“Don’t play what’s there. Play what’s not there.” -Miles Davis
Taking the iconic trumpeter’s advice to heart, writer/producer/director/lead actor Don Cheadle begins the film “Miles Ahead” with what (or who) wasn’t there: Miles Davis from late 1975 through 1980, his “lost” or “silent” years.
Miles was not performing, recording or composing during this period, and aside from dealing with health issues like sickle-cell anemia, a deteriorating hip and lingering pain from a car accident, and substance abuse, it’s probably a safe bet to say that he was depressed and his legendary creativity temporarily exhausted.
“Miles Ahead” blends biographical fact, fiction and myth in an entertaining fashion. Cheadle believes that Miles would heartily approve of the mostly-fictional “gangster movie” segments from the lost years, while the more biographically correct flashbacks to the Miles of the 1950s and 1960s give us jazz geeks something to cling to.
Well cast, beautifully edited and scored, “Miles Ahead” is truly a showcase for Don Cheadle, who seems to have been born to play Miles Davis (of course, I’ve said that about all of his major roles, he’s just that great an actor).
Cheadle had a very clear vision for the film to be anything but a typical cradle-to-grave biopic. He wanted to create more of a “Miles Davis experience.” After he realized that no one else was going to write such a script, he took on that task along with co-writer Steven Baigelman. Then, naturally, he needed to direct and produce it. And he always was going to star in it, with the blessing and encouragement of the Davis family.
This movie has taken ten years from conception to opening. In Cheadle’s most recent interview with Tavis Smiley, he explains just how intense this project was for him, from learning to play the trumpet to directing while also being the lead actor.
“Miles Ahead” opens nationwide on April 22. Dick Stein and I will be there to greet you at the first evening showing at the Grand Cinema in Tacoma that night. We’ll talk about the movie, give away some Miles Ahead soundtrack CDs, and bring you up-to-date on the Save KPLU campaign. Join us!