Miles Davis: Birth of The Cool (2019), directed by Stanley Nelson, is a documentary about the life, career and times of one of America’s greatest musicians – jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer, Miles Davis. Nelson has created a powerful visual memoir of Miles Davis’s life and the importance of his music and composition to jazz and 20th century music. He weaves archival footage spanning Davis’ life, narration, first person interviews with former band members and colleagues, his family including his son Erin Davis, daughter Cheryl Davis and nephew Vince Wilburn, childhood friends, his former loves from Juliette Greco to Frances Taylor Davis to Marguerite Cantu, third persons interviews, and still photography to create a riveting documentary set to his music. The words of Miles Davis are voiced by American actor Carl Lumbly which are based on taped interviews that formed the basis of the Davis autobiography.
The film follows a linear narrative from his childhood in East St. Louis, Illinois to his final performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1991 to the retelling of his last moments. One of the most powerful images in the film is seeing a still photograph of a bloody Miles Davis whose physical injuries were inflicted by New York Police Officers. One of the most moving interviews was with French singer/actor Juliette Greco recounting her love affair with Miles Davis whom I felt never stopped loving him.
Nelson has crafted an insightful documentary where his musical genius and the dark side of his personality meet fame in racist America set against the significant events of the last half of the 20th century. The film awes, inspires and offers up a candid and uncensored look at one of America’s greatest musicians and composers.
Nelson has succeeded in creating an intimate portrait of the man and his music and the importance of his music and composition not only to the development of jazz but to 20th century music. Do see it for you won’t be disappointed for it’s an excellent documentary that is well-crafted, beautifully shot and edited, and tells the story of an American master. Fans of his music will be enthralled as I was.
Miles Davis: Birth of The Cool will be playing at Various Theatres:
Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on May 3 @ 10:00 a.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 on May 4 @ 6:45 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased here!