July 28, 2021

The Birth of the cool

The documentary shows the chiaroscuro in the trumpeter’s life, merit for the great work of the director Stanley Nelson. Photo: courtesy

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Special for The New Morning

In 1955, Miles Davis He managed to join the grid of the emblematic Newport Festival and, from the impact of that performance, he obtained a contract with Columbia, one of the largest record labels in history. He had been dealing with his drug addiction and needed a boost of recognition for his work, also financially. From that moment on, it won the approval not only of its audience, but also of jazz critics and a certain segment of the white public that, until not long ago, viewed the genre as little more than entertainment.. From then on, he was going to accept it as something serious and as a major art form, starting with Miles’ pure, elegant and sophisticated way of playing the trumpet, as well as creating a new style in the genre: modal jazz. .

The right place, at the right time

It is hard to imagine how determining for Miles, in shaping his sound, having played in the orchestra of Billy Eckstine, with only 18 years old, along with two already consolidated figures, who would later become legend: Charlie Parker y Dizzie Gillespie. After two years there, he jumped into Parker’s own group, in the throes of modern jazz. From then on, his career would never stop (except between 1975 and 1980, when he stopped playing) hitting constant leaps and always anticipating the course of the next jazz revolution, over almost 50 years. Moved to New York in 1944, he joins the prestigious Juilliard School, mecca of jaszera training. During the day he studied and at night he listened to the priests of the era and played in the jazz clubs of the mythical 52nd Street. In those days, the leap to the modernity of jazz was forged. Davis was in the right place and time. It was the hotbed of the best of the future of the genre.

The documentary covers all the musical stages of the trumpeter, nuanced with his dense personality, in which his addiction problems appear, an implacable character with his musicians and his possessive jealousy with women, reaching violence with Frances Taylor who, cautiously, parted on time. All this in a fascinating personality, for his artistic stature and a unique creative style, of a sophistication never seen before in jazz.

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John Coltrane, Cannoball Aderley, Miles Davis and Bill Evans during the recording of “Kind of Blue”.

The great achievement of the documentary is to show the chiaroscuro in the life of the trumpeter, thanks to the great work of the director Stanley Nelson, a documentary filmmaker specialized in Afro-descendant themes. The script is based on Miles, the autobiographyby Miles Davis & Quincy Troupe (1989) and offers testimonials from jazz legends who played with him: Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Heath, Marcus Miller, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, Lenny White y Quincy Jones, among others. In addition, ex-partners, children, producers and jazz historians appear.

The birth of cool jazz

In 1948, Davis organized a group of nine musicians with an unusual wind and arrangement section by Gil Evans. That nonet played for a short time and recorded in 1949, but the record (The Birth of the cool) wasn’t released until 1957. It was a landmark for more relaxed musical treatment and had a great influence on West Coast cool jazz.

In 1949, Miles Davis traveled to France. His first stay and his brush with the Parisian intelligentsia put him elsewhere, based on the approval of his jazz aesthetic and his relationship with the singer Juliette Greco, with whom he fell in love. The return to his country was depressing and very difficult and one of his worst relapses into drug use, especially due to suffering from racism in his own flesh and the lack of artistic recognition. After emerging at that Newport festival and with the Columbia contract in his pocket, he dispatched an incredible series of 4 high-end albums (Workin ‘, Cookin’, Steamin ‘, Relaxin’) to free himself from the contract with the Prestige label. , in a few recording sessions. After the album Milestones (1958), which anticipates modal jazz, he records his masterpiece, with his best training: Kind of blue, considered by critics and the public as the best album in the history of jazz. This album changes the concept of playing jazz. From a few ideas, with a series of chords, the musicians are freed to flow freely, within a kind of controlled freedom. On that album, in addition, the huge saxophonist John Coltrane finds his sound and another style in jazz begins to emerge: hard-bop.

The permanent avant-garde

Davis oscillated between the permanent demand in search of new sounds, the nose to select new talents for his groups and the freedom to play based on his compositional ideas, but with a personal interpretive flow. Thus, he was part of the emerging bebop and created cool jazz. Then he underpinned the hardbop and promoted the jazz avant-garde, especially in its modal aspect. Later he was a precursor of the fusion of jazz-rock and drank in the psychedelia of the late 60s and early 70s, when he entered that culture from the meeting with the great guitarist Jimmy Hendrix, with whom he had a fruitful collaboration that led him to play at the legendary Isle of Wight Festival.

Miles’s story is unmatched in jazz culture. It is, quite simply, dazzling in its musical avant-garde driven by its constant nonconformity. ‘The birth of the cool’ honors the artistic journey of the mythical trumpeter, in his multifaceted personality and also in his dark parts.

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