The Miles Davis Movie: Filming ‘Bitches Brew’

‘Electric’ Miles is not my favorite chapter in the legend’s musical history, but I’m no less impressed and entertained by the supremely talented musicians associated with some pretty revolutionary recordings – namely Bitches Brew.

I’m torn on how much, if any, movie time in the Miles Davis film is going to be devoted to the years covering the late-’60s to the mid ’70s. Of course we’d get to see Don Cheadle dressed in some wild costumes, but it remains how this chaotic and inventive funk-rock-jazz period for Miles will be represented in the movie.

They could choose to focus primarily on Bitches Brew, a masterpiece in some circles and notable for spinning modern jazz on its head.

It certainly was a time of great change for Miles and jazz music, to say nothing of the culture in general, so clearly we have some drama to mine here for the film.

How much of the actual music they’d feature I don’t know, but to hear something like “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” might be pretty damn cool.

This is a revolutionary recording no matter how you slice it; it all but started the genre known as jazz-rock fusion.

And there were some incredible musicians associated with the album: Joe Zawinul, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, etc.

It’s a fascinating chapter for Miles, and if the film intends to follow Davis’ life right up to the end then obviously they cannot skip over the electric period.

I have already written about Betty Mabry’s inclusion in the film, and there’s a clear link between her influences and Bitches Brew.

There is plenty of opinion about Bitches Brew, the recording and the moment in jazz (music) history it represents. I’d think the Miles Davis movie would be wise to find room for it in the narrative.

When listening to the music of Bitches Brew and the Bitches Brew sessions, space and time tremble, quiver, and become elastic. One moment, you’re traveling rapidly, furiously backward toward the Big Bang—the next, you’ve stopped and hang suspended, a million light years from nowhere, curling dangerously across some cosmic bump.

Then, all at once, you’re surging forth, speed increasing, any ability to gauge time lost in the burn, spinning and tumbling upward, downward, outward. (David Beckman, AAJ)

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1 thought on “The Miles Davis Movie: Filming ‘Bitches Brew’”

  1. Well, if Mr. Cheadle wants any shot at an Oscar for best costume design, then he has to include this time period in Miles’ career. It’s a moral imperative!

    But seriously, I know this is not everybody’s favorite time period. And thanks to the gorgeous box sets that Columbia has put out, it’s been subject to some amazing revisionist history, which I’m sure further irks the jazz purists.

    For me, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Those who say he sold out, I say untrue. Selling out implies he suddenly became a commercial sensation by pandering to a certain aesthetic. Other than Bitches Brew selling well, he wasn’t exactly moving units of product during this era. And try listening to the opening track of “On the Corner” and see how radio friendly that is!

    And for those who say he was innovative, I say not necessarily. In retrospect, sure, the music appears to have anticipated something. The deep grooves and vamping on the later electric stuff fits in reasonably well in today’s world. But who knows exactly what he had in mind. Considering how edited the music was in the studio, it’s hard to say.

    As I mentioned in other blog posts, I love all the time periods, even the stuff on “Tutu” and “Amandla.” Because here’s the thing: no matter the context or how supposedly inferior certain bands were compared to others, it’s still Miles. That never changed. And if liking all his music makes me some kind of philistine in the eyes of “jazz purists,” so be it.

    Because I think by dissing the electric period, some people miss out on the beautiful experience of music challenging you and daring you to understand it and explore it deeply. Electric Miles is not exactly music you can curl up to. It’s dense, it’s brutal, it’s brooding and at times baffling.

    But if you hang in there with it long enough, the payoff is extraordinary. For example, I listened to “On the Corner” the first time and didn’t get it. Then several months later, I made myself listen to it all the way through on my iPod while going on a long bike ride. I felt like when Tony Soprano screamed out in the Nevada desert, “I GET IT! I GET IT!” Minus the drugs, of course.

    But back to the original point: it’s an important period to include in the movie. For better or worse, it spawned jazz-rock fusion. It led to some memorable moments for Miles in the studio (Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson, In a Silent Way) and on stage (Isle of Wight, the Fillmores, Carnagie Hall).

    And my gosh, the talent on those records! John McLaughlin, Dave Holland, DeJohnette, Jarrett, Liebman, Shorter, Corea. I know I left brilliant people out, but my point is those talented people don’t deserve to be short-changed just because it’s not people’s cup of tea.

    And if Cheadle includes it, this would give an arena to give Teo Macero his due as a producer. Those albums were heavily edited, and it was his instincts that helped those albums come alive. Ultimately, it’s about Miles, but having a partner like Teo was good as well.

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