Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

The artistic legacy of Miles Davis is a profound gift that keeps on giving. Amidst the dozens of nominations listed for the 62nd annual Grammy Awards late last month was “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool,” Stanley Nelson’s critically acclaimed documentary which offers intimate insight on the musical giant, cultural icon and son of East St. Louis, Illinois.

The doc is on the short list of nominations, up against Beyoncé’s “Homecoming” and four other cinematic efforts in the running for “Best Music Film.”

“We are excited about the Grammy nomination for ‘Birth of the Cool,’” the estate of Miles Davis said in a statement. “Bravo to director Stanley Nelson and his artistic vision in bringing this authentic documentary to life. We extend our gratitude to the entire team who worked tirelessly to bring an accurate portrayal of the life and legacy of music icon Miles Davis.”

Nelson came to East St. Louis ahead of the film’s theatrical release in September, which coincided with the grand opening of the House of Miles East St. Louis (also known as H.O.M.E.) – a cultural center located at what was once Davis’ boyhood home.

“It was my honor to make a film about Miles Davis,” Nelson said at the event. “I am a real Miles Davis fan and his music has been so instrumental to me.”

At the event, Nelson gave credit to the Davis family and the city of East St. Louis for aiding him in the journey of making “Birth of the Cool,” and its efforts through H.O.M.E. to keep contribute to the continuum of their city’s cultural footprint – that because of Davis stretches across the globe.

“We’ve been all around the world showing this movie,” said Davis’ nephew Vince Wilburn Jr. He toured alongside Nelson with the film – and with his uncle as his drummer. “We were met with packed houses in South Africa – Soweto, Cape Town and Johannesburg,”

The film opened to rave reviews when it debuted at Sundance Film Festival in January and enjoyed a strong run with its nationwide theatrical release in the fall.

“Birth of the Cool” features never-before-seen archival footage and studio outtakes and was heralded by Variety as “a tantalizing portrait: rich, probing, mournful, romantic, triumphant, tragic, exhilarating and blisteringly honest.”

Music legends such as Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones and Carlos Santana are among those who discuss Miles Davis and his incomparable influence on music. But Nelson also makes room for Davis’ East St. Louis roots in “Birth of the Cool,” including interviews from East St. Louis Poet Laureate Eugene B. Redmond, family members and others connected to the city.

Last week PBS announced that “Birth of the Cool” was selected to be featured as part of its “American Masters” programming. The film will make its broadcast premiere as part of “American Masters” Black History Month roster on Tuesday, February 25.

Nelson’s intention with “Birth of the Cool” was to create a film that fully paid homage to Davis’ genius and unparalleled influence on music.

“You rarely see a portrait of a man that worked hard at honing his craft, a man who deeply studied all forms of music, from Baroque to classical Indian,” Nelson told PBS. “An elegant man who could render ballads with such tenderness yet hold rage in his heart from the racism he faced throughout his life.”

If the film wins, it will be the second Grammy for cinema inspired by the life and art of Miles Davis. In 2017, Ferguson native Keyon Harrold was among those who won a “Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media” award for the soundtrack for Don Cheadle’s biopic “Miles Ahead,” which was also produced by Cheadle, Robert Glasper and Steve Berkowitz.

“Uncle Miles continues to touch the world,” Wilburn said. “That’s amazing to me, because these are our roots.”

The 62nd GRAMMY Awards will take place on Jan. 26, 2020 in Los Angeles.

For more information on the “Birth of the Cool,” visit www.milesdavismovie.com. 

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, premieres nationwide as part of the PBS American Masters programming on at 8 p.m. CST on Tuesday, February 25. For more information, check local listings, or visit www.pbs.org/milesdavis. 

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