Miles Davis Featured In New Book About Jazz

Between 1942 and 1972, jazz changed more than it had in all the years before, or would in all the years after. When this period began, Miles Davis was a high-school student, moonlighting in St. Louis dance bands; as it ended, he had become the avatar of a blend of jazz and deep funk that only made real sense to listeners on hard drugs.

In between, Davis traced a line from a kind of swing-rooted music heard on “Au Privave,” an early number cut as a Charlie Parker sideman, into dalliances with classical forms, R&B and electrified sounds.

The above is the opening of Tim Howard’s Wall Street Journal review of the new book Why Jazz Happened by Marc Myers.

Definitely looks like a selection to add to the bedside table for future reading.

Miles Davis, Lover Of Fast Cars

lambo-milesDuring a search for All Things Miles Davis (our motto around here), I stumbled by Luxist and found a photo of a red, Lamborghini Miura – one of Miles’ favorites. Yes, Miles Davis loved his flashy cars.

Chris Weige, formerly of Downbeat Magazine, provides a teriffic history lesson about Miles’ affinity for fast cars… and the occasional handgun:

While it’s been rumored that he cruised around in his Lamborghini Miura with a .357 magnum under the seat and enjoyed outrunning the fuzz with people sitting shotgun, Davis was arrested in 1970 on weapons charges when he was sitting in his red Ferrari and an officer noticed he had accented his ensemble of a turban, white sheepskin coat and snakeskin pants with a pair brass knuckles.

One might have thought brass knuckles might not be enough protection, considering he had been shot in the hip while sitting in his car less than a year earlier in an alleged extortion plot. Two years after his arrest he crashed his Lambo and snapped both of his ankles, leaving him hospitalized for eight weeks and with a bum hip that required two surgeries and kept him down from 1975-81, which is when he developed a hankering for pain pills.

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


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

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.