The Miles Davis Movie: Who’s going to play Teo Macero?

Teo Macero was a record producer, composer and saxophonist most famous for his role in producing a series of albums by Miles Davis in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Helping to build Miles Davis albums like Bitches Brew, In a Silent Way and Get Up With It, Mr. Macero (pronounced TEE-oh mah-SEH-roh) used techniques partly inspired by composers like Edgard Varse, who had been using tape-editing and electronic effects to help shape the music. Such techniques were then new to jazz and have largely remained separate from it since. But the electric-jazz albums he helped Davis create–especially Bitches Brew, which remains one of the best-selling albums by a jazz artist — have deeper echoes in almost 40 years of experimental pop, like work by Can, Brian Eno and Radiohead. (aaj)

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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?

miles_davis_sorcerer

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 & John Coltrane

* Who is going to play John Coltrane?

The Miles Davis Movie: The table read

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This post is inspired by a photograph I had seen in last month’s issue of Vanity Fair; the shot is of cast members and director Judd Apatow during a read-through from the upcoming comedy Funny People.

Looking over Apatow, Aubrey Plaza, Eric Bana, Seth Rogen, Adam Sandler, Leslie Mann, Jonah Hill, RZA, and Jason Schwartzman, scripts and notes in hand, I – of course! – wondered what a table read for the Miles Davis movie might look like one glorious day.

This is really just an excuse to discuss casting for the Miles Davis biopic. But seeing as the cast list presently stands at one there’s not much to talk about besides who we’d like to see play certain roles.

Seeing as I’ve been watching a lot of The Wire lately I’ll submit the ‘Bunk’ man himself, Wendell Pierce, for the role of Charlie Parker. This idea was originally suggested by longtime reader Ed.

I’m also still high on Common for the role of John Coltrane.

The Miles Davis Movie: Who is going to play John Coltrane?

John Coltrane. Whenever someone decides to make that biopic we’ll happily rev up the movie Blog right away. A true jazz giant, Coltrane was a revolutionary right alongside Charlie Parker.

He hit the limelight after joining the famed Miles Davis quintet (with Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones). The First Great Quintet would go on to record some extraordinary music together between 1955 and 57.

And so we come to the Miles Davis biopic and one of many ‘big’ questions:

Who should play John Coltrane?

They could go the unknown route and cast someone we’ve never heard of, which I guess is fine, as I’m not expecting the cast to be star-studded from top to bottom. It’s not “Ocean’s 11.”

Off the top of my head I like Isaiah Washington, Hill Harper, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mekhi Phifer and Delroy Lindo – but I don’t know if any of them scream John Coltrane. I’m sure I’m forgetting others, but I’m just riffin’ here. I also like Bokeem Woodbine, both for his cool name and his role as Fathead Newman in “Ray.”

How about Common? He’s appeared in flicks like “American Gangster” and “Smokin’ Aces” and definitely has charisma.

Look, the John Coltrane character might only be on screen for 5 minutes, but it’s still an important part! OK, what about Harry J. Lennix? He’s a good actor. I’m a fan.

And whether or not musicians from the First and Second Great Quintets (besides Coltrane) will be featured prominently remains to be seen, yet one would have to imagine the likes of Charlie Parker, George Avakian, Gil Evans and Cicely Tyson would need to make an appearance in any biopic of Miles Davis.

They decided to have Larenz Tate play Quincy Jones in “Ray,” so clearly finding a John Coltrane isn’t impossible.

Many readers have mentioned Denzel Washington for the Coltrane role, which would be great, but I have a feeling he’s sticking to being the leading man these days.

Unless it’s a supporting role so rousing that it screams Oscar attention I can’t see Washington onboard, but I could be wrong. Perhaps it’s just the kind of small, yet powerful movie role he can get excited about.

He certainly knows his way around the jazz world and playing an instrument having starred in Spike Lee’s “Mo Better Blues.”

Don’t forget about Wesley Snipes. If the guy isn’t in jail for tax evasion I’d consider him for the part. Yet another vet of “Mo Better Blues.”

I’ll be interested to see if any notable talent gets attached to the Miles Davis movie. Maybe the producers plan to keep it stocked with unknowns, leaving Cheadle as the A-lister.

The Miles Davis Movie: Who is going to play Gil Evans?

The Miles Davis-Gil Evans relationship fascinates me: two creative souls producing brilliant music together. I absolutely love the work they created; Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain are simply wonderful.

A musical partnership on par with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn I say.

Like Miles, Gil Evans was a Jazz Pioneer.

While he is likely most famous for collaborating with Miles Davis on a variety of seminal jazz records, a quick look at the projects where Evans took part as arranger, conductor or musician is to witness the evolution of jazz music.

So… who is going to play Gil Evans in the Miles Davis biopic?

I’ll just say that it’s an important role for the film – perhaps comparable to the role of Ahmet Ertegun, played by the talented Curtis Armstrong in “Ray.”

There are all these great anecdotes about Evans’ apartment behind a New York City Chinese laundry that turned into a hub for musicians to work on new music styles, breaking away from the prevailing bebop method.

So right there I see plenty of ideas for the film. Here’s Evans, working as arranger for Claude Thornhill’s orchestra (1941-1948), and then all of a sudden he’s partnering with Miles Davis, Gerry Mulligan and many others on what would later become the Birth of the Cool project.

And then of course there’s Evans’ special relationship with Davis, which would produce their triumvirate of big band/orchestral jazz collaborations: Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain.

Plenty of ink has been spilled over the years regarding the magnitude of aforementioned three albums.

One of the great musical teams of all-time?

Yes.

So who to get the nod? How about James Cromwell?

The Miles Davis/Gil Evans ‘partnership,’ I believe, is a vital element of the Miles Davis biopic. Look, they could make a movie about Gil Evans, so there’s no doubt he is a central figure to not only the life and music of Miles Davis but to jazz music as a whole.

I am excited about seeing the character of Evans on screen. I’m also curious as to how the screenwriters and filmmakers are planning to bring one of the great joint ventures in music history to life on the big screen.

The Miles Davis Movie: Who is going to play Charlie Parker?

Of course Charlie Parker will be in the film. How could he not be? His influence on Davis is significant and certainly well documented.

In 1944, the Billy Eckstine band visited St. Louis. Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker were members of the band, and Davis was taken on as third trumpet for a couple of weeks because of the illness of Buddy Anderson. (wikipedia)

Then there’s the story of Davis leaving Julliard to seek out Bird in and out of the clubs of New York City for a real education in music (and life, I would imagine).

Davis would later join Parker’s ‘unofficial’ quintet and play on many of Bird’s more notable bebop tracks that were pressed by labels like Savoy and Dial.

I cannot imagine a biopic about Miles Davis that doesn’t feature Parker. Now, who should play the legendary ‘Yardbird’?

Yes, Oscar-winner Forrest Whitaker tackled the role of Parker in Clint Eastwood’s poignant film about the troubled musician’s life, but that was in 1988. I’m not sure if reprising his role is a good idea.

Maybe they go the unknown route, which they might for any number of roles to be cast, but a ‘name’ actor can always bring a little extra pizzazz to the flick.

Is Mos Def available? What about Jeffrey Wright? Neither has the physical heft of Parker, but it’s a movie – they can do anything.

Terence Howard? I like Mekhi Phifer as well. What about Delroy Lindo? I always thought he was cool, and a good actor.

Hey, they could always get Robert Downey Jr. seeing as he’s playing the role of a black man in the forthcoming “Tropic Thunder,” which I’m excited to see this summer.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, but when the actor closely resembles the person they’re playing it definitely helps sell the role. Even though it was a throwaway part in “Ray,” I don’t recall Lorenz Tate looking that much like a young Quincy Jones, but it was fine, and I was able to go with it in a movie context.

Without any knowledge of how the biopic is going to be mapped out it’s difficult to know just how the story will unfold.

I mean… we ‘know’ the story, it’s just a matter of how the narrative will be presented over a 2-hour plus film.

But we know Bird is in. No way to avoid it. The question is who plays Bird?