Film / TVMusic

‘birth of the cool’ is the miles davis doc we need

August 23, 2019
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Few 20th century artists had the swag that Miles Davis did — not just extraordinary skill and style, but the power to push culture forward, and do so in the spotlight — to simultaneously reach artistic greatness and commercial success. When we sit around discussing who’d make it into the pre-punk era AFROPUNK Hall of Fame, Miles Dewey Davis III is always among the first names put forward. And now, he’s been memorialized in a doc that is worthy of his massive life.

At the center of Stanley Nelson, Jr.’s new documentary Miles Davis: The Birth of the Cool is the artist’s multi-faceted, often tempestuous career and legacy. To recount: Miles was one of the greatest jazz trumpet players of all-time, whose career lasted from the late 1940s until his death in 1991. He was a spectacular band-leader who played with, and helped develop, many legendary jazz and improvisational musicians; and he was an experimentalist who spent much of the second half of the 20th century pushing music into spaces it never previously visited. Davis was also a style icon, an unapologetically Black American man who took advantage of being invited into previously all-white spaces (from the Julliard School to Columbia Records), and whose taste for the sweet-life stereotypes (drugs, women, and fast cars) were equally legendary. This makes him a great character as well as a great figure.

Directed by the master documentarian Nelson — whose previous films include The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution and Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities — Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool was made with the full co-operation of the Davis estate and features never-before-seen archival footage, studio outtakes, and rare photos, and all that good shit that you want in a documentary. There’s also interviews with the likes of former Miles sidemen, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, his first wife Frances Taylor, and many many others.

If you’re in town early for AFROPUNK Brooklyn, go see the premiere of Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool at the The Film Forum in Manhattan on Friday, August 23rd. But screenings are now scheduled all over the country. Check here for listings.

And if you still don’t believe that Miles was AFROPUNK, here’s a little taste of his circa 1973 fire!