Rebirth of the Cool: Don Cheadle Is Miles Ahead

Brian Douglas / Sony Pictures Classics

Don Cheadle, cowriter-director-star of a new movie about Miles Davis, selects four overlooked gems from the late trumpeter’s oeuvre. 

"I hope people leave their biopic notions at the door," Don Cheadle says of Miles Ahead, the impressionistic film he cowrote, directed, and stars in as jazz visionary Miles Davis. Eight years in the making, and produced with the blessing of Davis’s family, the film plays like one of the trumpeter’s free-form compositions, weaving in actual details of his life—including his abuse of first wife Frances Taylor—with an imagined, out-there plot that takes place during Davis’s self-imposed performing hiatus in the late 1970s. “It’s a movie that I believe Miles Davis would have wanted to star in more than it’s a movie about the greatest hits of his life,” says Cheadle. The actor’s committed portrayal of the jazz great as a gun-toting, coke-snorting eccentric—he even learned how to play the trumpet—won over the crowd at the New York Film Festival, where Miles Ahead premiered in October. In anticipation of the picture’s April 1 release, DEPARTURES asked Cheadle to name four of his favorite Davis cuts that aren’t on his best-known albums. Below, his picks. 

Circle in the Round 

“It’s a meditative, hypnotic trance—Miles branching off the trunk of Bitches Brew. You feel like, for him, it’s where the music is headed instead of where it comes from.” From Circle in the Round (1979).

Country Son

“The track feels like it starts in the middle [of the performance], which I love as a production concept. We’re so used to things having a beginning, middle, and end; ‘Country Son’ feels like it’s already happening. It feels very much like Miles, who was about process." From Miles in the Sky (1968).

It's About That Time

“It’s an expansive workout session where I feel like the group [which includes Keith Jarrett on electric organ] is letting me see how the sausage is made. It’s clearly very different from the classic modality that you hear on ‘So What’ and Miles Smiles. It’s really funk rock.” From Miles Davis at Fillmore (1970).

Tempus Fugit

“It’s super-early Miles, which is the reason I like it. You get to hear how his playing develops, and the track is in a sweet minor funky key. ‘Time flies.’ It sure does.” From Birdland 1951 (released posthumously in 2004).