AMERICAN MASTERS: “MILES DAVIS”

Encore: February 19, 2021

Quincy Jones, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock and other music legends lead an all-star tribute to the life, work and legacy of this cultural icon.

For more information on American Masters “Miles David: Birth of the Cool,” click here. 

Aired on February 25, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

GOOD EVENING.

WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

HE WAS THE EMBODYMENT OF COOL.

IN A CAREER SPANNING SIX DECADES, MILES DAVIS REDEFINED BOUNDARIES.

HE LIVED LIFE ON HIS OWN TERMS AND HIS MUSIC AND HIS LIFE ARE THE SUBJECT OF A BRILLIANT NEW AMERICAN MASTERS DOCUMENTARY.

MILES DAVIS, BIRTH OF THE COOL.

WITH FULL ACCESS TO THE MILES DAVIS HE IS STATE, THE FULL FEATURES NEVER BEFORE SEEN ARCHIVAL FOOT SXAG RARE PHOTOS AS IT TELLS THE STORY OF A TRULY SINGULAR TALENT AND UNPACKS THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF AN AMERICAN ICON.

HERE'S A PREVIEW.

MUSIC HAS ALWAYS BEEN LIKE A CURSE WITH ME.

THE FIRST THING IN MY LIFE.

I GO TO BED THINKING ABOUT IT AND GO TO BED THINKING ABOUT IT.

THAT'S ALL I LIVE FOR.

MILES STARTED VERY EARLY.

HE LOOKED AT THINGS DIFFERENTLY.

HE SAW THINGS DIFFERENTLY.

WITHOUT A DOUBT, THE MOST OF ANY PERSON I'VE EVER KNOWN.

HE WANTED TO BE AN ARTIST.

A LOT OF THE OLD GUYS THOUGHT HE WENT TO SCHOOL, THEY WOULD MAKE YOU PLAY LIKE YOU WERE WHITE.

IF YOU LEARNED THE THEORY, YOU WOULD LOSE IT.

I WANTED TO SEE WHAT WAS GOING ON IN ALL OF MUSIC.

JULIA IN THE DAYTIME, AT NIGHT, ME ON 52nd STREET.

THEY PUT THE BELL ON HIS HORN RIGHT INTO THE MICROPHONE AND CHANGED THE WHOLE WORLD OF JAZZ RIGHT THERE.

HE COMES UP WITH THE STYLE THAT IS TRULY REFLECTIVE OF WHO HE IS.

HE WAS ANGRY, ANTI-SOCIAL.

THEN HE STARTED PLAYING.

HE JUST DISARMS YOU.

HE SURROUNDED HIMSELF WITH YOUNG EMERGING, UNKNOWN VOICES.

WE WERE KIDS.

WE WERE LOOKING EVERY NIGHT AT GOING TO A LABORATORY AND HE WAS THE HEAD CHEMIST.

HE WANTED TO US LIVE ON THE STAGE, CREATING IN FRONT OF PEOPLE.

DON'T LEAN ON WHAT YOU KNOW.

WHAT HE WAS LOOKING FOR IS THE STUFF YOU DON'T KNOW.

WE DIDN'T JUST WANT TO PLAY WITH MILES DAVIS.

WE WANTED TO BE MIZE DAVIS.

MILES' AUDIENCE WAS CHANGING.

IF ANYONE WANTS TO KEEP CREATING, THEY HAVE TO BE ABOUT CHANGE.

I LOVED MY SENSE OF DISCIPLINE.

BEFORE I KNEW IT, IT WAS A HEROIN ADDICT.

MILES IS THE COOL, SOPHISTICATION, A KIND OF MASCULINITY OF THE.

MILES AND FRANCIS.

WE WERE A HOT COUPLE.

THE ELEVATOR OPENED AND THERE HE WAS.

LIKE IF MOVIE WHEN YOU MEET THE VAMPIRE AND YOU KNOW YOU'RE GOING TO DIE AND YOU DON'T CARE.

HE BECOMES OUR BLACK SUPERMAN.

ALL I EVER WANTED TO DO WAS COMMUNICATE WHAT I FELT THROUGH MUSIC.

JOINING US NOW IS THE PRODUCER AND DIRECTOR OF MILES DAVIS, BIRTH OF THE COOL, STANLEY NELSON.

WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

THANK YOU.

I WANT TO START WITH SORT OF A QUOTE THAT WE HEARD IN THE CLIP A LITTLE BIT.

I WANT TO READ IT SO I GET IT RIGHT.

MILES USED TO SAY MUSIC IS LIKE A CURSE TO ME.

IT COMES BEFORE EVERYTHING.

HOW IS THAT QUOTE EMBLEM AT BIK THE LIFE OF THE MAN THAT YOU SPENT SO MUCH TIME IMMERSED IN?

WELL, FOR MILES, MUSIC WAS FIRST SECOND, THIRD, EVERYTHING.

AND IT WAS MORE THAN HIS RELATIONSHIPS.

MORE THAN THE PEOPLE IN HIS BAND.

WE SEE IT OVER AND OVER AGAIN IN THE FILM.

MUSIC IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING, YOU KNOW?

IF HE HAS TO SACRIFICE HIS RELATIONSHIPS FOR MUSIC, HE DOES.

IF PEOPLE IN THE BAND DON'T WANT TO MOVE AHEAD WITH HIM AND PLAY WHAT HE'S PLAYING, THEN THEY GO.

I THINK WHEN HE SAYS CURSED, HE'S BEING A LITTLE BIT COY THERE.

MILES' MUSIC WAS EVERYTHING.

IF SOMETHING IS EVERYTHING TO YOU, THEN IT IS NOT ONLY GOOD BUT IT IS ALSO BAD.

OF COURSE.

SO THIS TELLS US THE FULL STORY OF MILES DAVIS.

I WANT TO YOU TAKE US BACK TO THE BEGINNING.

I'M NOT SURE HOW MANY PEOPLE KNOW HIS ORIGIN STORY AND THE ROLE THAT THE LIFE THAT HE LEFT TO COME TO NEW YORK PLAYED IN THE PERSON HE BECAME.

YEAH.

MILES WAS BORN IN 1926 IN EAST ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI.

AND IT WAS SOUTH, YOU KNOW.

AND EVERYTHING THAT GOES IT IN 1926.

BUT MILES DAVIS' FATHER WAS A DENTAL SURGEON.

AND MILES DAVIS GREW UP ESPECIALLY FOR A BLACK KID IN THAT TIME, RICH.

THEY HAD A HOUSE IN EAST ST.

LOUIS BUT THEY HAD A FARM OUTSIDE OF EAST ST. LOUIS WHERE THEY HAD CATTLE AND PIGS AND HE HAD HIS OWN HORSE AND THAT'S HOW MILES GREW UP.

MILES HAD TWO JOBS IN HIS LIFE.

HE HAD ONE JOB FOR A WEEK OR TWO AS A PAPER BOY, AS A KID.

AND HE WAS A MUSICIAN.

THAT'S ALL HE EVER DID.

HIS FATHER WAS ABLE TO SUPPORT HIM THROUGH GOING TO JUILLIARD AND ALL THE OTHER THINGS.

SO MILES' LIFE WAS VERY DIFFERENT THAN WE THINK OF THE JAZZ MUSICIAN.

BUT HE WAS A PROTEGE.

HE STARTS PLAYING WHEN HE'S 14 WITH BANDS AROUND EAST ST.

LOUIS.

WE HAVE PICTURES OF HIM.

YOU SEE HE'S A LITTLE KID.

HE'S PLAYING WITH MEN AT 14.

AND BECAUSE THEY ALL, THE MEN ALL HAD DAY JOBS, MILES BECOMES THE BAND MANAGER AND KIND OF MANAGES THE BAND AT 14 AND 15.

IN SOME WAYS, WE SEE THE INFLUENCE OF THAT AS MILES PROBABLY BECOMES THE GREATEST SMALL GROUP BAND LEADER IN THE HISTORY OF JAZZ.

OF COURSE, AS WE FOLLOW MILES' CAREER ONCE HE COMES TO NEW YORK, AND THE STUDIES OF JUILLIARD WHICH I'M NOT SURE MANY PEOPLE KNOW.

EVEN THEN THERE IS THIS UNIQUE SORT OF INDIVIDUALISTIC REBELLIOUS STREAK THAT IS VERY CLEAR FROM THE VERY BEGINNING.

AND I'M JUST WONDERING HOW AS A YOUNG BLACK MAN IN HIS 40s AND 50s, EVEN IN NEW YORK, HOW WAS HE ABLE TO NAVIGATE THAT WITHOUT GETTING SERIOUSLY HURT?

WE DO UNDERSTAND THAT THERE WERE TIMES THAT HE GOT HURT.

BUT WITHOUT GETTING SERIOUSLY HURT.

MILES IS LIVING AS A JAZZ MUSICIAN.

HE DOES HAVE THAT.

HE TAKES A BEATING IN 1959 FROM A COP OUTSIDE BIRDLAND.

HE'S REALLY BLOODIED AND TALK ABOUT THAT FILM, INCREDIBLE PICTURES.

FRANCIS TAYLOR WHO IS THERE.

TALKING ABOUT THAT INCIDENT.

THAT WAS ALWAYS ONE OF THE KIND OF DICHOTOMIES THAT MILES EXISTED WITH.

HE'S BORN RICH BUT HE'S BORN BLACK IN EAST ST. LOUIS.

HE BECOMES VERY EARLY ON, THIS VERY SUCCESSFUL JAZZ MUSICIAN.

HE IS STILL SUBJECTED TO THE RACISM IN AMERICA AND IT IS ALWAYS SOMETHING MILES DEALS WITH ALL HIS LIFE.

WELL, AS WE GET A CHANCE TO FOLLOW HIS CAREER AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF HIS MUSIC, WE OF COURSE GET TO THE ALBUM HE DID KIND OF BLUE, WHICH IS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING AND STILL IS ONE OF THE GREATEST JAZZ ALBUMS EVER RECORDED.

TELL ME ABOUT WHAT IT WAS THAT, HOW DID HE COME TO THAT PLACE?

WE FOLLOW A MUSICAL EVOLUTION.

IT IS NOT LIKE IT CAME OUT OF NOWHERE.

THAT'S A WONDERFUL THING THAT WE FOUND IN THE FILM.

THAT THERE WAS THIS EVOLUTION AND IT ALL MAKES SENSE.

SO MILES GOES TO FRANCE.

HE GOES TO FRANCE TO PLAY IN '57, '58.

HE'S PLAYING THERE.

AND HE IS ASKED TO DO A SOUNDTRACK FOR THE FRENCH FILM CALLED ELEVATED TO THE GALLOWS.

THE WAIT A MINUTE HE DOES THE SOUNDTRACK, SBEEGS THE STUDIO.

THEY PUT THE FILM UP ON THE SCREEN AND HE PLAYS WITH HIS BAND TO THE IMAGES ON THE SCREEN.

HE HAS A COUPLE NOTES.

THAT'S ALL HE HAS.

AND HE MAKES VERY FAMOUS RECORDING ELEVATED TO THE GALLOWS FOR THIS FILM BECOMES A VERY SUCCESSFUL FRENCH FILM.

WHEN HE COMES BACK, THAT'S KIND OF WHAT HE DOES THE REST OF HIS LIFE.

HE GOES INTO THE STUDIO, A YEAR LATER.

HE GOES IN FOR KIND OF BLUE WITH SOME LITTLE SKETCHES, AS JIMMY COBB, THE DRUMMER ON THE SESSION, YEAH, A COUPLE LITTLE PIECES OF PAPER.

AND I ASKED HIM.

WHAT DID HE TELL YOU THEN?

AND EM, MILES JUST TOLD ME TO SWING.

JUST SWING.

AND THAT, WHAT COMES OUT OF.

IS THIS ALBUM OF PURE IMPROVISATION THAT BECOMES AGAIN, I WOULD ARGUE, THE GREATEST JAZZ ALBUM OF ALL TIME.

ONE OF THE GREATEST ALBUM OF ALL TIME.

WHAT ARE THE UNOFFICIAL CHARACTERS OF THE FILM IS ALSO THE CITY OF NEW YORK.

AND THE ROLE THAT IT PLAYED.

NOT ONLY IN MILES' LIFE BUT THE DEVELOPMENT OF JAZZ.

THERE ARE SO MANY OTHER MUSICIANS HERE AT THE TIME WHO WERE JAMMING WITH THEM AND SITTING IN ON SESSIONS.

TELL ME ABOUT WHAT THAT VIBE WAS LIKE.

SO MILES, YOU KNOW, HE GRADUATES HIGH SCHOOL IN EAST ST. LOUIS.

ALMOST LIKE THE NEXT DAY, HE GETS ON A TRAIN TO NEW YORK.

HE SAYS I'M GOING TO NEW YORK.

HIS PARENTS, ESPECIALLY HIS MOTHER WANT HIM TO BE A VIOLINIST.

SO HE ENROLLS IN JUILLIARD.

WHAT COULD HIS MOTHER SAY?

YOU'RE IN JUILLIARD SO YOU CAN GO TO NEW YORK.

SO HE COMES TO JUILLIARD AND HE'S STUDYING AT JUILLIARD DURING THE DAY BUT PLAYING ON 52nd STREET WITH CHARLIE PARKER AT NIGHT.

HE JOINS CHARLIE PARKER'S BAND.

HE BECOMES THE TRUMPETER FOR CHARLIE PARKER AND THAT'S A LOVE AFFAIR THAT MILES HAD ALL HIS LIFE.

HE ALWAYS, EVEN IF HE HAD A PLACE IN MALIBU, HE ALSO HAD HIS PLACE IN NEW YORK.

ONE OF THE THINGS THAT I THOUGHT WAS VERY INTERESTING, THIS FILM ISN'T JUST FOR THE JAZZ ENTHUSIASTS.

THIS IS FOR, I'VE HAD A CHANCE TO SEE IT.

I'VE HAD A CHANCE TO WATCH WITH MY FAMILY, MILLENNIALS, ET CETERA.

AND YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE FULLY IMMERSED IN THE JAZZ WORLD TO APPRECIATE WHO MILES WAS AND WHAT HIS WORK REPRESENTED.

WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST INTENT THAT YOU WANTED IN MAKING THIS?

THAT'S SUCH A GREAT QUESTION, AN INTERESTING QUESTION.

WHAT I WANTED TO DO, I'VE BEEN MAKING FILMS FOR 40 YEARS.

I WENT TO CITY COLLEGE IN NEW YORK AND I'VE BEEN MAKING FILMS FOR 40 YEARS AND THIS WAS A CHANCE TO MAKE A FILM WITH MILES DAVIS.

SO I WANTED TO PUT EVERYTHING THAT I LEARNED.

EVERYTHING THAT I KNEW ON THE SCREEN.

AND TRIED TO MAKE A FILM IN SOME WAYS KIND OF NOT MOCKED BUT KIND OF IMITATED, KIND OF HAD THIS CREATIVE SENSE OF MILES.

SO WE THREW, YOU KNOW, EVERYTHING THAT WE COULD.

WHEN I SAY WE, THE EDITOR, THE ASSOCIATE PRODUCER, WE THREW EVERYTHING THAT WE COULD UP THERE TO TRY TO GIVE MILES'

ABSOLUTELY.

IT COVERS SUCH AN AMAZING BREADTH OF LIFE.

IT WAS SO GREAT.

ENGROSSING TO WATCHFUL FOR MORE INFORMATION ON AMERICAN MASTERS PRESENT IGS MILES DAVIS, BIRTH OF COOL, VISIT US AT METROFOCUS.ORG.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, The Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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