Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

2020 | Documentary | 155 minutes | English


Miles Davis was an African-American born in 1926. His father, a wealthy dentist and farmer, overruled his wife and got Miles to play the trumpet rather than the violin. Davis thrived playing the trumpet. When he felt ready, he was determined to get to New York, with its glittering jazz clubs on 52nd Street and be part of the revolution that was bebop. He managed to join Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie as members of Billy Eckstein’s swing band. Davis’s mother wanted him to be professional so she had him enroll in Julliard and learn the essentials of composing music. After a stint in Europe, he returned to the states for his “comeback” performance at the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival. Owen Gleiberman, concluded his review in VARIETYwith the following: MILES DAVIS: BIRTH of the COOL doesn’t soft-pedal Davis’s hard times, during which he holed himself up in his townhouse, a burnout trying to claw his way back to freedom. But the way the movie presents it, it’s all part of the same story: Davis’s need to cast music as a form of possession. He remained kind of blue, and that was his magic, but he was also tender and turbulent and ferocious. BIRTH of the COOL captures everything that Miles poured into the creation of his mood and his sound.”  

Major Participants: Quincy Jones / Herbie Hancock (pianist) / Wayne Shorter (saxophonist) / Jimmy Cobb (drummer) / Ron Carter (bassist) / Erin Davis (Miles’s son) / Frances Taylor (Miles’s wife)
Why Stream This Film?
When Miles Davis died in 1991, Newsday’s jazz critic Gene Seymour wrote that “he was simply the greatest show in modern jazz. He spoke from the darkness as a way of reaching out to those who were lost in it.”
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 92%
  • Metacritic Score: 76
  • Cleveland International Film Festival: Winner, Best Music Film
  • Grammy Awards: Nominated, Best Music Film
  • Critics Choice Documentary Awards: Best Music Documentary
  • Miami Film Festival: Nominated, Best Documentary
While Davis disciples might not be fully satisfied with what’s here, the samplings are generous, major phases well-explored, and better yet, well-explained. Davis is demystified and deconstructed in this corrective—and excellent—portrait.
Verne Gay


The number of documentaries exclusively devoted to, or featuring, Miles Davis is not quite sufficient to constitute a subgenre. But it’s getting close. MILES DAVIS: BIRTH of the COOL, doesn’t presume to be the last cinematic word on the artist, but within its nearly two-hour confines, this production aims for comprehensiveness. The movie is commendably thorough.
Glenn Kenny

The New York Times

Any documentary about Miles Davis that really wants to take him all in has to grapple with each of these dimensions—the lyrical genius, the midnight pop star, the drugs and domestic violence, the stubborn inner light—and demonstrate how, exactly, they fit together. MILES DAVIS: BIRTH of the COOL does just that.
Owen Gleiberman


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