Watching films of Miles Davis performing in the 50's and 60's I noticed that whenever his solo was done he would take his index finger and press it beneath his right ear. Sometimes he would also shake his head as if it were painful to do so. I'm not sure if he did this later in his career or not. He acted very differently on stage in the 70's and later.

Is the pressure from blowing the horn forcing air into someplace it shouldn't? Why only his right ear? Is this common among trumpet players?

Here are a few stills of him doing this:

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The best I found via lmgtfy was these:

From reddit

I always heard Miles would cover his ears to hear the other soloist better.

OTOH, an interview side note suggests it's purely a habit:

"Had to drink some water 'cause I get dehydrated," Miles explained. "Loretta knows. Sometimes I'll say, 'Loretta, something's funny about me. What is it?' And she'll look at me and say, 'Fix your hair. It's sticking out over there.'"

Miles touches his hair behind the right ear.

"You know, Sy, chicks just know about you. Cicely [Tyson] knows when I don't feel good, and she'll call me up and say, 'What's the matter, Miles?'"

As does this review:

Every gesture seems choreographed but effortless, the way he nonchalantly walks onstage, rubs just behind his ear, puts his impeccably manicured fingers to his lips just before bringing the horn to his mouth.


Watching the Tonight Show from 1964, it seems he was angry about some aspect of the sound balance. When he does it during the blues, he changes where he's playing on the mic, putting his bell way past it, so maybe he thought he was way too hot and not balanced with the rest of the band. During So What, when he does it, he completely walks away from the mic and plays without any amplification.


I believe it was to complaint to the band of some other aspect of the performance(intonation,rhythm, etc) he did not like. I do not have any specific source to back this at the moment, though I know that he was extremely sensitive of musicians playing slightly out of tune.

  • It doesn't appear to be anything having to do with the other musicians. He was usually walking off the stage when he did it and he would shake his head like something was hurting him
    – Tom
    Oct 4 '16 at 0:33
  • Regarding the main question, note that he also touched his hear in the middle of his own playing and stop the solo with a face of displease and then go back to it. Also the other answer support that the gesture is related with the band. That said it was probably an habit of some sort so he may have done it sometimes for no reason.
    – Septimus G
    Oct 5 '16 at 13:33

I've seen him do this countless times and I believe it's either some tick, OR it's something he consciously does on purpose simply to add to the mysteriousness that of which is... Miles Davis.


I would suspect that he had temporo-mandibular joint dysfunction and pain below the ear. It’s only a guess, but common to press or rub the muscles around that joint where the lower jaw (mandible) articulates with upper jaw.

  • 2
    This kind of answer needs a reliable source to back it up.
    – Aaron
    Jul 29 at 4:41
  • 1
    An interesting theory, but better left as a comment if it's just a guess.
    – user45266
    Jul 30 at 18:24

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