The Miles Davis Story

“Trumpeter-bandleader Miles Davis (1926-91) was a catalyst for the major innovations in post-bop, cool jazz, hard-bop, and jazz-fusion, and his wispy and emotional trumpet tones were some of the most evocative sounds ever heard. He was also one of the most identifiable and misunderstood pop icons of the 20th century. This engrossing British documentary shows the complex layers of this magnificent and mercurial artist. Through rare footage and interviews, we learn of Davis’s middle-class upbringing and his early days with bop legends Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. The documentary bluntly deals with Davis’s narcotic nadir and his rise from the depths to become a bona fide jazz icon in the mid-’50s to late ’60s. But the most penetrating and poignant portraits of Davis come from musicians who played with and were influenced by him, including Shirley Horn, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, and Keith Jarrett.

Outstanding musical selections include modal masterpieces “So What” and “Blue in Green,” the haunting soundtrack to the 1957 French film Ascenseur pour l’achafaud, his romantic rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” and his collaborations with arranger Gil Evans. The most surprising aspects of Davis’s personality that emerge from this film are his shyness, vulnerability, and, yes, humility. As he said himself, “Don’t call me a legend. Call me Miles Davis.” –Eugene Holley Jr.

The Miles Davis Story explores the music & the man behind the public image from Miles middle class upbringing in racially segregated East St. Louis to the last years when he traveled the world like a rock star.”

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9 thoughts on “The Miles Davis Story

  1. As much as I have loved and learned from his genius over the decades, I have to say there is a sort of emotional cloud over his music for me ever since I learned that he frequently beat Cicely Tyson, who was not only his companion for some years, but actually saved his life.

  2. Miles also admitted to occasions in his life when he would turn to pimping women for money.

    I agree that his genius in no way trumps the fact he abused women and bullied men. I also understand the emotional conflicts that occur when we try to appreciate the genius and ignore the abuser. But having been disappointed so many times in my life by the discovery my heroes (in music and in the struggle) were far from “heroic” offstage or outside the public gaze, I decided it is best to separate the artistry from the artist, the leadership from the leader, etc. I know it is a compromise of conscience and ethics, but if I failed to do so not many of my idols would be left standing when the dust settled.

  3. Thank you for this look at Miles from all sides. We all have our good and bad sides. The thing that makes Miles the musical genius he was is the accumulation of every moment and every person who was a part of his life. All I know is the profound effect he has had on my musical direction. I saw one of his last concerts. Even though he had already shaped my direction through his recordings, that concert changed my life. So I can only focus on the positive my hero did in his life. Whether we are listeners or players, he added a spark of joy to all our lives.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Jomo.

      You were the first subscriber to this blog and thus supported it from its inauguration. Early this week it crossed a milestone of 60,000 views. I plan to be more consistent this year in posting materials to build on this growth. Stay tuned and drop me a comment from time to time to keep me going.

  4. I do want to clarify that although I have that character problem with Miles the person, as opposed to Miles the great musician, I think the video is outstanding. I’m very glad you shared it, and I have recommended it to many friends. I have far more empathy with his life and troubles than you might imagine.

    I was fortunate to have grown up in various musical worlds, both Jazz and classical. Teddy Wilson was my godfather (I am not a young woman 😉 ), Herbie’s late sister, Jean Hancock, was a best friend classmate, so our families were close in those days. And of course I heard Herbie play with Miles, and then over the years when he’d come to Boston area clubs. My older son, Cliff Truesdell, went to Berklee.

    And for a third era, the cover photo of my, again late, dear friend, Marion Brown’s Geechee Recollections was shot on my front porch in that very Geechee locale, Cambridge, MA. Years later, he promised me my own song from those days if I visited in Florida, where he lived at the end, and let him make us a fabulous pot of gumbo.

    It was a joy to talk on the phone, he was still painting a bit, but I wanted to remember the person I knew – – so no song, no gumbo.

    [I comment on blog posts every now and again; perhaps I mentioned some of this over the years. Sorry for any repetition]

    • I am glad you shared the Miles video with friends and colleagues. At the same time, as I stated previously, I understand the challenges we face in these circumstances. It is not easy to separate the man (Miles, in this case) from his music. I learned this as a teenager when I began to meet a number of musicians that I had admired and even “worshiped” only to discover they were complex human beings who often had a lot of personal baggage and the occasional demon riding their coattails. Those encounters and my subsequent disillusionment forced me to decide early in my youth to focus on their artistry and ignore the unsavory and even self-destructive aspects of their lifestyles and behaviors.

      That being said … I have always admired Teddy Wilson’s musicianship and his deep and uncompromising commitment to human rights worldwide. In my opinion, he remains vastly underrated and under-appreciated in both of those aspects of his life and career. It must have been a joy for you to have had such a brilliant artist for a godfather.

      Geechee Recollections is my favorite of Marion Brown’s recordings. I love Jean Toomer’s “Cane,” and Brown’s rendition of “Karintha” is beyond amazing. I have often used it as a model in my own work as I explore various ways of combining text and music.

      You have not mentioned any of this previously in your comments here on Ourstorian. I hope when time permits you will share more of your experiences with me. And if you have written anything about Wilson, Brown, Hancock, or any other musical greats, I would love to read it.

      Regards,

      John

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