The Miles Davis Movie: Will cameras roll in 2009?; Biopic journal begins New Year filled with hope

music_feature1-1_39 With the New Year a few hours away I’m looking forward to a great 2009, filled with new adventures and intrigue (like I’m some kind of spy or something. Sorry.)

On a purely entertainment level this web project will continue in the New Year to ‘deconstruct’ each and every component of the Miles Davis biopic. This movie is going to happen, and I’m hoping 2009 is the year cameras finally roll. Then again ’09 could be lost while Don Cheadle works on “Iron Man 2.”

From all accounts the Miles movie is a priority for Cheadle, but it remains a project that exists in limbo while the parts come together.

This is not a fast-track movie.

Never was.

Go back to Pat Broeske’s Nov. 2006 article about a Miles movie:

The producer Rudy Langlais said independent financing for “Miles and Me” is in place through Patriot Pictures and Beacon Pictures, and talks are under way with actors and filmmakers.

Then I jumped back to 2004 and this quick, news brief that quotes Langlais, who had just acquired the movie rights:

The film is inspired by Fellini’s “8 1/2” in its depiction of an artist of singular talent and legend, unyielding in his creative and personal life…

Miles Davis meets Federico Fellini. Hmmm….

Obviously Quincy Troupe’s Miles and Me was the foundation for this particular film about Miles Davis; but it wouldn’t have been a cookie-cutter biopic, rather Troupe’s story, which details his experiences with Miles.

It’s about a friendship — a hard-won friendship — between two black men, both of them artists,” Mr. Troupe explained in Broeske’s article about the project. “Through that friendship, the film will explore Miles’ life.

Is that the movie people want to see about Miles Davis? It might not matter because I’m not sure that project even exists anymore.

Back to Broeske:

A Davis film, with Wesley Snipes mentioned as the star, was first attempted by the former CBS Records chief executive Walter Yetnikoff, who played a role in encouraging Davis to record his landmark jazz-rock album “Bitches Brew” in 1969. Mr. Yetnikoff acquired the rights to Davis’s life and music, as well as to his autobiography. “But I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” Mr. Yetnikoff said in an interview. “And I didn’t know how to make a movie.

Wesley Snipes! Let’s jet back to an article from 1993(!):

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.

Well, that doesn’t seem to have panned out. But it’s clear the goal of making a movie about Miles Davis has been an endeavor many screenwriters, actors and producers have embarked upon.

In 2006 Doug Ramsey wrote of producing a biopic about Miles Davis:

The challenge of containing in even a long picture the contradictions in Davis’s character, the variety of his music and the complex web of his relationships could make film biographies like Ray and Walk The Line seem simple assignments.

It will take a director of extraordinary skill and insight, and an exceptional actor, to fairly portray the creative son of a middle-class family who at twenty reached the apex of jazz with Charlie Parker and later decided to cloak himself in the image of a dirty-talking gut-punching street fighter.

Hard to sum it up better than that…

But with Cheadle we have an “exceptional” actor. As a director we can assume he has the chops, but there’s always the chance he ops out of the director’s chair and focuses solely on playing Miles Davis. We shall see.

But there is a script and there’s a star attached. Two important factors are in place. Now timing and money and luck and money play their part in the movie-making process. hallf-miles

Is the story of the Prince of Darkness un-filmable? I doubt it. But it’s definitely a tall order, for many of the reasons stated above and then some. But I have hope. Much hope. I still firmly believe Cheadle is the best actor to portray Miles Davis (a career-defining role in my opinion), and judging by his comments, he’s passionate about telling a great story. He might be envisioning something non-traditional in how to ‘film’ that story, but I’m confident it’ll be special.

There’s word of another, maybe two, Miles Davis projects out there, jockeying for position as they go through development. But the Miles Davis biopic we follow regularly here is the one blessed by the Miles Davis estate, and at this point the most legitimate project (with the music rights locked up and Hollywood star attached) out there with the best chance to appear at a local movie theatre this decade.

You might say we’ve hitched our star to the Untitled Miles Davis Biopic wagon, which is how the Cheadle-led biopic is listed on IMDB.

At present time the film has the date 2011 next to it.

Looks like I have a lot of writing about the Miles Davis biopic ahead of me in 2009…2010…2011…

Happy New Year!


The Miles Davis Movie: Finding the ‘voice’

hush-miles 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.

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.

Now that we’re mostly convinced the Miles movie will not be a conventional narrative, rather the ‘deconstructed biopic’ style that has yet to reveal just how non-traditional Don Cheadle wants to go, I am curious as to how close the actor 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, in my opinion, to completing the puzzle.

In his 2001 editorial, “Miles Davis: A Jazz Genius in the Guise of a Hustler,” Robin Kelley writes of Miles’ voice –

“…the voice Amiri Baraka once described as his ‘hipster foghorn bass.’ He used his voice to great effect, for put- downs, romancing and biting one-liners.”

Freddie Hubbard (1938-2008)



John Lee Hooker & Miles Davis – Harry & Dolly (1990)

The Hot Spot: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

I had no idea. But not bad at all.

The Miles Davis Movie: ‘Essence’ interview reveals biopic narrative

marchcover-cheadle-180x240 File this under: late to the party (but no less intriguing). Back in March 2008 Don Cheadle appeared on the cover of Essence. I know this because in doing research I stumbled upon a transcript of the interview.

What’s notable is how much Cheadle expounds on the Miles Davis biopic in literally a few short sentences.

This is interesting because in more recent magazine articles I’ve read with Cheadle he rarely brings up the issue – however, in his defense, the person conducting the interview usually does not engage Cheadle about the Miles Davis project because (most likely) the interview is arranged to promote a current movie. I applaud Jesse Washington for not only bringing up the Miles Davis film, but also leading off with it.

It’s fascinating to read what Cheadle said in March, which for my money is the most detailed commentary I have read yet about the Miles Davis biopic. And we’re talking half a paragraph.

I have written numerous posts about what narrative style the biopic might follow. This brief Q&A just might hold the best, and most important, clue yet as to how the story of Miles Davis is going to be told. So we hear you’re working on a movie about Miles Davis. What will it be like?

Don Cheadle: The Miles movie I’m trying to do is not some traditional biopic. It’s an interpretation of himself, more than it is attempting to be some sort of cradle-to-grave, historically accurate depiction of who he was. The first line in our movie, with him in the dark, is of him saying ‘Some of this s–t might have happened.’

Inside his answer of about 70 words total, the four words most significant for me are –

“…not some traditional biopic.”

When you compare this idea of producing a non-traditional biopic to what Darryl Porter (Miles Davis Properties LLC) said in a recent Variety article about the Miles Davis movie being developed as a “deconstructed biopic,” well, it’s easy to see the correlation.

Based on what Cheadle is saying it’s obvious the Miles Davis film is not going to be like “Ray,” or as he puts it, “…some sort of cradle-to-grave, historically accurate depiction of who he [Davis] was.”

Between what Cheadle said in March and what Porter said more recently, it looks pretty certain that the Miles Davis project will forgo the cookie-cutter biopic for a more progressive strategy in telling the story of the jazz icon.

Now we start to wonder how non-traditional Cheadle wants to take it. So many questions…

So many questions….

Merry X-MAS


The Miles Davis Movie: Filming the ‘Playboy’ interview

pb-miles A bit of a reach on the day before Christmas you say? Possibly. But Alex Haley’s ‘candid conversation with the jazz world’s premier iconoclast‘ in 1962 was the first Playboy Interview (Volume 9, Number 9) and the conversation is both candid and enlightening – which you’d expect from Miles Davis anyway.

There are also some great quotes:

“I don’t pay no attention to what critics say about me, the good or the bad. The toughest critic I got is myself…and I’m too vain to play anything I think is bad.”

“I don’t dig people in clubs who don’t pay the musicians respect. You ever see anybody bugging the classical musicians when they are on the job and trying to work?”

And just to prove how ‘cool’ Playboy was back in the day, some of the folks interviewed in the months after the Miles conversation included Peter Sellers, Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra and Malcolm X. pb-miles2

Could the ‘interview’ be a throwaway moment in the film, maybe a scene with him and Alex Haley talking? Did the interview cause any controversy in the media, with fans, etc? Haley did go to the gym with Miles, so there’s a great opportunity to show Miles’ passion for boxing.

If anything the Playboy article might be used as jumping off point to reflect Miles’ feelings on race and other important, social issues. Miles didn’t need a magazine as a conduit to express his feelings, but in the context of a film, maybe it’s a good device to connect different personal issues and opinions circulating at that point in his life.

Here’s an excerpt from Miles, the Autobiography:


It’s 1962-63, we’re in that musical chapter of Miles’ life that makes up Steamin’, Quiet Nights and Seven Steps to Heaven, so clearly transition was stirring, which could be a good source of drama… and what’s a great biopic without drama.

Okay, maybe now I’m reaching… Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah everybody.

Miles Davis: 1990 Interview

Arsenio Hall! It’s not a bad trip back to good ol’ 1990 to catch up with Miles Davis.

It’s too bad Charlie Rose never had the opportunity to interview Miles.

If I Had A Grammy Vote


2009 Grammy Awards

Best Album Notes (Category 90):

* Art Of Field Recording Volume I: Fifty Years Of Traditional
American Music Documented By Art Rosenbaum
Art Rosenbaum, album notes writer (Various Artists) [Dust-To-Digital]

* Debate ’08: Taft And Bryan Campaign On The Edison Phonograph
Patrick Feaster & David Giovannoni, album notes writers (William
Jennings Bryan & William Howard Taft)
[Archeophone Records]

* Kind Of Blue: 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition
Francis Davis, album notes writer (Miles Davis)
[Columbia/Legacy Recordings]

* Rare & Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign Of The Queen Of Soul
David Ritz & Jerry Wexler, album notes writers (Aretha Franklin) [Rhino/Atlantic]

* The Unsung Father Of Country Music: 1925-1934
Henry “Hank” Sapoznik, album notes writer (Ernest V. Stoneman) [5-String Productions]

The new (and quite terrific) Kind of Blue: 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition features in-depth liner note essays written by award-winning Miles Davis authorities Francis Davis and Gerald Early; session transcripts by Ashley Kahn; detailed 1957-60 quintet/sextet timeline by Bob Belden and Ken Vail.

The Miles Davis Movie: Filming ‘At the Blackhawk’

hawk In April of 1961 the Miles Davis Quintet played two nights at the Blackhawk, a legendary jazz club in San Francisco. The Friday and Saturday night shows were captured on two separate recordings (now available as a complete set w/ an unreleased fourth set).

I love this collection. The quintet (together only briefly) features Paul Chambers, Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb, and Hank Mobley; like a master class in hard bop.

As for the Miles Davis movie, here again is a moment that can be a (quick) scene or two depending if the story gets to California. Or, if it’s just part of a montage of Miles on tour.

The album(s), and their iconic cover, are well-known in jazz circles, so a shot of the marquee (re-created because the place doesn’t even exist anymore) might ‘wow’ some jazz/Miles Davis fans, but in the context of the movie it probably registers low on scale of importance.

As Doug Collette touched on in a review of the 1961 recordings, “…the world of jazz was a culture far-removed from the mainstream…”

So being that it was ’61 and cultural change was stirring, maybe the biopic uses the dates at the Blackhawk as a signpost to underscore not only society going through a transformation, but also jazz music as a whole and, of course, Miles Davis.

But the montage – there’s a good topic. Just like in “Ray” when they show Ray Charles traversing the world in a lively tour montage cut to the song “Bye Bye Love,” I can see a ‘cool’ montage, or two, being useful in the Miles Davis biopic. More to come on that….

The Miles Davis Movie: Who is going to play Dizzy Gillespie?

dizzygillespie In 1944, the Billy Eckstine band visited St. Louis. The group included saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Davis, 18, joined the band as third trumpet for a couple of weeks. Not a bad way to get your start as a jazz musician.

The role of Gillespie is not essential to the film, but it’s necessary – we’re talking a couple scenes (preferably one a performance) to show how Gillespie taught Davis, and many of the young musicians on 52nd Street, about the new style of modern jazz (not too mention life as a professional).

I’m a fan of Dizzy’s music, and he just seemed like a person you’d want to spend a day with talking about life, music and whatever else. I think of the Quincy Jones part in “Ray” (played by Larenz Tate); I believe the character was in two or three scenes, but they were an important part of the narrative.

Plus, the right actor can really knock the role out of the park because of Dizzy’s inherent charm, style and showmanship.

The Miles Davis Movie: Who is going to play Cicely Tyson?


Happy Birthday, Cicely!

Cicely Tyson married Miles Davis on Nov. 26, 1981. The ceremony was conducted by Atlanta mayor Andrew Young at the home of actor Bill Cosby. Tyson and Davis divorced in 1988. I won’t say it’s a vital role, but Davis’ time with Tyson, who I think is just terrific, does coincide with his return to music after a long hiatus.

Sorcerer is one of my favorite records from the Second Quintet period. And it has one of the coolest album covers. Ever. Cicely!

miles davis. 1971. paris

* Will/Should ‘Miles Davis’ premier at Cannes?

The Miles Davis Movie: HBO and Miles Davis and a 10-hour movie (oh my!)

car-miles1 The Playlist posted some news and opinion this week about Steven Soderbergh’s “Che” film, Part One: “The Argentine” and Part Two: “Guerilla.”

They pulled a quote from a good interview w/ Soderbergh about dividing the film into two parts and what he’d do differently in retrospect.

“Now I look at it and wish we’d just gone to HBO and done 10 hours. I really do, because there’s still so much stuff that was interesting to me that we just couldn’t do. I mean, there’s a whole other movie, at least, to deal with: His time in Cuba [after the revolution], and especially his time in the Congo, which is fascinating.”

I already offered up the idea of a feature film versus Ken Burns’ documentary for the better way to produce a Miles Davis biopic, but the idea of connecting ’10 hours’ and ‘HBO’ for a Miles Davis story definitely piques my interest.

Look, I’m all set to get my popcorn, M&Ms and diet Coke, take a back right aisle seat (that’s just where I handle my movie-going business) and enjoy the life and times of Miles Davis on the big screen.

But I’ll allow myself to daydream about a 5-part/10-hour HBO movie event that has the luxury of time to tell the complete story. But even with all the panache, budget, awards and legacy that comes with HBO productions, a Miles Davis biopic on the pay channel still doesn’t have the same…what?…feel?… of watching the story unfold on the silver screen. That might be nostalgia taking hold of me, but there’s something about the ‘movies’ that adds that special touch.

(The above doesn’t to apply to films that are terrible and leave you hating the medium completely because something so awful was produced and only exists to waste your good time and money. We all have our personal list.)

But I digress…

I am wholly confident the feature film being developed by Don Cheadle and team is going to be a knock-out, but it’s cool to think what Cheadle could do with 10 hours to tell the Miles Davis story.

Speaking of HBO, there’s a project listed on IMDB titled The Miles Davis Documentary, a project written and directed by Christopher Wilkinson, who is also co-writing the Miles Davis biopic with Stephen J. Rivele.

I have no clue what this project is about (besides Miles Davis that is), or if it has anything to do with the movie. But it’s listed on HBO’s development slate, so I can only assume that’s where it’s scheduled to run.

Composer and bandleader Bob Belden is penciled in as one of the producers, and has some connection to Miles Davis (Miles from India). Its running time is listed at 90 minutes, so I’m wondering if it’s going to focus on a specific part of Miles Davis (“Kind of Blue,” legacy, etc.) or will just compress his life and times into an engaging hour and a half.

Big screen, cable, webisode, Movie of the Week… I’m just ready to see the life of Miles Davis, on any kind of screen.

The Miles Davis Movie: A few (more) words about the movie poster

postcard If there’s one topic that gets me going it’s talking about what the movie poster for the Miles Davis biopic should look like. Back in June I threw out some ideas for the one-sheet, which remains one of the more popular topics around here.

It’s a terrific subject because we’re so inundated with movie marketing — be it billboards, magazines, newspapers, websites etc. A movie poster provides instant reaction, triggering certain emotions, even at the most fundamental level, that might pique our interest or reinforce indifference.

I, for one, am eager to see what the poster will look like down the road because it will for sure clue us in on the film’s theme, its scale and the direction of the marketing. If it’s a black poster with the words ‘Miles Davis’ positioned in the middle (with the basic info a the bottom) then we know the film is going for that mysterious, indie-flick vibe. I’ll add that I think that style would be a darn good teaser poster.

I always revert back to Saul Bass as a proper template, mainly because I love his work. Speaking of Mr. Bass, when you’re done here shoot over to, which is loaded with posters, videos and all kinds of Saul Bass goodness.

A good movie poster is like…is like a portal into the film’s soul. Or something like that. Anyway, it’s always obvious when a movie poster ‘works.’ I’m this close to having a contest to design a version of the Miles Davis movie poster. Now I’m thinking collage style might be nice; just a variety of cool images thrown together, like tossing a box of photos on a table.

So… today I’m reading on First Showing about the four new individual posters for “G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra.”

While the Miles Davis movie is not positioned as an ensemble, I still thought it might be interesting (see: cool for me to own) to have a set of individual posters capturing ‘Miles Davis’ at different points of his career – each covered in the film, of course.

You can have young Miles, late 1950s/early 1960s Miles, fusion Miles and late ’80s Miles.

I want now!

miles-young 50smiles miles-seventies 80s-miles