The Birth of Cool; How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound

Written by: Kathleen Cornell Berman

Illustrated by: Keith Henry Brown

For ages: second grade and up

Language: English

Topics Covered: POC-Centric Narratives, Historical Figure, Musician, Trailblazer. 

Summary: This beautifully illustrated picture book and it’s accompanying poem are an incredible testament to a legendary musician, but does not cover much about his personal life and the darker parts of his story (more on that in a note for educators at the end of this summary). The illustrations, by Keith Henry Brown, are raw and jittery, defying the usual expectation of figures clearly defined, matching the energy of the music and constant adaptation and exploration that marked Davis’ journey. He travels from Illinois, to Arkansas, and finally to New York City where he became a part of the coterie of musicians that included Charlie “Bird” Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and other notable members of the bebop jazz scene at the time. Though he found a place with those musicians, Davis was not content to rest on his laurels, instead pushing himself to discover new avenues of sound. This new style that he rang in with the album Birth of the Cool in 1957. This book pays homage to the drive and pure sound that Davis discovered in himself, and the changes that he made to jazz and American musical history, and it is a worthwhile read for jazz lovers and dilettantes as well.

Tiny Activist Note to Educators:

While Davis had periods of unmatched musical creativity and success, he also suffered from a debilitating drug addiction, which is not covered by this book. He was known as “The Prince of Darkness” and this was not just a nickname-he was prone to bouts of anger, and readily admitted to physically abusing his first wife, Frances Davis, while high on cocaine, alcohol and/or heroin.  This is obviously a tricky subject to reckon with, particularly in a classroom setting.  While both sides of the story are important, some of these details should be potentially left unshared unless in a place for open classroom discussion and caregiver knowledge.  Some students may be grappling with these issues in their own lives, we feel that anything beyond the storybook needs to be carefully considered.  You know your classroom best!

Reflection Questions:

  • What do you know about jazz music?
  • What types of music do you like to listen to?
  • Can anyone in your family play an instrument?
  • What instrument do you think would be fun to play?

About the Author & the Illustrator:


Kathleen most likely started her writing career in her friend’s garage; writing plays for the little kids in the neighborhood. Reading stories about celebrities and writing an opinion page about them was a fun pastime of hers.

It was a lucky break for Kathleen to teach in the NYC schools when the arts flourished.  She and her students worked with the NYC ballet, architects, writers, and fine artists. It was a wonderful experience for both students and teachers. She was inspired to write children’s stories after reading Roald Dahl stories aloud to her students. After teaching, she spent more time focusing on the craft of writing. She is now a published author who is still writing lots of stories over and over because it takes time to find the perfect words to write a story for kids.

Artist Statement:

My work consists of sculptures and assemblages constructed with found objects. Most of my pieces are made from wood, usually found at garage sales, flea markets, and the beach.

My inspiration comes from many great artists like Louise Nevelson and David Smith as well as African Art, dance, music, nature, and even home décor designs .The energy, cultural differences, and towering architecture of New York City will continue to thrill and motivate me.

I believe art is refuge from the inane; it fuses random fragments into a focused visual being. I love the challenge of taking parts of found objects and creating something visually compelling. My goal is to present a piece that offers one, an escape from reality and into a place that ignites the imagination and encourages the eyes to dance.


Keith Henry Brown began his career like many young artists, dreaming of becoming a cartoonist at Marvel Comics. After attending the High School for Art and Design in New York and a brief stint as an illustrator for a couple of comic companies including his beloved Marvel, Brown went on to pursue a career in painting, and later, as an illustrator. His favorite artists at this time were innovators like Howard Pyle, Frank Frazetta, Burton Silverman, Le Roy Neiman, David Stone Martin, as well as painters Diego Rivera, Picasso, and Jean Michel-Basquiat, among others.

Brown began publishing watercolor paintings. First for greeting cards and then newspapers and magazines. Being a lifelong music freak, his work has placed a special concentration on jazz, which reflected my lifelong love of the music.

In the late nineties, Brown forged a career in design and in 1997, became Design Manager for Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Then he became Creative Director at Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2001. Handpicked for the position by Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis, Brown designed marketing and promotional graphics for the 2004 opening of the celebrated “House of Swing”– a new facility specifically designed for jazz music, Frederick P. Rose Hall at Columbus Circle in New York City.

He has designed and illustrated several jazz CD covers for Christian McBride, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Duke Ellington, The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and many others.

Brown lives in Brooklyn New York, where he continues to write, paint and draw stuff.

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