The Miles Davis Movie: Will it be the best movie ever made about jazz or: Wow, there’s not a lot of movies about jazz

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Let’s take a look at a shortlist of good-to-great films with jazz as its central theme (excluding documentaries…):

Bird
Round Midnight
Mo’ Better Blues
Sweet And Lowdown
Sweet Love, Bitter
Tune in Tomorrow…
Paris Blues
St. Louis Blues
The Benny Goodman Story
The Glenn Miller Story
Young Man with a Horn
Lady Sings the Blues
The Gene Krupa Story
Stormy Weather

Alright! I’ll add the Showtime original movie “Lush Life,” a drama about two best friends who play jazz in night clubs starring Jeff Goldblum and Forest Whitaker. Oh, 1993, you were so long ago…

But here’s something: Don Cheadle has a part in “Lush Life.” Now that’s just craziness.

The truth is that this category isn’t exactly overflowing with titles to choose from. We’re not talking best romantic comedies of all-time here. “His Girl Friday,” anyone?

Now, films featuring a jazz score? Sure, we have plenty of wonderful choices: “Anatomy of a Murder” featuring Duke Ellington, “Ascenseur pour l’échaffaud” with the music of Miles Davis, Alex North’s music for Elia Kazan’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” any number of Woody Allen and Spike Lee films and so on…

In researching jazz music in films I happened upon the official site for the Museum of Modern Art, which is currently running an exhibit through September 15 titled Jazz Score.

Comprising a film retrospective, a gallery installation, live concerts, and a panel discussion, Jazz Score celebrates some of the best original jazz composed for the cinema from the 1950s to the present.

I highly recommend checking out the information on the website as it provides an excellent retrospective on some of cinema’s finest product with an eye on the jazz music associated.

A ‘happy marriage’ is how this New York Sun headline describes jazz music and film in their review of the MoMA exhibit.

It’s an insightful declaration when you consider the many superb films over the years that include jazz music in the score, as part of the story or musical device to elicit a specific emotion or atmosphere.

The website for the retrospective provides a great filmography; definitely a nice trip down cinema-memory lane.

So back to the original point: I’ll go ahead and say if the Miles Davis biopic comes out as well as I am expecting, I would slot it immediately at #1 on the all-time best movies about jazz list – no offense to “Bird,” “Round Midnight” and a few others.

Honestly a Miles Davis film is long overdue for the big screen treatment, but legal issues and music rights are often the culprit in slowing down the development process when it comes to putting a real life on the screen.

And to think Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane and Sarah Vaughn also are without a big screen adaptation, as far as I know.

If I’m wrong please let me know. But it does boggle the mind because I feel any and all of the above-mentioned would be great subjects for Hollywood/Indie films.

A new Billie Holiday biopic wouldn’t hurt either. I admire Diana Ross’ performance in “Lady Sings the Blues,” but the overall film was just good, not great – in my opinion.

I was just about to add another favorite artist of mine, Nina Simone, to the list, but then I realized there is an “Untitled Nina Simone Project” on the books, so I enthusiastically await the movie version of one of the greatest American singer/songwriters.

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The Miles Davis Movie: Well… not really, but a post about its star

As we all know Don Cheadle is set to star as Miles Davis in the big screen biopic, which he will also direct. But the actor has other non-Miles Davis movie projects to deal with, namely Traitor, a drama about a special operative working with a terrorist group becomes the target of the CIA.

First Showing has the new trailer up today.

The film opens August 29th.

The Miles Davis Movie: Filming the ‘Birth of the Cool’

I read a very interesting article in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal from Tom Nolan (Hidden in Plain Hearing) about the beginnings of cool jazz and what is often referred to as the ‘Birth of the Cool.’

And when you mention the Birth of the Cool you quickly think of Miles Davis, the classic nonet and the legendary recording Birth of the Cool.

It’s a great read, and you’re quickly pulled back to the days of Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan, the influence of band leader Claude Thornhill, Miles Davis and a new coolness taking over the jazz scene.

Trumpeter Miles Davis was the nominal leader of this ensemble, but it was the outfit’s arrangers — primarily Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan — who were the real stars. The devices they drew on had been available for years, hidden in plain hearing within the big band of Claude Thornhill.

There’s probably a movie in itself about the story how the “Birth of the Cool” album was created, the important figures in jazz history associated with the project and the burgeoning ‘cool jazz’ scene.

So I got to wondering if there would be something in the Miles Davis biopic representing this moment(s) in jazz and Miles Davis history.

You’d have to think a scene with the nonet playing “Boplicity” or “Deception” would capture the moment nicely – perhaps practicing in Gil Evans’ apartment, or even in the studio session.

Somehow, somewhere Gil Evans is going to have to make an appearance, so here’s a great opportunity.

I think there is going to be a fine line at how much of the film’s story can be directed squarely at jazz aficionados who would love to see all the inner-workings of the making of Davis’ music and those moviegoers who are looking to grab onto a ‘great’ story that follows the usual ebb and flow of a legendary life.

It can’t be too ‘inside baseball,’ to borrow a phrase.

Still, the music and the artists connected with the recording of Birth of the Cool are significant to the story of Miles Davis and the history of jazz… and certainly deserve mention in the biopic.

I believe.

The Miles Davis Movie: Let’s check the (virtual) stock market

Having spent an enjoyable 2+ years at HSX.com way back in the halcyon days of the tech boom I know my way around a virtual trading floor.

So I ventured over to the Hollywood Stock Exchange to see how the stock for the Miles Davis Biopic has been performing, even though it’s still early.

As of Thursday morning the film – ticker MILES – was trading at H$12.92. The high was H$15.65, so there’s been a dip.

For the record I purchased 25,000 shares of MovieStock for the Miles Davis Biopic. Then I switched gears and bought a H$1000 worth of Don Cheadle StarBonds.

I’m no financial mastermind, but I think the Miles Davis Biopic is seriously undervalued at this point. I say jump in now and secure your position. This is the Google of the movie stocks, I know it… !

And if I may be so bold as to slightly tweak one of the many famous lines of dialogue from the wonderful film “Wall Street” –

“Blue horseshoe loves… Miles Davis Biopic.”

The Miles Davis Movie: What scene would you especially like to see in the movie?

Let’s not spend the next 100 hours dissecting every important and negligible detail in the life of Miles Davis. However, there are numerous moments of public record that serve as significant milestones during the life and times of the great jazz man.

No doubt many of those moments will make their way into the film version of Miles Davis’ life. Some will end up on the cutting room floor (and possibly onto the DVD), while others won’t even be considered for the big screen.

Unlike a book where the author can spend page after page constructing a beautiful narrative with faultless detail, this is about the movies — and the mantra is show, don’t tell.

So there’s only so much depth you can attempt from one scene to the next; we cannot have the audience checking their cell phones and not paying attention.

Would I like to see a 4-hour movie? Yes, please. But I also want people to see the movie, and getting anyone to the theatre for $11, or $12 bucks a ticket these days is tough enough – so you go with the blueprint and try to make it a special experience.

So, scenes: In no particular order…..

Miles Davis kicks drugs

Meeting Bird

The incident outside the Birdland nightclub in New York City, Davis is beaten up by the police and arrested

The Kind of Blue sessions

July 1955, Davis plays with Thelonius Monk on “‘Round Midnight” at the Newport Jazz Festival

Anything with Betty Mabry

I’m sure I will think of 10 more an hour from now, but at least that gets the conversation started.

Miles Davis lived such a fascinating life it’s difficult to assemble all the finest and most poignant parts to fit into the structure of a film; of course those who knew him intimately will have a much wider book of memories than those of us who know him only through books, magazines, TV shows, the ‘net and most importantly – his music.

Yet even from afar there is so much to know about the life and music of Miles Davis. The biopic should no doubt help frame, even in a 2-hour running time, a best of, if you will, of Miles’ life.

And who knows, we might be surprised at what ultimately gets into the film and might even learn a new thing or two about the jazz legend along the way.

The Miles Davis Movie: A few words about magazines

Safe to say most general movie magazines will have something in the way of a feature (big or small) about the Miles Davis movie; Entertainment Weekly, Fade In and Empire fit the bill here.

Then there are trade titles like Creative Screenwriting, Film Comment and Filmmaker who will most likely take a deeper look into the dynamics of the movie.

I am already assuming jazz magazines like Downbeat and Jazz Times will be all over the Miles Davis biopic.

The same goes for Rolling Stone.

But it’s the high-profile fashion titles like Vanity Fair, GQ and Esquire where the Miles Davis movie might also find some traction.

All three have a long history of spotlighting (and hyping) forthcoming films with glossy fashion spreads and innocuous interviews with the corresponding talent.

Usually Vanity Fair dispatches a photographer to the set of a soon-to-be released movie (most likely one perched high atop the buzz meter), and eventually we see a slick pictorial to wet the appetite; usually its images of the actors in costume, behind the scenes shots and a brief write-up of what moviegoers can look forward to.

It’s all quite harmless and enjoyable, and definitely adds to the anticipation.

The Miles Davis biopic is perfect for this type of pictorial and should be right in Vanity Fair’s wheelhouse.

As the movie gains attention in across the media landscape and on the ‘Net, I think there’s going to be a lot of emphasis on Don Cheadle-as-Miles Davis, so expect to see a lot of images of the actor ‘in character.’

Anyway, it just sets itself up for Vanity Fair magic.

As for Esquire and GQ, the male-centric fashion titles, Miles Davis has appeared many times over the years in articles and features about style (and music, I imagine), so he’s a subject certainly not new to their pages.

Might we see Don Cheadle on the cover in the future? I say yes.

This is just the sort of role that gets you the cover.

Plus, there will be Oscar buzz and all kinds of hype, so the marketing machine will be in overdrive. I’ll have more on the marketing situation, including the importance of the Internet.

On the flip side of the legendary music career, Miles Davis was about style, opinion and affecting culture. Miles Davis and American Culture is a terrific book detailing the jazz giant and his influence on American culture.

That said, it makes perfect sense for erudite periodicals such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic to catch the Miles Davis fever and work up essays about Davis’ impact on culture, music, etc.

Lord knows there are a ton of magazines on the newsstands and many of which might soon be upping their coverage of Miles Davis and the biopic. Hey, I have a great issue of of Fader from ’05 with Miles on the cover — and it looks cool!

I hope the Miles Davis movie gets as much coverage in the media as possible without being too annoying; there is such a thing as overkill (hello “Sex and the City”).

I sense a Miles Davis resurrection – though he hasn’t really been forgotten at all – and with that a media blitz that will include all the big magazines, websites and other media outlets. There’s a lot that is ‘cool’ about Miles Davis. And if something is cool these days it usually ends up on a slick cover somewhere.

The Miles Davis movie is like a gathering media storm. This should be fun….