Jazz trumpeter and composer Miles Davis has been dead since 1991, but his music continues to inspire artists and audiences across the globe. Given the horn player’s legendary status in the world of jazz and beyond, it’s a little odd that it’s taken this long for a high-caliber documentary to profile the man behind the signature sound, but in many ways, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool was worth the wait.
From his childhood in Illinois and his stint at Juilliard to his search for Charlie Parker in New York City’s jazz clubs, Davis was set on an early course to greatness. While racism and his own demons presented major roadblocks, they didn’t stop Davis from fulfilling his destiny as the embodiment of cool. But that destiny didn’t come without paying a price. Borrowing from the title of Davis’ 1957 compilation album, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool is a study in Davis’ myriad complicated relationships—with music, with women, and with himself.
“The story of Miles Davis—who he was as a man and artist—has often been told as the tale of a drug-addled genius,” said the director Stanley Nelson in the film’s production notes. “You rarely see a portrait of a man that worked hard at honing his craft, a man who deeply studied all forms of music, from Baroque to classical Indian. An elegant man who could render ballads with such tenderness yet hold rage in his heart from the racism he faced throughout his life….”
Miles Davis at home, June, 1969/ Don Hunstein/Sony Music Archives. Courtesy of Abramorama/ Eagle Rock. An Abramorama North American Theatrical Release.
Not only is the film a survey of the eponymous artist’s life and career, it is a testament to Davis’ endurance, perseverance, and relentless adaptability within the highly fickle and temporal music milieu. As the public’s tastes in music changed over time, Davis always kept up with a fresh, new approach. Thanks to the filmmakers’ full access to Miles Davis’ estate, the artist’s evolution as a performer is expertly illustrated through rare footage, archive photos, never-before-seen outtakes, and interviews with the likes of Quincy Jones, Carlos Santana, and many others, including a range of Davis’ former friends, lovers, and colleagues.
Abramorama is the indie distribution company that’s behind the theatrical release of Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool. In the words of the firm’s CEO Richard Abramowitz and Head of West Coast Acquisitions and Business Development, Evan Saxon: “Miles Davis is in the pantheon along with the Beatles, Dylan, Coltrane and a very few others who’ve changed the sound of contemporary music and culture.”
And that’s why the film deserves to be seen.
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and just kicked off its theatrical run on Friday. It comes to the Landmark in Los Angeles on Friday, August 30 and to additional markets in September.