Mile Davis: Birth of the Cool at a Screen Near You

Miles Davis Movie
A still from Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool by Stanley Nelson, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Guy Le Querrec.

Few artists in the pantheon of contemporary music have shaped the American soundscape as much as Miles Davis. Coming to theaters in time for the anniversary of the jazz trumpeter and composer’s death 28-years ago this September is documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson’s much-anticipated Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool.

Borrowing its name from Davis’ groundbreaking 1957 Capitol Records release, the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this past January. It begins its theatrical run at New York’s Film Forum this Friday, August 23, followed by screenings in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles through September.

Where it all began.

Boasting full access to the artist’s, the film features never-before-seen footage, including studio outtakes from his recording sessions, and rare photos as well as new interviews with the likes of Quincy Jones and Carlos Santana.

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool joins a line-up of music-themed releases from New York-based distributor Abramorama, which has also distributed docs on ZZ TOP, Stevie Nicks, and a biopic about another trumpeter, Buddy Bolden, the “unsung American hero who invented jazz.”

The Davis doc has won fans in both the music and film press with critics at Rolling Stone calling the film “essential” and Variety finding the film “a tantalizing portrait: rich, probing, mournful, romantic, triumphant, tragic, exhilarating, and blisteringly honest.”

“The story of Miles Davis — who he was as a man and artist — has often been told as the tale of a drug-addled genius,” says Nelson, a Macarthur Genius fellow, known for his documentaries that examine African American history. In 2013, he received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama.

“You rarely see a portrait of a man that worked hard at honing his craft, a man who deeply studied all forms of music, from Baroque to classical Indian,” says Nelson, who became fascinated with Davis while in college and had long considered telling his story. “An elegant man who could render ballads with such tenderness yet hold rage in his heart from the racism he faced throughout his life.”

By Daedalus Howell

Daedalus Howell is the writer-director of the films Pill Head (on Amazon) and the upcoming Wolf Story. He is the author, most recently, of the novel "Quantum Deadline" and editor of The North Bay Bohemian and The Pacific Sun. Learn how he went from small-town newspaperman to a feature film director here.

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