Movie review: Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

The life story of Frances Taylor’s first husband.

Stanley Nelson’s documentary Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool does not focus on the legendary jazz musician’s early career or even the recording of the landmark 1957 album from which the film gets its title. Instead, it’s a warts-and-all 101 of Davis’s life and career until his 1991 death, in which those warts get more or less shrugged off because he geniuses like him are often problematic, so what are you gonna do? In addition to essentially creating new musical idioms, Davis followed that most banal pattern of the man being driven to acquire a very hot woman — in this case, Broadway star Frances Taylor — but the man then becomes violently jealous of the fact that she remains hot even after he’s acquired her. Taylor soon left him, and we’re told via Carl Lumbly reading Davis’s words that he did eventually realize how badly he screwed up, so that’s something. None of that takes away from the sublimity of 1969’s In a Silent Way, of course, or the fact that you can (and should) stream dozens of Davis’s albums for free through the library. Indeed, the straightforward Birth of the Cool may work best as a primer for Don Cheadle’s fictionalized 2016 biopic Miles Ahead. Between them, a full sketch of Miles can be found.

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

Not rated. Opens Friday at the Roxie Theatre.

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