Today in history…
Miles Dewey Davis was born on May 26, 1926 in Alton, Illinois, to Dr. Miles Henry Davis and Cleota Mae (Henry) Davis. He would’ve been 90 years old today, were he still alive!
Over the last 2 years, we’ve been tracking 2 different feature film projects on the legend – one that’s complete and now in theaters; the other that, as far as we know, is still in development.
First, obviously, is Don Cheadle’s unconventional bio which finally got made, after many years in limbo. It was released in theaters on April 1, and has, thus far, grossed over $2.4 million. Sony has announced that it will release the film on Blu-ray and Digital on July 19th, for those who want to own it, or haven’t seen it yet (if only because it hasn’t screened at a theater near you).
Columbia/Legacy is also commemorating the 90th birthday of Davis with the release of two very special new Miles Davis projects:
– First, “Miles Ahead’s” original motion picture soundtrack combines 11 highlights from the legendary trumpeter/composer/bandleader’s Prestige and Columbia Records catalogs with original new compositions written and performed by Grammy Award-winning jazz/hip-hop artist Robert Glasper. Select new tracks on the soundtrack album include guest appearances by Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, rapper Pharoahe Monch and more. Both the CD and LP packages feature revelatory new liner notes penned by Don Cheadle.
“We culled the library for every style Miles touched…looking for cues to bridge key moments, bring others into focus. The stuff a good score is supposed to do. Miles made it easier. His music is multi-faceted and score friendly,” wrote Cheadle in his notes.
The album features 11 essential tracks spanning 1956 to 1981, select dialogue from the film featuring Cheadle in character, and five original compositions written, co-written, produced or performed exclusively for “Miles Ahead” by Robert Glasper. These include “What’s Wrong with That?” (a track that closes the movie imagining Cheadle as Miles playing in the present day with guest performers Glasper, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Gary Clark, Jr. and Esperanza Spalding and Antonio Sanchez) and “Gone 2015,” an end-credits song featuring guest verses from rapper Pharoahe Monch.
– The second new Davis project is “Everything’s Beautiful,”, reimagined interpretations of Miles Davis’ music produced by Glasper with musical guest artists including Bilal, Illa J, Erykah Badu, Phonte, Hiatus Kaiyote, Laura Mvula, KING, Georgia Ann Muldrow, John Scofield, Ledisi, and Stevie Wonder. A fresh exploration of the music of Miles Davis, the album incorporates Davis’ original recordings into new collaborative soundscapes and will be available tomorrow, Friday, May 27 (the day after Miles’ 90th birthday).
Both releases are available at the official Miles Davis store on milesdavis.com.
The second Miles Davis film in the works will be directed by George Tillman Jr. and will be loosely based on Gregory Davis’ book, “Dark Magus: The Jekyll and Hyde Life of Miles Davis” (Gregory Davis being Miles Davis’ eldest son). The plan for Tillman’s project, which will be called “Miles Davis, Prince of Darkness,” is to produce a more conventional biopic (the producers previously mentioned “Walk The Line” and “Ray” as potential models that they’ll follow). No word on where this one currently stands.
As for past Miles Davis films that never moved forward, before Cheadle’s film, telling Davis’ story on film was a challenge in Hollywood for at least 20 years. I believe it’s mostly known that Spike Lee and Wesley Snipes, at one time (2008 or so), paired up for a James Brown movie (which never happened; Tate Taylor would eventually take over the project that Chadwick Boseman starred in). But did you know that, about 15 years before that, Lee and Snipes were to team up for a Miles Davis biopic, with Snipes, of course, starring, and Spike directing?
Former Columbia Records chief, Walter Yetnikoff, announced a planned biopic in 1993, starring Snipes. But despite securing rights to Davis’ autobiography, and talking with Spike Lee about directing, the Yetnikoff project, tentatively titled “Million Dollar Lips,” stalled.
Yetnikoff planned to finance the entire film himself, which was to be produced by Preston Holmes and Fernando Suluchin (who were associate producers of Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X”). Their stated goal was to keep the project independent to avoid any Hollywood studio interference. The script was to be penned by Charles Fuller, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Soldier’s Play” (which later became the award-winning film “A Soldier’s Story,” starring Denzel Washington).
In terms of past films the producers were looking at for inspiration, Holmes said back in 1996, that “Raging Bull” and “Amadeus” were models. Interesting mix certainly.
At the time (when the project was first announced in 1993), Snipes was quite *hot* as an actor, coming off hits like “Passenger 57,” “White Men Can’t Jump,” “New Jack City,” and 2 Spike Lee joints in “Jungle Fever” (which he starred in) and “Mo’ Better Blues” (which was Denzel Washington’s show, but Snipes played a pivotal role). So his rising star during those years, as well as his connection to Spike Lee, likely helped support his casting in Yetnikoff’s Miles Davis project, with Yetnikoff wanting Spike Lee to direct.
So if you didn’t know before, now you know!
You’ll find further information on the forgotten Spike Lee/Wesley Snipes attempt in the book “The Miles Davis Reader.”
Happy birthday Miles Davis… wherever you may be! It’s certainly possible that the completion and release of Cheadle’s film may open the door to even more filmed explorations of the man’s life, whether on the big, or small screens. There’s certainly a lot of material there.