Music From and Inspired by “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool”

Title: Music From and Inspired by “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool”
Artist: Miles Davis
Label: Columbia/Legacy
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 21, 2020


Documentarian Stanley Nelson re-introduces us to the late and great jazz trumpeter extraordinaire Miles Davis on the album Music From and Inspired by “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool,” a Film by Stanley Nelson. Davis’ extensive music career spanned over forty years, culminating in eight Grammy Awards, over thirty Grammy nominations, over fifty albums, plus collaborations with major jazz luminaries such as Billy Eckstine, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, John Coltrane, and Wayne Shorter, among many others. Using spoken and musical selections from the Grammy-nominated soundtrack from his documentary, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, Nelson provides a concise musical account of Davis’ evolution. Listeners have an opportunity to reflect on his seminal recordings, beginning in the late 1940s all the way to his mid-1980s comeback with Tutu (1986), while soundbites interspersed between tracks by music icons such as Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Heath, Gil Evans, Carlos Santana, and Marcus Miller further illuminate Davis’ career.

This soundtrack album takes us through Davis’ musical journey, beginning with his days with Charlie Parker on the recording of  “Donna Lee” (1947), followed by his Birth of the Cool (1949) period on “Moon Dreams,” and his 1950s recordings for Columbia on songs like “Milestones,” “‘Round Midnight,” and “New Rhumba.” Next we can relish “So What” from Kind of Blue (1959), which is, arguably, Davis’ most significant album and the greatest jazz album of all time. When discussing the project, Nelson says, “I remember stealing my father’s copy of Kind of Blue to take with me to college. I’ve been fascinated with Miles since then and have long dreamed of telling his story. He was to me a singular force of nature; the very embodiment of cool.” This statement about Davis’ musical creativity and dynamism is unquestionably true for fans, and is certainly felt throughout the album.

Moving forward, Nelson provides glimpses of Davis’ career from the 1960s onward, with song selections from notable albums like Sketches of Spain (1960), Someday My Prince Will Come (1961), Bitches Brew (1970), and Tutu (1986). While songs like “The Pan Piper,” “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “Footprints,” and “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” are crowd favorites, the highlight of the album is definitely the funk-filled, jazz fusion “Hail to the Real Chief.” This brand new track features unissued Davis trumpet takes overdubbed with music composed by Lenny White and also features many other former Miles Davis band members: Vince Wilburn, Miller, Jeremy Pelt, Antoine Roney, John Scofield, Bernard Wright, and Quinton Zoto.

Music From and Inspired by “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool” is an excellent historical narrative of Davis’ life. The album should not be viewed as a mere compilation of Davis’ musical expedition, but a well-curated representation of his works. However, the soundtrack should also be interpreted, along with the documentary Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, as a celebratory moment wherein fans and new listeners alike can revisit the inventiveness and expressiveness of the musical genius and seminal jazz progenitor, Miles Davis.

Reviewed by Jamaal Baptiste