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S34 Ep1

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

Premiere: 2/25/2020 | 00:02:24 |

Discover the man behind the legend. With full access to the Miles Davis Estate, the film features never-before-seen footage, including studio outtakes from his recording sessions, rare photos and new interviews. American Masters Presents Stanley Nelson’s Grammy-nominated Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool February 25 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS in Honor of Black History Month.

About the Episode

Award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson’s deep dive into the world of a beloved musical giant. Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, which earned a Grammy nomination in the “Best Music Film” category, premiereed nationwide Tuesday, February 25 at 9 p.m. on PBS in honor of Black History Month.

A visionary known for his restless aesthetic, Davis is widely regarded as one of the most innovative, influential and respected figures in music. With full access to the Miles Davis Estate, the film features never-before-seen footage, including studio outtakes from his recording sessions, rare photos and new interviews. Quincy Jones, Carlos Santana, Clive Davis, Wayne Shorter, Davis’s son Erin Davis and nephew Vince Wilburn, bassist and Davis collaborator Marcus Miller, and Ron Carter are just a few of the luminaries weighing in on the life and career of the cultural icon.

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool takes a hard look at the mythology that surrounds the legend. “The story of Miles Davis — who he was as a man and artist — has often been told as the tale of a drug-addled genius,” said Nelson. “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. An elegant man who could render ballads with such tenderness yet hold rage in his heart from the racism he faced throughout his life. He could be romantic and pursue women relentlessly, yet treat them with cruelty upon winning them over. He could be extremely generous, yet rescind that generosity on a whim.”

The documentary delves into the six-decade career of the musical genius: from his days as a Juilliard student to the development of his signature sound on recordings with his famous quintet, from his collaborations with Gil Evans to his shifts to new musical paradigms in the 70s and 80s. As the film tracks Davis’s boundary-breaking musical triumphs, the meanderings of his complicated personal life are told with intimate reflections from those closest to him. Previously unseen footage and a soundtrack full of Davis’s music are complemented by new interviews with friends, fellow musicians, collaborators and scholars to create a full portrait of the complex man. The film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and had a successful limited theatrical run, tells the story of a truly singular talent and unpacks the man behind the horn.

In conjunction with the broadcast premiere of Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool in February, Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings, the catalog division of Sony Music Entertainment, will release “Miles Davis – Music From and Inspired by Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, a Film by Stanley Nelson.”


Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool is a Firelight Media/Eagle Rock Films Production for American Masters Pictures and Eagle Rock Entertainment in association with BBC Music. Produced and directed by Stanley Nelson. Produced by Nicole London. Executive produced by Terry Shand and Geoff Kempin for Eagle Rock Entertainment; Darryl Porter, Erin Davis, Cheryl Davis, and Vince Wilburn for Miles Davis Properties, LLC; and Michael Kantor for American Masters.

About Eagle Rock Entertainment
Eagle Vision is an imprint of Eagle Rock Entertainment, the world-leading producer and distributor of music-related audiovisual content. Founded in 1997, the multi-award-winning company completes over 50 productions a year including concerts, documentaries, scripted formats and specials representing over 2,000 hours of programming. The vast catalogue includes work by award-winning filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese, Brett Morgan, Paul Dugdale, Stanley Nelson and Bob Smeaton. Eagle Rock has worked alongside a variety of artists including the Rolling Stones, Madonna, Jay Z, Paul McCartney, Katy Perry, Frank Sinatra, Black Sabbath and Imagine Dragons.

About Firelight
Firelight is a premier destination for non-fiction cinema by and about communities of color. Firelight produces documentary films, supports emerging filmmakers of color, and cultivates audiences for their work. Firelight films have garnered multiple Primetime Emmys, Peabodys, and Sundance awards. Award-winning films include Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, and Freedom Riders. Firelight’s programs include the Documentary Lab, an 18-month fellowship that supports emerging filmmakers of color; and Groundwork, which supports early stage filmmakers in the American south, midwest, and U.S. Territories. In addition to a focus on excellence in filmmaking, Firelight develops strategies, partnerships and materials to reach and engage diverse audiences and maximize the impact of documentary films.

About WNET

About The WNET Group
The WNET Group creates inspiring media content and meaningful experiences for diverse audiences nationwide. It is the community-supported home of New York’s THIRTEEN – America’s flagship PBS station – WLIW21, THIRTEEN PBSKids, WLIW World and Create; NJ PBS, New Jersey’s statewide public television network; Long Island’s only NPR station WLIW-FM; ALL ARTS, the arts and culture media provider; and newsroom NJ Spotlight News. Through these channels and streaming platforms, The WNET Group brings arts, culture, education, news, documentary, entertainment and DIY programming to more than five million viewers each month. The WNET Group’s award-winning productions include signature PBS series Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend and Amanpour and Company and trusted local news programs MetroFocus and NJ Spotlight News with Briana Vannozzi. Inspiring curiosity and nurturing dreams, The WNET Group’s award-winning Kids’ Media and Education team produces the PBS KIDS series Cyberchase, interactive Mission US history games, and resources for families, teachers and caregivers. A leading nonprofit public media producer for nearly 60 years, The WNET Group presents and distributes content that fosters lifelong learning, including multiplatform initiatives addressing poverty, jobs, economic opportunity, social justice, understanding and the environment. Through Passport, station members can stream new and archival programming anytime, anywhere. The WNET Group represents the best in public media. Join us.


Funding for Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool is provided by David and Lisa Grain, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Jody and John Arnhold, Pappalardo Family Foundation, and The Leslie and Rosyln Goldstein Foundation.

Support for American Masters is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AARP, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judith and Burton Resnick, Seton J. Melvin, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, Vital Projects Fund, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Koo and Patricia Yuen, Thea Petschek Iervolino Foundation, The Marc Haas Foundation and public television viewers.


- [Miles] Music has always been like a curse with me.

It's the first thing in my life.

Go to bed thinking about it, and wake up thinking about it.

That's all I live for.

(jazz music) - [Narrator] Miles started very early.

- He looked at things differently.

He saw things differently.

Without a doubt, the most unique person I've ever known.

- He wanted to be an artist, just like Stravinsky.

(jazz music) - [Miles] A lot of the old guys thought that if you went to school, it would make you play like you were white.

If you learn something from theory, you would loose the feeling in your playing.

I wanted to see what was going on in all of music.

- [Man In Black cap] Julliard in the daytime, and at night, he'd be on 52nd Street.

- He put the bell of his horn, right into the microphone, and changed the whole world of jazz, right there.

- [Woman With Brown shirt] He comes out with a style that is truly reflective of who he is.

He was angry, antisocial.

- But then he starts playing, and people are like, oh, he just disarms you.

- [Woman With Purple Scarf] He surrounded himself with young, emerging, unknown voices.

- [Man With Bow tie] We were kids, we were looking having it gone to a laboratory.

Miles is a head chemist.

- He wanted us to live on the stage, creating in front of the people.

Don't lean on what you know.

What he was looking for is the stuff that you don't know.

- [Man With Purple shirt] We didn't just want to play with Miles Davis, we wanted to be Miles Davis.

(jazz music) - [Man With Dred-locks] Miles' audience was changing, absorbing what was happening now.

- [Miles] If anybody wants to keep creating, they have to be about change.

I lost my sense of discipline and started to drift.

Before I knew it I had a heroin habit.

- [Woman With Purple scarf] Miles becomes representative of kind of cool, kind of sophistication, a kind of masculinity.

Miles and Francis.

- I mean, we were a hot couple.

- The elevator opened and there he was.

It was like in a movie when you meet the vampire, and you know your gonna die and you don't care.

- [Woman In Purple Scarf] He becomes our black superman.

- [Miles] All I ever wanted to do was communicate what I feel through music.

(jazz music)


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