Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

Miles Davis was one of the greatest musicians ever. He was also a nasty motherfucker. Stanley Nelson’s documentary Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool pivots on these two immutable elements of the jazz trumpeter’s existence with a penetrating, analytical approach that doesn’t stint on emotion. It’s about as rewarding a dissection of a great artist and problematic human as one could hope for in under two hours. Nelson enlists an elite cadre of Davis’s bandmates, wives and lovers, childhood friends, family members, promoters, music critics and historians, managers, label bosses, and Carlos Santana to provide key insights into this tormented genius. They’re generous with praise, but not afraid to call out the man’s faults, of which there were plenty. While the film’s commenters deem Davis the epitome of a hip black man who took no shit, he was also physically and mentally abusive to some of his wives and girlfriends, actions that would likely get him “canceled” today. Nelson fairly presents Davis’s blemishes and virtues, but he ultimately can’t help elevating Davis to godhead status.

by Dave Segal
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Stanley Nelson