Produced for the 10th anniversary of his death, this 2001 documentary recalls the many milestones in the life and works of trumpeter Miles Davis, the jazziest jazz ever got and the rockiest rock ever got in one man.
They say the only constant in jazz is change, and no one more strongly embodies that idea than Miles Davis; the St. Louis-raised bandleader who spent nearly 50 years at music’s cutting edge, constantly rebelling against the status quo and propelling the genre forward with a rare tenacity. Alongside this year’s Birth of the Cool documentary, the film also explores the duality of his character on and off stage; his sweet, lyrical tone seemingly at odds with the coarseness of his personality, a dichotomy the movie puts across as different manifestations of his vulnerability.
The doc is frank about his shortcomings and unshowy in its approach as Nucleus trumpeter Ian Carr guides us from one musical revolution to the next, each individually enough to define a musician’s career; radical, controversial innovations in hard bop, cool jazz and fusion, and always in designer Italian suits or funky colourful jackets. So prolific was Miles’ genius that fans will inevitably find a couple of their favourite albums neglected here, and there’s imbalance in the lengthy discussion of his latter-day output as classics like ‘On the Corner’ and ‘Porgy and Bess‘ are ignored.
Less controversial is the quality of contributions from friends, family and collaborators, all of whom have insight and impersonations up their sleeves; whether it’s Gil Evans’ assertion that “he changed the tone of the trumpet for the first time since Louis Armstrong,” or Chick Corea’s attestation to his cookery skills. Davis also speaks for himself in the beautiful form of performance and scratchy-voiced interviews from near the end of his life. We’re left after 2 detailed hours in no doubt over the artist’s importance; only of our own adequacy.