When Don Cheadle and Vince Wilburn, Jr., Miles Davis’s nephew, set out to capture Miles’s life on film, they had to figure out a “non-corny” way to do it. It had to be a film that Davis would have wanted to be associated with – not a traditional biopic. And they had to get the music right. Which meant that Cheadle, already a competent jazz sax player, had to learn to play the trumpet well enough to play actual Davis solos. The score used a mix of original Davis recordings (Cheadle is playing along, but you hear Miles), and original music composed by Robert Glasper, featuring the gifted young trumpeter Keyon Harrold. For the DownBeat cover story, I had extensive conversations with Cheadle, Wilburn, Herbie Hancock, Miles’s first wife Frances Taylor Davis, Glasper, and Harrold. I loved the film, and I think I’m in good company (see Manohla Dargis’s review in the New York Times). I’d love to know what you think. You can read it here.
My DownBeat Magazine cover story about the making of the new Don Cheadle film “Miles Ahead” has been mailed to subscribers and will be on newsstands next week. It includes interviews with director/star Cheadle, Herbie Hancock, composer Robert Glasper, and members of Miles’s family. Here’s the cover. To see a trailer for the film, go here: https://www.facebook.com/milesaheadfilm/
Here’s my first piece for The Guardian: a look back on the history of jazz-on-film – the good, the bad and the ugly – pegged to the forthcoming release of two remarkable films about jazz. “Born to be Blue,” with Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker, opens March 25. Don Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead,” about you-know-who, opens April 1.
The article includes a list of my five favorite films about jazz and jazz musicians. The Guardian didn’t have room for my honorable mentions, but here they are:
- Keep On Keepin’ On (2014) – poignant, inspirational documentary about the great trumpeter Clark Terry and his star pupil, the blind pianist Justin Kauflin;
- Mo’ Better Blues (1990) – Spike Lee’s serious attempt to portray the lives of modern jazz musicians, with stirring music by the Branford Marsalis Quartet and Terrence Blanchard);
- Ray (2004) – Taylor Hackford’s conventional but still exhilarating biopic about Ray Charles, with a pull-all-the-stops-out performance by musician/actor Jamie Foxx; and
- Robert Altman’s Kansas City (1996) – Despite jazz being somewhat peripheral to the rather hackneyed crime story, it includes one of the best sequences of live jazz ever filmed, a cutting contest between Coleman Hawkins (saxophonist Craig Handy) and Ben Webster (saxophonist James Carter).
Filed under Bing Crosby, Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Clark Terry, Craig Handy, Dexter Gordon, Don Cheadle, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Nat King Cole, Robert Glasper
Cheadle is learning to play trumpet for the role.
In his forthcoming film about Miles, Don Cheadle is looking, as Davis did, for an “opportunity to play what’s not there.” My interview with Cheadle is now posted at DownBeat.com. http://bit.ly/1m3EQgB
…about his crowd-funded feature film on Miles Davis, which is about to begin filming. Look for Q&A soon @DownBeatMag. See his Indiegogo page at http://ow.ly/yr767.