First Hit: Brings to life some of the mystery surrounding a deeply complex man who expressed himself best through the music he created.
Miles Davis created a unique, inventive, and improvisational form of jazz. In doing so he emotionally moved people in ways they never knew before. As Miles’ pushed his soul to create his live music, the audience was discovering new feelings in their soul while listening to him play.
This movie is narrated by Carl Lumbly, whose raspy voice was equivalent to Davis’ voice post-surgery. This throat surgery did not affect his playing, only his voice.
We are presented with a quick overview of Davis’ upbringing and I was surprised to learn that his family, specifically his father, was a self-made wealthy man, the film states. He was one of the wealthiest black men in all of the United States. His father was a dentist but also ran an income producing farm outside St. Louis. The film also points out that being a child of a wealthy man didn’t stop him from racial injustice both as young boy and as a grown man.
One nugget from his youth is that his mother wanted him to play the violin but Miles wanted to play the trumpet and as with most things in life, he got his way.
In his late teens, he signed himself up to Julliard to learn about music and music theory while also spending his nights sitting in on the jazz bands lining each side of 52nd Street. Sitting in with some of the greats, he quickly found his stride and was able to contribute to the band’s sound.
Starting his own band, he quickly became an audience draw through his extemporaneous innovations and arrangements. He loved experimenting and learning more about music and his soul through the music he created.
I was drawn to the section in the film when he made his first trip to Paris. He was shocked to be in a culture that lacked the kind of racism he found in his own country. For the first time he felt free of his color. Coming back to the United States was such a racial shock that he started to spiral down. All this lead to the part of the story where he ended up on heroin.
His life became all about finding the next score. Broke and nearly living on the streets, his father came to New York and dragged him back to St. Louis where he got clean. The film also chronicles his later issues with cocaine and alcohol.
The film documents the development of his sound through the 60’s and 70’s with the various bands he fronted, the albums he made, and how he made them. He wanted the musicians he gathered to play deeper from their soul than each of the band members ever played before and he pushed each one to stand out to make their sound. He wanted collaboration.
There is a fair amount of homemade film footage of Miles as well as photos and the montage of putting this all together worked really well. Additionally, Director Stanley Nelson used interviews with fellow musicians that ended up being enlightening about Miles and heartwarming to the film watcher. We see old film footage of these musicians as young men, then on the screen being interviewed, older, wiser, and still in awe of what happened when they played with Miles.
The film also chronicles his various marriages and girlfriends while including interviews with three of his former wives.
The film does an excellent job of letting some of the various types of music Miles created to flow in and out of the scenes. Some of the music we hear live, as they were creating it in the studio or on stage, and other times, the music is from what he recorded.
Miles comes across as a troubled man who was steeped in finding ways to express himself in the only medium in which he felt safe, music. And in this realm, he was a genius.
Nelson did a great job of putting this story together. Lumbly did a wonderful job of speaking for Davis
Overall: Although I’m not a jazz aficionado, in a quiet dark room, hearing Davis’ music takes me to places I’ve never been before.