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Miles Comes To The Big Screen; Nephew Vincent Wilburn Approves

R.J. DeLuke By

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[Don Cheadle] is an intense, beautiful actor. I thought he could bring it home. —Vincent Wilburn
Sometimes a comment made without serious intent can start the wheels of fate.

Many Miles Davis fans know there has been a Miles Davis movie in the works for some time. Different proposals emerged over the years, none of them coming to light for varying reasons. Now, however, all Miles fans know that it's here. The movie, filmed in Cincinnati, is complete and ready for release. It debuted in New York City the second weekend in October. The final fruition of the film may have been the result of one utterance from the jazz icon's nephew, Vincent Wilburn, son of Davis' only sister and a drummer in the trumpeter's band for a period in the 1980s, touring and recording with the legend.

When Miles was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (yes, rock), in 2006, Wilburn was asked who should play his uncle if the film were to be made. He said, point blank, "Don Cheadle."

That put things into motion and in 2015 surfaces Miles Ahead, a film project brought to the screen by Cheadle and Steven Baigelman. They co-wrote the screenplay. Baigelman and Mark Amin are executive producers and Cheadle is a producer as well.

But the film is not a typical bio pic, following a person's life and times and giving historical perspective. That may cause controversy among purists. (What is Miles Davis if no controversy? It followed him around, deserved or not). It will jump into more theaters in 2016, the year Miles would have turned 90 (May 26).

Cheadle himself, in interviews, has openly scoffed at the idea of a bio pic, noting—correctly—that even those are flawed and a good bit of fiction and generalization used. There is no way Miles' rollercoaster life could be encapsulated in two hours of a bio pic, any more than Ghandi or Jimmy Hoffa or, for that matter, Charlie Parker. Each of those movies were flawed. Occasionally, there are good ones, like the recent Ray Charles film. But Ray didn't capture it all.

There may be things in the film that viewers find troublesome, like Miles using a gun, which he didn't do. And apparently, there is little sign of his many great sidemen over the years. But Cheadle has opted to try something very different. People's opinions will no doubt vary about his success. But filmmakers, and artists, should be lauded for their attempt at experimentation.

The Davis family, Wilburn and Miles' children Erin and Cheryl, are pleased with the result. Wilburn, who played drums in the groups that played a funk/rock/jazz/future music amalgamation, feels that regardless of the story line, Cheadle brought the Price of Darkness to the screen brilliantly.

Wilburn, interviewed at his New York City hotel room the weekend of the film's debut, is unconcerned. He's confident the film will be well received and hopes an Oscar comes Cheadle's way for his impressive portrayal of the jazz legend.

Darryl Porter, general manager of Miles Davis Properties, also speaking from the hotel room, says plenty more is on tap for fans in 2016. There will be a project called Cool and Collected, which "is a convergence of Miles' artwork and his music. It's curated by Francine Turk a Chicago- based fine artist. Her work has been exhibited next to Picasso and a lot of the other greats. She listened to Miles and created a series of paintings. And those paintings will appear at the exhibition, as well as some of Miles' original artwork," he says.

Then there's a high tech exhibition, an event lasting between three to seven days in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Chicago, Miami and Tokyo. It will consist of "a giant wall that has Miles' artwork digitally reproduced on it. You can stand in certain spots and mix the art around to create your own piece," says Porter. "A camera takes a photo of you and puts it in the artwork, then sends it to your cellphone so you post it on social media. The opening night in each city, we would have an A-list talent perform."

There will also be a 20-episode podcast series on Miles' life via PodcastOne. Also look for a Montblanc pen with the Davis brand, and a Miles brand of watches. Porter says there will be plenty more to come during the 90th anniversary year of the musician's birth.

As for the film, Wilburn says going into it with an open mind—just like the music of the legend—is important. Parts of the conversation follow:

All About Jazz: I heard about this movie a long time ago, people trying for the rights to the story.

Vincent Wilburn: Walter Yetnikoff [former president of CBS Records International, who helped sell Columbia Records to the Sony Corp.] was involved with one with Wesley Snipes in the '80s.

AAJ: What did you feel about it in the beginning? Some of these Hollywood movies don't turn out so well.

VW: I'm the one who picked Don Cheadle. I thought it was great, because Don is a badass. It was the script that was important. That was the most important thing.


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