The Miles Davis Movie: Is Puff Daddy working on a Miles Davis project?

I’m not sure if this is a colossal joke, but I stumbled upon a Blog (The Obenson Report) with a link to a video interview with Puff Daddy discussing his acting ambitions and other miscellaneous Puff Daddy news.

In the video clip Puffy states that he’s always wanted to play Miles Davis AND that a script is being written for the project. He then claims the project would be an atypical portrayal of the legendary jazz man.

Great. ‘Atypical.’

Here’s the LINK to the video clip (it’s at the end…). Here is the transcript.

Before I completely fell over I did think it over: Anyone can write a script (good or bad) and Puffy can hire any writer he wants to crank out whatever project interests him. So it’s not like he’s hooked up with Paramount to produce a Miles Davis movie. It’s clearly in the development stage, as Puffy mentions in the clip. Hollywood folks know that some projects never ever leave the development file – and that’s okay sometimes.

At first I thought he might be joking, but he looks pretty serious to me. He’s obviously ready to make his move into Hollywood, and it’s a smart sound bite when discussing your actorly ambitions to throw out a kooky idea about playing Miles Davis in some avant-garde project.

Is he exploring the possibility? Perhaps yes… according to the interview. Does he know about the Don Cheadle Miles Davis movie in the works? Perhaps no… and it doesn’t matter, I guess, if he did.

Of course there’s the whole (big) issue of music rights, the Miles Davis estate and what ‘story’ he would plan to follow, but I have a feeling it’s only in the exploratory phase.

If he really wanted to make a movie about Miles Davis, I imagine he could as long as he got all his Miles Davis ducks in a row.

And when he mentions taking an ‘atypical’ approach what jumps to mind first is Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There” – definitely an atypical look at the life of Bob Dylan.

I’m not saying it’s a bad movie (I enjoyed it mostly), but not my cup o’ tea.

I scanned the ‘Net for other related news items and came up zilch, so clearly this is not some fast-track deal with cameras set to roll. There’s obviously no buzz about a possible movie, so no need to worry in the short term.

But he’s thinking about it, and it’s in development, because he’s always had ‘a dream to play Miles Davis.’

I get it. I’d like to play Miles Davis, too!

A straight ahead biopic of Miles Davis with Puff Daddy doesn’t exactly gel, and I think he knows this, which is why you have to focus on the ‘atypical’ comment in the interview.

I’ll be honest in stating that I’ve probably taken a level 1 crisis and pushed it to level 7, but this ‘news’ is troubling to me. I’m not a fan of Diddy (not professionally at least) and ambivalent about pretty much anything he does in showbiz, clothes and whatever.

But portraying Miles Davis in a film elevates my ambivalence to deep concern.

Hey, who am I to say it won’t be entertaining? But my instinct says it’s not a good idea. I don’t see it. It doesn’t feel good to me.

But he has the right to do what he wants. He sampled a classic Police song for his rap tribute to Biggie, and I hated that he did that – but he did it, and I eventually dealt with it. (Sorry for the quick rant)

I’ll say right now it’s 80/20 against this ever gets past the development phase, so I won’t lose any sleep. But never say never. We shall see….

(I cannot believe I typed the words ‘Puff’ and ‘Daddy’ so many times, as one, in the preceding post.)

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The Miles Davis Movie: Filming the Birdland attack

1959 was quite a year for Miles Davis. In March he recorded “Kind of Blue” on Columbia Records.

On August 25, while taking a break outside the legendary Birdland nightclub in New York City, Davis was beaten by the police and arrested.

And to think he had just performed for an Armed Forces Radio broadcast that night. (I just listened to that recording for the first time a few weeks ago – excellent!)

I close my eyes and can visualize this sequence playing out on the big screen. How could this episode not be in the Miles Davis biopic?

Think of the drama! Think of the dialogue, straight from the Prince of Darkness himself…

(The following is an extract from Miles – The Autobiography)

“I had just finished doing an Armed Forces Day broadcast, you know, Voice of America and all that bullshit. I had just walked this pretty white girl named Judy out to get a cab. She got in the cab, and I’m standing there in front of Birdland wringing wet because it’s a hot, steaming, muggy night in August.

“This white policeman comes up to me and tells me to move on. At the time I was doing a lot of boxing and so I thought to myself, I ought to hit this motherf***er because I knew what he was doing. But instead I said, “Move on, for what? I’m working downstairs. That’s my name up there, Miles Davis,” and I pointed to my name on the marquee all up in lights.

“He said, “I don’t care where you work, I said move on! If you don’t move on I’m going to arrest you.”

Let’s jump ahead in the action….

“A crowd had gathered all of a sudden from out of nowhere, and this white detective runs in and BAM! hits me on the head. I never saw him coming. Blood was running down the khaki suit I had on. Then I remember Dorothy Kilgallen coming outside with this horrible look on her face… and saying, “Miles, what happened?” I couldn’t say nothing. Illinois Jacquet was there too.

“It was almost a race riot, so the police got scared and hurried up and got my ass out of there and took me to the 54th Precinct where they took pictures of me bleeding and shit. So, I’m sitting there, madder than a motherf***er, right? And they’re saying to me in the station, “So you’re the wiseguy, huh?” Then they’d bump up against me, you know, try to get me mad so they could probably knock me upside my head again. I’m just sitting there, taking it all in, watching every move they make…

I’ll just declare right now that I demand this scene be included in the film.

I won’t go into the significance of the assault as it relates to race matters of the era and its affect on Davis, how it contrasts with his experiences in Europe and other deeper sociological issues that I’d doubtless mess up anyway in trying to explain – but I will say that this incident should be in the movie.

The Miles Davis Movie: Who is going to play Gil Evans?

The Miles Davis-Gil Evans relationship fascinates me: two creative souls producing brilliant music together. I absolutely love the work they created; Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain are simply wonderful.

A musical partnership on par with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn I say.

Like Miles, Gil Evans was a Jazz Pioneer.

While he is likely most famous for collaborating with Miles Davis on a variety of seminal jazz records, a quick look at the projects where Evans took part as arranger, conductor or musician is to witness the evolution of jazz music.

So… who is going to play Gil Evans in the Miles Davis biopic?

I’ll just say that it’s an important role for the film – perhaps comparable to the role of Ahmet Ertegun, played by the talented Curtis Armstrong in “Ray.”

There are all these great anecdotes about Evans’ apartment behind a New York City Chinese laundry that turned into a hub for musicians to work on new music styles, breaking away from the prevailing bebop method.

So right there I see plenty of ideas for the film. Here’s Evans, working as arranger for Claude Thornhill’s orchestra (1941-1948), and then all of a sudden he’s partnering with Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan and many others on what would later become the Birth of the Cool project.

And then of course there’s Evans’ special relationship with Davis, which would produce their triumvirate of big band/orchestral jazz collaborations: Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain.

Plenty of ink has been spilled over the years regarding the magnitude of aforementioned three albums.

One of the great musical teams of all-time?

Yes.

So who to get the nod? How about James Cromwell?

The Miles Davis/Gil Evans ‘partnership,’ I believe, is a vital element of the Miles Davis biopic. Look, they could make a movie about Gil Evans, so there’s no doubt he is a central figure to not only the life and music of Miles Davis but to jazz music as a whole.

I am excited about seeing the character of Evans on screen. I’m also curious as to how the screenwriters and filmmakers are planning to bring one of the great joint ventures in music history to life on the big screen.

The Miles Davis Movie: Filming the First Great Quintet

The year is 1955 and Miles Davis puts together the first version of the Miles Davis Quintet. The First Great Quintet as they are celebrated in the annals of jazz history.

It doesn’t get much better than John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (double bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums).

The first recordings of this group were made for Columbia Records in 1955, released on ‘Round About Midnight. Davis was still under contract to Prestige, but had an agreement that he could make recordings for subsequent releases using his new label. (Wikipedia)

To wrap things up for Prestige Davis and Co. hit the studio for two days in 1956 with producer Rudy Van Gelder.

The result?

Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, Steamin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet, Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet and Cookin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet.

All are fantastic. All are a must-have.

They weren’t together long. Wonderful alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley joined in ’58, making it a sextet, as the group set out to record Milestones. But the collaboration produced some thrilling music. This was Miles Davis moving beyond bebop, progressing towards modal jazz.

I love the First Great Quintet because my first experience with Miles Davis was a copy of Steamin’ – the rest is history.

So… where the Miles Davis film is concerned one could imagine that the filmmakers would find a way to intertwine this legendary quintet into the story.

It’s a must.

These four recordings are classics in every sense. Recreating the action that took place on May 11, 1956 and October 26, 1956 would not only make for exciting ‘performance’ scenes in the film, but I feel are essential in telling the musical side of the Miles Davis story.

I always hark back to the film “Ray” as an example of a terrific biopic, so forgive my repetitiveness. But it’s a great movie and provides a blueprint for recreating a mega-famous persons’ life on the screen; and it’s a musical life, which compares with Miles Davis. However, both were supremely unique individuals, and I’m sure there are numerous methods a filmmaker might employ to produce an entertaining film about such artists.

I just like “Ray.” It’s my go-to example.

And speaking of “Ray,” I reacted strongly to the scenes with Ray in the studio (on stage as well); interacting with the band, the producers… a musical genius at ‘work.’

So the two sessions in ’56 by the First Great Quintet would seem likely ‘scenes’ to appear in a film about Miles Davis; you have the incredible band, the music and, most importantly, the opportunity to depict a prominent event that will add a sense of reality for those of us who can only imagine what it was like to be part of the experience.

We’re talking about minutes of screen time. Maybe this particular studio scene is inter-cut with the quintet on stage. I have no doubts the movie will slow down in all the right places for dramatic effect, but I don’t expect too many long scenes in the studio as the group runs through “If I Were A Bell.”

I think “Ray” has a nice balance of performance sequences – a montage always provides a nice opportunity to combine music and action -, each moving the story forward as required.

Of course “Ray” is a big, Hollywood movie. You expect the razzle-dazzle. We’re not sure how the Miles Davis movie is going to be ‘made’ and eventually distributed, so there’s no telling if it’ll be like “Ray,” or more like “Round Midnight,” an independent style movie.

My guess it’s somewhere in the middle – whatever that means. What would be a good example?

There’s always the argument that a song like “Hit the Road Jack” just lends itself to film easier than, say, “Oleo,” strictly in a performance setting – not as quality of music.

I could easily shift gears into a whole narrative about the equal visual excitement you get from watching Ray Charles croon “Drown In My Own Tears” and watching Miles Davis play “Summertime,” but I’ll save everyone the five paragraphs.

But here is where the magic of filmmaking comes to life! This is where you take a style of music decades past its glory era and make it sizzle! This is where cinematography and lighting and camera angles and grips and editing and all that renowned Hollywood propensity comes into play to make a scene with people playing jazz music jump off the screen.

Movies like “Chicago” and other stage to screen gems (I did not like the movie version of “Chicago,” btw) don’t use music you’d consider contemporary, but it’s people singing, so it offers a product more accessible to an audience rather than just people playing instruments.

There’s a big difference between jazz music as background sound and jazz music upfront as, one could argue, a character in the story.

But movie magic can, in the proper hands, take a scene with five amazing jazz musicians blazing on stage and not only electrify those already jazz lovers, but those new to the experience.

Don Cheadle is the conductor on this train, that’s for sure.

I just thought of “Mo Better Blues.” I like the film. And most of the music – provided by Branford Marsalis Quartet and Terence Blanchard – is pretty darn good.

If I recall Spike Lee allowed the ‘band’ to perform for a decent length of time and inter-cut some of those performance scenes with either dramatic or low-key moments.

A movie about Miles Davis and one about a fictional Bleek Gilliam is apples and oranges. But I was thinking of how the jazz performances were filmed and placed into the flow of the story.

I just like to play devil’s advocate. I think it’s all going to be great.

I’m happy just to see the First Great Quintet celebrated one way or the other in the movie – they, and their music, is most deserved.

The Miles Davis Movie: The fanboys and the hype machine

Am I a Miles Davis fanboy? Can someone 35 years-old even be considered a fanboy? I ask because the term has become quite ubiquitous these days as it relates to movies and music, comics and TV shows, cars and video games and just about anything else a teen male can obsess over non-stop and pledge their eternal devotion to.

The term recently was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary and there’s even a new film about fanboys called Fanboys set for a September theatrical release.

Clearly, I am not a boy, so the expression doesn’t relate to me, but its description is something that can apply to anyone with a deep passion for… whatever. How about fanman? Is that ridiculous? Yes…yes it is.

I write a Blog (two actually) about a forthcoming movie based on the life of Miles Davis, so obviously there’s obsession involved here.

I bring this up because in the aftermath of the intense hype surrounding “The Dark Knight” – there’s still residual hype, but last week was off the charts crazy – I am wondering what kind of grass roots/enthusiast momentum will build for the Miles Davis film.

I don’t expect message boards and movie websites to overheat with euphoria, but I’ll be watching with interest to see where the early buzz is coming from once news about the movie starts to filter out; you could say my Blog about the Miles Davis movie is very early to the media party in covering, discussing and hyping the forthcoming biopic.

Once a teaser trailer, or casting news hits the Blogosphere there will be an immediate jump in coverage on the numerous (by numerous I mean a whole heck of a lot) websites and Blogs that cover the ‘movie business’ and all its moving parts.

Many of those movie sites are linked on this Blog; they’re invaluable portals of breaking news, movie reviews, analysis and all you need to know about what the heck is going on in Hollywood and across the film universe.

That ‘jump’ in coverage will be a post/news item with requisite observation, followed by commentary from the readers. This moment will provide some insight into how much buzz is out there for the Miles Davis biopic.

The Don Cheadle factor definitely pulls in the non-jazz fan on ‘general’ movie websites. Music-related Blogs and websites can play up the Miles Davis angle. No doubt the information superhighway outside the U.S. will also spark to any Miles Davis movie news.

I have no idea how many jazz fans are out there. I also have no idea how many Miles Davis fans are out there.

This is not a superhero movie, so no one is expecting worldwide mania, but if the film were to follow the same trajectory as “Ray,” for example, that’d be OK by me.

Both are legends of music with extraordinary stories, but how Ray Charles and Miles Davis stack up on a purely marketing/box office potential basis I’m unsure.

Ray Charles, as a brand, might have an easier time bumping around the general, pop culture marketplace than Miles Davis, who one could argue exists on the cool periphery for those ‘in-the-know.’

Regardless if what I just typed makes any sense, I do know there are a lot of fans out there of the jazz legend, young and old. And if they own just one Miles Davis record, hey, even if they own just one jazz record, it’s almost certainly Kind of Blue.

Kind of Blue has been certified triple platinum in sales by the Recording Industry Association of America. It’s also most likely the best-selling jazz record of all time (though there is some dispute).

And how’s this: Kind of Blue still sells about 5,000 records a week.

Who is buying this record these days? Well, besides those of us who have worn out their old copy, I’ll say it’s a younger demographic getting their first taste of Miles Davis.

I think this demo is going to take an interest in the Miles Davis film. Not on a massive scale, but an interest nevertheless.

While we’re on the subject of Kind of Blue, 2009 will be the 50th Anniversary of the seminal recording’s original release date.

Not a bad time to release a Miles Davis biopic. I like the synergy.

Is a Miles Davis biopic mainstream entertainment, or is it geared toward an arty crowd who knows their Louis Armstrong from their Thelonious Monk?

My hunch is that it’s somewhere in the middle.

Don Cheadle is central to my assumption. He’s not famous like Brad Pitt is ‘famous,’ but he’s a respected actor who has been part of some big Hollywood films (as well as critically-praised smaller projects). So he’s known, as it were.

This ‘celebrity,’ whatever that means nowadays, does give the Miles Davis biopic extra gravitas. If the Miles Davis film were to star a newcomer I’d say there’d be less early buzz. It doesn’t mean the movie wouldn’t be a success, but a ‘name’ always grabs the attention of the mainstream press. The Blogs who cover every detail of the movie ‘biz would still eat it up, but not mainstream – they need the sizzle.

The Miles Davis movie is not going to be on a level with “The Dark Knight,” but depending on how the film is produced and then marketed will ultimately determine ‘who’ buys a ticket.

I’ll dig deeper into the audience demographic down the line, as it’s a topic that intrigues me.

Some folks don’t care for the hype. They just want to get away for a couple hours at the movies; walk up, check the movie posters and show times, grab some popcorn and hope to God they’ll be entertained. Not everyone mines the depths of their soul to determine what movie to see, charging through reviews and opinions and endless conjecture.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that since I am definitely in the latter example.

But the hype factory in Hollywood and on the ‘Net will play a huge role in how the Miles Davis movie (like most films these days) is positioned on the ever-shifting buzz rankings, with the critics filling in the blanks for those who seek their counsel.

So let’s see what happens when the first ‘real’ news (aside from Don Cheadle as star and director) hits the mediaspehere; maybe it’s a one-sheet, or a cast addition or a release date.

It’s all quite exciting when you think about it. I’m happy to be part of the show.

The Miles Davis Movie: The Miles Style

I have already mentioned the importance of costume design in the new Miles Davis film because, let’s face it — Miles Davis had a knack for the fashionable.

A reader of the Blog directed me to their site, miles davis threads, which is dedicated to Miles Davis and his clothes. Now there’s a Blog I can get down with.

Well, the site is not updated all that often, but it does contain some awesome photographs and stories about how the writer came to owning some cool items from Miles’ wardrobe.

It’s a great story. Some of the clothing even made their way to an exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to coincide with Davis’ induction.

It was during my perusal of the Blog where I spotted the famous photo of Miles’ in front of his walk-in closet taken by Anthony Barboza in 1971. Then there’s this quote:

In the Saturday Review, November 27, 1971 article by Chris Albertson, The Unmasking of Miles Davis, he notes that Miles “generally wears clothing that reflects future fashion trends—Gentleman’s Quarterly named him, ‘Best Dressed Man’ “. As they stand in his circular bedroom Miles “waved his hand towards a long row of flamboyant clothes and boots in dazzling colors. ‘I have these made for me.’ “

Cool. The man was just cool!

I’m more partial to the tailored suits than the glitzy attire, but the man could make a fashion statement no matter what.

I think the ‘style’ element of the Miles Davis film is going to play a part in the overall marketing of the project. You can count on the requisite articles, but what also gets media outlets like GQ and Vanity Fair all in a lather is the added bonus of the stylish (and wild) clothes.

When the movie shifts into the late ’60s and early ’70s you can bet we’re going to see some funky outfits. That’s part of the fun. Miles Davis was larger than life as a musician and personality, so it’s not surprising that he played (and dressed) the role to the hilt.

And while we’re on the subject of Miles’ appearance, let’s talk about the hair.

Even though it was an April Fool’s joke, back in 2004 All About Jazz posted a review for a book called – ready for this – Kinds of ‘do: The Story of Miles Davis’ Hair.

It’s a joke, yes, but the legendary trumpeter had some equally legendary hairstyles. The AAJ post even throws in some photographic evidence of Miles’ most prominent hairdos.

I’m looking forward to seeing Don Cheadle in the clean-cut manner of the early days to the fusion-era afro and on to the wild looks of the late ’70s and ’80s.

So to wrap it up: costume design is critical!

You know if Davis were alive today he’d want Don Cheadle, and the rest of the cast, to look as damn good as possible.

The Miles Davis Movie: Finding the ‘voice’

I stumbled across a somewhat notable interview Miles Davis did with Don DeMichael in 1969 for Rolling Stone (Jazz’s Picasso puts it in black and white); it’s an interesting enough read, but what caught my attention was this particular passage:

There’s the one about how he lost his voice (the Davis voice is a legend unto itself): He had a throat operation in the early Fifties and was not supposed to speak for a period of time, but he became so angry at a record company owner that he began to shout; from that moment, so the story goes, he has not been able to talk above a hoarse, rasping whisper. Another version of the story substitutes a booking agent for the record company man.

That ‘hoarse, rasping whisper’ of a voice is as much a part of the character of Miles Davis as the style, attitude, talent and so on.

I am curious as to how close Don Cheadle will mimic Davis’ raspy tone of voice in the film. With all the other components of making the character of Miles Davis come to life, capturing the ‘voice’ is vital to completing the puzzle.

The Miles Davis Movie: Who is going to play Charlie Parker?

Of course Charlie Parker will be in the film. How could he not be? His influence on Davis is significant and certainly well documented.

In 1944, the Billy Eckstine band visited St. Louis. Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were members of the band, and Davis was taken on as third trumpet for a couple of weeks because of the illness of Buddy Anderson. (wikipedia)

Then there’s the story of Davis leaving Julliard to seek out Bird in and out of the clubs of New York City for a real education in music (and life, I would imagine).

Davis would later join Parker’s ‘unofficial’ quintet and play on many of Bird’s more notable bebop tracks that were pressed by labels like Savoy and Dial.

I cannot imagine a biopic about Miles Davis that doesn’t feature Parker. Now, who should play the legendary ‘Yardbird’?

Yes, Oscar-winner Forrest Whitaker tackled the role of Parker in Clint Eastwood’s poignant film about the troubled musician’s life, but that was in 1988. I’m not sure if reprising his role is a good idea.

Maybe they go the unknown route, which they might for any number of roles to be cast, but a ‘name’ actor can always bring a little extra pizzazz to the flick.

Is Mos Def available? What about Jeffrey Wright? Neither has the physical heft of Parker, but it’s a movie – they can do anything.

Terence Howard? I like Mekhi Phifer as well. What about Delroy Lindo? I always thought he was cool, and a good actor.

Hey, they could always get Robert Downey Jr. seeing as he’s playing the role of a black man in the forthcoming “Tropic Thunder,” which I’m excited to see this summer.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, but when the actor closely resembles the person they’re playing it definitely helps sell the role. Even though it was a throwaway part in “Ray,” I don’t recall Lorenz Tate looking that much like a young Quincy Jones, but it was fine, and I was able to go with it in a movie context.

Without any knowledge of how the biopic is going to be mapped out it’s difficult to know just how the story will unfold.

I mean… we ‘know’ the story, it’s just a matter of how the narrative will be presented over a 2-hour plus film.

But we know Bird is in. No way to avoid it. The question is who plays Bird?

The Miles Davis Movie: Acting! or: Who is Miles Davis?

While researching the forthcoming Miles Davis biopic last night I found a short, news item on contactmusic.com from June of last year.

It begins:

Don Cheadle received no help from Miles Davis’ family while researching his role as the jazz man – because no one had any recollections about the music icon’s secret life.

It’s a year later, and I have no idea what’s going on internally with the project, but I do know that Vince Wilburn Jr., Davis’ nephew and part of Miles Davis Properties, is on board as a producer, so there must be ‘help’ on some level.

It’s an interesting angle when you think about what source material the writers and Cheadle are drawing from in crafting the film. There are numerous biographies and the infamous autobiography, plus countless interviews and features, but I’m sure access to family and friends is essential to the overall goal in piecing together Davis’ life.

The Hotel Rwanda star felt sure recollections from Davis’ family members would help him master the essence of the legend but Cheadle discovered he knew more about his subject than they did. He says, “I asked them about parts of his life and they don’t have any idea. They don’t know what was going on. “Miles Davis lived in a house on the Upper West Side in New York – in this converted church – for five years and they said, `There were days when we’d come to see him and he wouldn’t let us in.’

“I ended up with the soup of the person and who that person was spiritually… What his wife said, what his ex-wife said, what his girlfriend says, the nephew says, the son says, there are all these different perspectives on this one person.”

Okay, so based on this story it appears Cheadle wasn’t able to discover a similar theme from one persons’ recollections to the next, rather a continuum of jumbled memories.

It’s a difficult road in trying to understand the essence of Miles Davis? That sounds about right…

The report closes with this:

And when Cheadle turned to Davis interviews to help his research he didn’t find a lot of help there either. He adds, “He’d tell a long story and the guy said, `That’s amazing. Did that really happen?’ and he’d say, `I don’t f**kin’ know.'”

There’s no byline attached to the story, and I don’t know the specifics of where Cheadle made these remarks, but it’s interesting nevertheless.

But that was a year ago. Where are we now?

I haven’t seen trouble brewing for the production in the press, so one would believe we’re still full steam ahead. I can only assume Cheadle has spent sunnier days researching Davis.

Although I have no doubt it has been an arduous task.

I would love to know how Cheadle has been/is preparing for the role; I can only imagine reading everything he could find, studying video and working hard to connect with those who knew him best.

Let’s face it: Miles Davis is just the kind of character any actor would kill to dive into; a role filled with conflict and talent, passion and pain, warmth and toughness…. He has it all!

I’m not here to say the ‘role’ of Miles Davis is going to jump up the Great List next to the likes of Hamlet, or any number of Mamet characters, but I believe portraying the iconic jazz trumpeter is an assignment that demands the very best an actor has to give – and in doing so will add a new chapter to the book of classic film performances.

This might work better if we were discussing a Miles Davis play in the works, but the sentiment remains that playing Miles Davis might become one of those performances that not only movie fans and Davis fans rave about, but also one that’s studied in drama classes for years to come.

The Miles Davis Movie: The Betty Year

“If Betty were singing today she be something like Madonna, something like Prince, only as a woman. She was the beginning of all that when she was singing as Betty Davis.” ~ Miles Davis, Miles: The Autobiography

I’m wondering if Betty (Mabry) Davis will make an appearance in the Miles Davis biopic… Let the casting suggestions begin immediately.

Their marriage only lasted a year (1968-1969), but it is common knowledge that Betty had a big influence on Miles, his music especially. And depending on whom you talk to this influence was not always positive.

Here’s a clip from a 2003 All About Jazz profile about the funk-a-licious model/musician:

Her cutting-edge musical tastes and incomparable sense of style were too much for Miles to resist. A self-righteous 23-year old model, Betty conquered the man twice her age with a potent mixture of youth, beauty, and sex. Within a year, she had completely remade Miles in her own youthful image.

As she poured herself into him, his playing grew younger, his outlook fresh. She ripped through his closets, tossing out the elegant suits he had worn for years. It was during this ‘Betty’ chapter that Miles felt the radical thrill of funk and rock – notably in the form of Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix.

It wouldn’t be long before he unleashed the revolutionary “Bitches Brew” on the world.

More from AAJ:

This monster he created would sadly run amok as fusion lost its soul and became an F word. But for a brief moment during these still glowing days of late ’60s Eden, Betty ruled as the mentor-muse for the original man and his music.

Then there’s that rumor about Miles breaking up with Betty because he suspected she was cheating on him – with Jimi Hendrix!

Apparently she’s denied this allegation ever since, but still… who can we get to play Jimi Hendrix for a quick scene or two?

Not knowing a thing about the story the writers are cooking up, they might not even get to the late ’60s in the film.

Is the year-long marriage to Betty even worth a few scenes? If the film works it way through the fusion years then I’d say yes. It was a pivotal era in the Miles Davis story and Betty was part of that story, even if short-lived.

The woman is such a funky diva, how could she not make a great character in the film?

Take a listen to her self-titled, ultra-funky debut and you’ll realize why this woman is a wild ball of fire.

Don’t forget, this is a woman deemed ‘too wild’ for Miles Davis, so that has to tell you something.

In his autobiography he wrote: “Betty was too young and wild for the things I expected from a woman…Betty was a free spirit, she was raunchy and all that kind of s**t.”

Whether or not Betty Davis appears in the film isn’t going to determine its ultimate success. The same could be said for Cicely Tyson and Frances Taylor – other notable women in Davis’ life.

Incorporating the women in Miles’ life is important if we desire a completist’s version of the Miles Davis story, yet with a biopic you’d figure to run about 2 hours (and change) it’s impossible to integrate everything of note, just as we don’t know what major themes the filmmakers plan to focus on.

(A film like “Malcolm X,” as was pointed out in the comments from Ed, is a great example of a film that does hit just about all the major developments of that particular life, but I have a feeling the Miles Davis biopic is not going to run three hours – plus. Not that I’d mind… )

I will say that the ‘relationships’ Miles Davis had with women should not entirely be swept under the rug; I have no aspiration to extrapolate on the tospy-turvy personal life of Miles Davis, but needless to say it’s ripe with affecting moments any filmmaker developing a biopic of the man would be sure to make use of; only with an equal supply of dents and polish to the armor of an iconic figure can we have a genuine cinematic experience.

To wrap up this tangent I have floated off on…

Professor Robin D. G. Kelley’s commentary for the New York Times – Miles Davis: The Chameleon of Cool; A Jazz Genius In the Guise Of a Hustler – exposes ‘the two sides of Miles’ in what was deemed quite a controversial piece when it appeared in May 2001.

Regardless of where you stand on the issues Kelley raises about Miles it is an enlightening read.

So to wrap up this interminable Blog post I’ll say that I’d like to see Betty Davis make an appearance in the movie. As to which actress might be good to portray the wild woman of funk, I’m working on my list now….

The Miles Davis Movie: what you might have missed

I’m having a blast writing about the forthcoming Miles Davis biopic, and I appreciate all the kind words from those who have dropped by the Blog to see what’s going on.

For those who haven’t been visiting the Blog since it started a few months ago, I thought I would stop the presses and provide the headline/link to some of the topics we’ve covered already regarding the Miles Davis movie.

I know, it’s not like I have been writing about this for a year, but I wanted to catch up anyone who might have missed some good stuff.

What should the movie title be?

Is Don Cheadle the right person to direct the film?

Who is going to play John Coltrane?

Who’s producing?

Will ‘Miles Davis’ premier at Cannes?

Who will distribute the Miles Davis biopic?

Is Don Cheadle the right choice to play Miles Davis?

Okay, that enough for now. Thanks, again!

And the band played on…..

The Miles Davis Movie: Art is fun

I stumbled onto a design site called Wordle, where users can generate “word clouds” from text that you provide. It’s really simple and you can come up with some clever text designs.

I, of course, created a word cloud for the Miles Davis movie.

If you click the photo you’ll see the bigger version.

The Miles Davis Movie: Remember when Wesley Snipes was going to play Miles Davis?

That’s correct… the star of such Hollywood films like “New Jack City,” “Passenger 57,” “White Men Can’t Jump,” “Major League” and “Mo Better Blues” was close to adding the Miles Davis story to his acting resume.

It’s no big secret that a film version on the life of Miles Davis has been around the Hollywood track many times, with a rotating cast of producers, actors and writers involved, attempting to get the project off the ground.

Back in the late ‘90s it looked as if the project was about to hit full steam as word hit the street that Wesley Snipes was (finally) going to play the Prince of Darkness.

Here’s an excerpt from the November 1997 issue of Ebony Magazine:

Awesome on another level will be Snipes’ portrayal of the troubled jazz master Miles Davis. “Nobody else has the gall to even try to make it,” he says of his company’s commitment, adding that he’s been doing research on why many talented artists resort to some type of abuse and “what drives a person who is considered genius off the wall.

I used the word ‘finally’ above regarding the film because I found this snippet from a November 1993 issue of Jet Magazine:

Hot actor Wesley Snipes, who is thrilling audiences as a blond villain in Demolition Man, is set to bring to the big screen the life story of legendary jazz artist Miles Davis. Snipes is co-producing the project as well as starring in it, a spokesman told Jet. It is just getting underway and won’t be released until sometime in 1994.

“Demolition Man”! Are you kidding me?!

In November of 2006 Stereogum chimed in on the status of what was then dueling Miles Davis film projects; one based on author Quincy Troupe’s book Miles and Me, and the other with the blessing of the Miles Davis estate. This is when Don Cheadle’s name was beginning to get mentioned with the film.

Stereogum was kind of enough to include photos of Snipes and Davis buffering the jazz icon.

I like Wesley Snipes. The guy has been in a lot of movies – and many are very entertaining.

I thought he was great in the back-to-back Spike Lee movies; as saxophonist Shadow Henderson in “Mo Better Blues” (1990) and as architect Flipper Purify in “Jungle Fever” (’91).

“One Night Stand” was pretty good. “Blade” was cool. He was Willie Mays Hayes in “Major League” for crying out loud. And who can’t say they didn’t enjoy his Nino Brown in “New Jack City”?

But I just don’t see him as Miles Davis. Maybe I’m so comfortable with Cheadle in the lead role that the thought of another actor feels odd.

Yes, it has taken a long time for the life of Miles Davis to make it to the big screen, but maybe that’s the way it should be – lots of twists and turns. Much like the life of Miles Davis.

Just how close we came to a Miles Davis biopic starring Wesley Snipes I am not privy to knowing, but I can imagine there would be stark differences between that version and what Cheadle and company have in store.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Snipes project would have been cinema gold. We’ll never know.

But it’s interesting to think about just how close we were to having the guy who played Noxeema Jackson in “To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar” playing the role of jazz legend Miles Davis in the film version of his life.

That’s entertainment!

The Miles Davis Movie: The viral marketing plan

miles-upclose I was inspired by a July 1 post on First Showing about the viral marketing genius behind “The Dark Knight” to speculate about such viral goodness that might be part of the Miles Davis biopic.

Surely the Miles Davis movie isn’t likely to generate the same pop culture tempest “The Dark Knight” has produced in its run up to Friday’s opening, but it certainly will earn its fair share of buzz, critical appraisal and fan hype as the film draws closer to premiering.

Viral marketing seems to fit perfectly, if done correctly, for big movies like “The Dark Knight,” with so many corporate tie-ins and content platforms to work with. It’s a ‘big’ movie and thusly should aim sky high to market the thing at maximum capacity.

Let’s also not forget the legendary comic book franchise element to all this, which adds even more exposure and hype to the film.

While a Domino’s pizza / “The Dark Knight” partnership makes sense, I’m not expecting to see Miles Davis playing trumpet with the Burger King in a Whopper advertisement anytime soon.

And yet, it would definitely be something to see.

I’m excited about “The Dark Knight” and blown away with the hype surrounding the film – it definitely adds to the excitement, even though media fatigue does begin to set in.

And now we come back to Miles Davis and viral marketing. I have already written about the importance of building the appropriate marketing campaign for the upcoming film and certainly the viral campaign will play a big part – at least it could, that is.

While there aren’t any comic book or video game connections right now – a Miles Davis comic book might be really cool – jazz and other music websites/social networks would be high on my list as areas to push the brand.

I’m sure someone could come up with a video campaign to play on sites like YouTube – a series of videos that teases the movie, or play up the ‘cool’ factor associated with Miles Davis.

Word of mouth will play a big role, as it usually does, and of course the critics will weigh in, but the legacy of the great trumpeter is going to be front and center throughout the marketing, and I believe that will help the overall awareness because there is still so much interest in his music and his story.

No, jazz music is not pop music, but this is bigger than the Billboard charts, this is music history and one of the towering figures, so interest gets kicked up a notch.

Viral marketing is where the official Miles Davis website could play a big part, but as of this second the site is not ready for the big stage, to be a centerpiece on the web for all things Miles. But I’m hoping…

The forthcoming movie will make for good newspaper and magazine copy and should shed light on old records and famous stories about Miles and jazz as a whole.

If it were me I’d be handing out t-shirts to kids on the street that read something vague across the chest (related to the film) to start the buzz.

Leak some unreleased tracks and live tunes to popular MP3 Blogs.
Do something/anything with a video company. Is there a Jazz Band or Jazz Hero yet? No? There should be…

Let people design a poster. Let people design a t-shirt.

Allow creative people to do creative things…

Get interactive. Get crazy. It’s Miles Davis – the king of cool.

The Prince of Darkness.

I recall when a new Bob Dylan Best Of was hitting the market last year there was a fun site that took the concept of the famous scene from the D. A. Pennebaker’s documentary for the song “Subterranean Homesick Blues” where users could put whatever text they wanted as Dylan flipped the cards one after another. Then you could send to a friend and whatever. Sure, it lost some interest after an hour, but still, viral marketing!

I know a film about jazz music and the great Miles Davis is not going to capture the pop culture attention like Iron Man or the birth of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s twins, but there is an audience (which I will write about later) that will respond to a film like this. I also think there’s going to be a big swell in the Miles Davis legend that will push the biopic into exciting marketing directions.

There’s going to be ‘buzz’ for the Miles Davis biopic – how big we don’t know. But it will be there.

There is a whirlwind of media and entertainment vying for attention on a 24-hour cycle it’s tough to grab the spotlight, even for a moment, but the right kind of entertainment always seems to catch fire…

I think the Miles Davis movie will move the needle and cause a nice buzz in the sea of media – all leading up to the eventual moment when the public and the product can finally come together.

The Miles Davis Movie: Hoping for a script leak – to me!

Lots and lots of chatter across the ‘Net this week about Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Bastards” – his latest movie project about a raucous crew of American soldiers who travel into Germany in 1944 to kill a lot of Nazis.

You get the idea.

It should not be surprising there’s been a lot of QT news and analysis the last few days.

First the long-awaited/much discussed script was delivered to four, Hollywood studios.

Then there was the news Brad Pitt was in talks to star.

And then… the script was leaked.

Cue: mass (media) hysteria.

NY Mag (Vulture) got their hands on a copy of the script and followed with a detailed review.

Defamer was fed up with the hype and penned an open letter to Quentin.

Hey, I’m excited about the movie, too, which doesn’t even have financing yet, or really anything besides a script, but clearly the 165 pages long script has everybody jacked up and looking forward to next year’s release.

All of which leads me to Chris Wilkinson and Stephen J. Rivele -– the writers working on the script for the Miles Davis biopic.

I’m not sure if the script is even finished, but if it is/or when it is I’d like a copy. I’m happy to start the online madness for the forthcoming film about the jazz legend.

So guys, when you’re ready… I’m ready to read.