Jazz Legend Davis, Some Say, Was Miles Ahead


After a long run of acclaimed albums, Miles Davis, with a generous stipend from Columbia Records, stepped away from recording and touring. In fact, Davis stepped away from almost everybody during this hiatus. The movie Miles Ahead centers on a period during that hiatus, and flashes back to some other events in the life that had affected his decision to retreat. Don Cheadle stars as Davis, a man who had little contact with the world as he mainly kept to himself in 1979 New York. Columbia, though, wants to know when Davis plans to start working again. A Rolling Stone reporter named Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) wants to interview Davis about his life, and has been promised access by the musician. With Columbia and the reporter not going away, Davis finally lets Braden inside to accompany him to Columbia.

At the label, Davis deals with an executive, and meets manager Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg), whose clients include a young trumpeter called Junior (Keith Stansfield). After leaving the record offices, Braden helps Miles score some cocaine. They retreat to the Davis home to use it, where Davis reminisces about his one-time creative muse, Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi), whom he would later marry. His ways, though, cause her to eventually leave him. When he goes to get them a drink, Dave discovers a tape and sheet music that Miles had done. He also discovers an acquaintance of the man is throwing a party, which Hunter and Junior have crashed. They, like Dave, have discovered the music items, and soon take them. When the party becomes too loud, Miles orders everyone to leave. That leads him to also discover the missing material, and the connection to Harper and Junior. Dave and Miles pursue, and soon come face to face with Harper, Junior, and an armed assistant to Hamilton. Shots are fired, Miles's belongings exchange hands a couple of more times, and nobody but Miles expects what they hear on the tape once it's played.

Miles Ahead, much like The Buddy Holly Story, is very loosely based on the facts about Davis and his life. For example, Rolling Stone never had a reporter named Dave Braden, though the magazine did share a curiosity about Davis during his inactive period. The parts involving Harper, which are also fictionalized, come across as sensational. The movie, nevertheless, provides an interesting look at the man and the behavior that drove his music, as well as the behavior that made him want to take a break. The movie, however, seems to be geared more toward those who have a wealth of knowledge about Davis, including star-director-co-writer Cheadle. Cheadle focuses on the personal struggles of Davis more than on Davis the musician who set standards of excellence for his play on the trumpet.

Cheadle, however, does well as the troubled Miles. He knows what he wants in a recording, but he tends to be that possessive when the music stops. Even though Miles knew Frances had a successful career as a dancer, he made her give that up for him. As the marriage progressed, though, Miles became increasingly self-centered and involved in drug use. Even as he grew more private, he still knew what he wanted from his music. He even listens to some suggestions from Junior when the young artist hears some of the things Miles has done. I also enjoyed McGregor as Dave, the journalist who gets the story while also acting as Miles's partner in misadventure. Corinealdi also has good moments as Frances, the woman who falls for Miles and remains as devoted as she can (The real Frances Davis, now 86 years old, made an acknowledged input to this biopic).

In addition to his contributions to jazz, Davis also has received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement awardm as well as induction into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Miles Ahead, which was also the title of one of his albums, shows a musician who left the field for a time, but all that did was leave him more time with his more destructive tendencies. A few people, though, persisted in reaching out to the musician in him as they hoped he would emerge from his home and start working on his music more actively. Miles Ahead takes a look at a phase where a jazz great needed to prove to himself he wanted to be an active musician once again. Miles Davis may not have enjoyed some of the questions about a return, but he had the same idea others did - just in his time frame.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Miles Ahead three stars. Come blow a horn again.

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