deeply distraught and embarrassed. Metronome magazine even took a stab at him calling his playing "feeble" only a year after he had been picked as 'Influence of the Year." It was now clear to Davis that the music was suffering, and he knew he wanted to stop doing drugs. One night when Miles was playing at the Downbeat in New York, his father came. Miles promptly left the bandstand, spoke to his father and the club owner, whom his father paid off Miles' loans to, then he left in such a hurry he forgot his horn.
Miles returned home to St. Louis and vowed never to do drugs again. However, it wasn't shortly after his return Miles was back to his old self, going to bars and nightclubs, and jamming with the local players. When his father found out he was doing drugs again, he called the police and had Miles arrested. He was released upon promising to seek help and he went to the Lexington Prison hospital. Miles was familiar with the place, because many other players including Dameron, Gordon, and Stitt had gone through. There was always a good group of musicians checked in, so there was a good band to play with. However Miles decided not to go at the last minute and convinced his father that he was cured and took a train back to NYC. Deep down he wanted to quit, but the drugs had taken so much control of him that he could never stay clean for more than a brief period and music was the only way he could survive. After a few more years of barely getting by off some gigs, record deals, and his father's money, Miles returned home once again to finally break the heroin habbit. He described the who situation saying, "I made up my mind I was getting off dope. I was sick and tired of it. You know you can get tired of anythig. You can even get tired of being afraid. It was like having a bad case of flu only worse. I lay ina cold sweat, my nose and eyes ran. I threw up everything I tried to eat. My pours opened up and I smelled like chicken soup. Then it was over." Miles then went back to Detroit where he relapsed once again and began using again. After getting in trouble with local mobsters, Miles left only to return. Upon this return he was finally able to kick the habit for good. Miles was free of heroin. Had Miles not wasted a good four years of his life in a haze of heroin one could argue that he could have become more innovative faster had he put his motivation he used to get heroin, into his horn.