Watching Stanley Nelson’s new documentary, I felt both exhilarated and frustrated—just as I did while following Miles Davis’s career. I can’t imagine a more vivid or thorough portrait of this seminal figure in the world of jazz. Everyone you would want to hear from appears on-camera, including family members, wives, girlfriends, and musicians from all phases of Miles’s musical journey (Gil Evans, Jimmy Cobb, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Heath, Wayne Shorter, and Ron Carter, to name just a few.)
“The Birth of the Cool” is the name of a groundbreaking album that remains as fresh and satisfying as it was when it was recorded in 1949 and 1950. I still love listening to it, but for Miles the achievement was ephemeral. He was already moving on, inspiring musicians and refusing to repeat himself.
Through the use of candid interviews, home movie footage, and hundreds of photos (many taken from contact sheets, enabling Nelson to virtually animate scenes in recording studios and on the bandstand), we experience how Miles discovered and embraced music as a boy. Actor Carl Lumbly narrates the film in Miles’ famously raspy voice, so he is represented by his own words and music. Others who knew him well try to explain how a man with an innate gift spent his life battling demons, sabotaging his career and destroying relationships. It is especially revealing to spend time with some of the women with whom he shared his life, including Juliette Greco and Frances Taylor.
If you are among the many listeners who turned away when Miles went electronic and experimental in the last decades of his life, I would encourage you to see this film, which sets that music in the larger context of Davis’s life. I still don’t care for “Bitches Brew” or the albums that followed but I now understand why Miles traveled the road he chose.
Nelson provides a sympathetic but not sycophantic look at a remarkable life, and reminds us why Miles Davis affected the culture as powerfully as he did. To see when and where the documentary will be playing theatrically go to https://www.milesdavismovie.com/