babble / biopic

The Miles Davis Movie: Filming ‘Kind of Blue’

It is not just one of the greatest jazz albums of all time, but one of the best albums… period!

By some accounts it’s the best-selling jazz record of all time.

It’s the one album most non-jazz fans know about, or even own.

I like to think there’s a part in the minds of music fans who don’t care much for jazz music who feel they should at least have this album in their collection – just because.

Kind of Blue

The tile alone elicits a variety of feelings and thoughts.

Recorded at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio in New York City on March 2 and April 22 of 1959, the seminal recording hit the streets on August 17, 1959.

Another landmark moment for Miles Davis, jazz and music in general.

The players:

Miles Davis – trumpet
Julian “Cannonball” Adderley – alto saxophone
John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Wynton Kelly – piano
Bill Evans – piano
Paul Chambers – bass
Jimmy Cobb – drums

Stephen Thomas Erlewine’s review for AllMusic.com says it best:

Kind of Blue isn’t merely an artistic highlight for Miles Davis, it’s an album that towers above its peers, a record generally considered as the definitive jazz album, a universally acknowledged standard of excellence.

There are books and essays, radio programs and websites dedicated specifically to “Kind of Blue.”

Philip B. Pape (for allaboutjazz.com) writes:

This album throws away conventional song and chord structure that had been definitive to most jazz artists, welcoming a new structure based on modes. More than a milestone in jazz, Kind of Blue is a defining moment of twentieth century music.

Ashley Kahn’s “Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece” is a comprehensive account on the making of the album.

There’s also a production from NPR about how the album was produced and its endless popularity.

So…let’s discuss the filming of the making of “Kind of Blue.”

Yep, it’ll be in the Miles Davis movie. If we can get scenes that incorporate the entire septet I’ll be quite happy. I think you could make the case that Cheadle, as director, can spend a little extra time with the “Kind of Blue” sessions, as well as goings on outside the studio.

You might also say that the music from “Kind of Blue” is the most recognizable to audience members not entirely immersed in jazz/Miles Davis history, but definitely are aware of those famous, ‘modal’ harmonies associated with tracks like “So What” and “Blue in Green.”

As I’ve mentioned before in other ‘filming’ posts, it’s all about the director’s vision, and to another degree, the cinematographer. And the editor as well…

The aforementioned, legendary pianist Bill Evans also wrote the liner notes for the “Kind of Blue” album and in commenting on the challenge of group improvisation notes that:

“Miles conceived these settings only hours before the recording dates and arrived with sketches which indicated to the group what was to be played. Therefore, you will hear something close to pure spontaneity in these performances.”

So right there you can see the movie scene unfolding, with the musicians in the studio, and Davis providing only the basic ideas of what he wants before the band begins recording.

In a film that must cover a lot of important ground in 2-plus hours only so much time can be spent in the studio watching the construction of “Kind of Blue.”

But the “Kind of Blue” chapter is positively an essential one for the film to explore. It also offers the opportunity to hear some of Davis’ more famous songs worked into the movie, sure to elicit happiness from any audience.

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5 thoughts on “The Miles Davis Movie: Filming ‘Kind of Blue’

  1. Good post. What more can you say that hasn’t been said about “Kind of Blue”? I’m to the point where I can’t discuss the album rationally anymore. It was truly a moving experience the first time I heard it. And it opened the door to a jazz world that I thoroughly enjoy to this day. For that, I am forever grateful.

    But here’s the funny thing: if Cheadle films the recording of this album as some profound “a-HA!” moment, he’d be taking artistic license and doing the hard-core fans a disservice.

    Look, it’s one of the ultimate biopic cliches to have the artist scuffling in the studio before he suddenly gets it (see Jaime Foxx nailing “Mess Around” in “Ray” and Mr. Phoenix strumming “Walk the Line” in the Johnny Cash flick).

    Jimmy Cobb, the lone remaining living musician from those sessions has often said that at the time, he couldn’t tell if the music was kind of blue or kind of green, that it was just another Miles Davis recording session. Of course, later when the album had great success, they appreciated the music.

    But that seems to be a recurring theme in the studio dates throughout most of his career. They are either very workmanlike (like all those great albums he cranked out with his First Great Quintet) or some form of meandering jamming that left his sidemen at a loss (the fusion-era music was heavily edited later by Teo Macero).

    So yes, it’s important to film the making of such a seminal album. The fact that they did it all on the first take, exploring the whole modal thing and hello, the talent that was in the room for it is interesting unto itself. But it’s gonna end up being more subtle than the dramatic moments in other biopics.

    Which is fine, because the music is just amazing.

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