Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, a documentary on the life and music of the late jazz icon, will screen in New York and L.A. theaters this August. Directed by Stanley Nelson, who has also helmed docs on the Black Panthers and Jonestown, the film premiered at Sundance earlier this year.
A new trailer shows how Birth of the Cool traces the arc of Davis’ career through his early bebop years, the formation of his revolutionary Sixties quintet and the electric explorations that followed. Narration drawn from the trumpeter’s 1989 autobiography — read in a raspy, Miles-esque tone by actor Carl Lumbly — and interviews with Davis associates ranging from core collaborators Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter to his first wife, Frances Taylor Davis, and admirers such as Carlos Santana complements footage of the trumpeter. The overall theme is one of constant evolution: “If anybody wants to keep creating, they have to be about change,” Lumbly says at one point, quoting Davis.
The trailer also previews portions of the film that deal with Davis’ heroin addiction and romantic relationships. According to a statement from Nelson, the director was after an unflinching portrait of a complex and at times reprehensible figure:
“The story of Miles Davis has often been told as the story of a drug-addled genius. You rarely see a portrait of a man that worked hard at honing his craft, a man who deeply studied and understood classical music. An elegant man who could render ballads with such tenderness, yet hold rage in his heart from the racism he faced throughout his life. He could be extremely generous, yet rescind that generosity on a whim. He could be shamelessly romantic with the women in his life, then unspeakably cruel.
“Miles was a man apart — in life, in love, in music — and there has never been a major documentary about this man who never looked back, rarely apologized, and changed everything we thought we knew about jazz, about music — several times in his career. Miles was ever-evolving, and it was up to the rest of the world to catch up. In unpacking the mythology that surrounds him — using his own words — I think we’ll be presenting the definitive, nuanced account of Miles Davis, the man behind the legend.
Released via Abramorama and Eagle Rock Entertainment, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool opens at New York City’s Film Forum on August 23rd and L.A.’s Landmark on August 30th, and in other cities starting in September.