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.


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