Sunday, 24 February 2013

Miles at the Movies

The Internet Movie Database attributes to Miles Davis a total of 54 film credits.  Apart from Kind of Blue playing incidentally in the background of a myriad of movies, Miles himself scored several films.

So in celebration of Oscar night, dig this countdown of Davis' silver screen oeuvres.  His work has been indexed qualitatively, and by happenstance historically, from his questionable soundtracks to his quintessential scores.


Dingo aka Dog of the Desert (1991) features an anemic Miles, in one of his last performances, as legendary trumpet player Billy Cross, ad libbing with an acid jazz combo at a suspiciously popular club in the Australian outback. That's about as much as you need to know.

Discogs: Dingo


Although Miles didn't technically score the Bill Murray holiday classic Scrooged (1988), he has a cameo.   He and Paul Shaffer appear as street musicians laying down a soft jazz rendition of "We Three Kings of the Orient Be."

Discogs: Scrooged

"We Three Kings of Orient Be"


Lambasted as an "excitingly bad, artily experimental flim," Siesta (1987) stars an otherwise excellent cast - Martin Sheen, Jodie Foster, Isabella Rossellini and Grace Jones - in an erotic murder mystery film on location in Spain.  The soundtrack revisits flamenco themes familiar to Davis from his 1960 masterpiece Sketches of Spain, but distorted through a new age prism.  Most of the tracks sound akin to an Art of Noise cover band attempting "world jazz."

Discogs: Siesta

"Kitt's Kiss/Lost in Madrid Part II"


While A Tribute to Jack Johnson was originally recorded as a studio album (yet unreleased as such until 1971), documentarian Jim Jacobs and pugalist promoter William Cayton adopted the bluesy fusion session to score their 1970 Oscar-nominated biographical picture about the named heavyweight champion.  Miles' deeply personal and thoroughly understood affinities with Johnson resonate throughout this exceptional recording.  While both men boxed, it's the one-two punch of raw power in their respective disciplines, coupled with black pride, which united these heroes.

Discogs: Jack Johnson

"Right Off"


It features the most distraught trumpet in all of jazz.  The sombre hard bop soundtrack to Louis Malle's New Wave crime thriller Ascenseur pour L'Échafaud (1958), as noted by Richard Cook in The Penguin Guide to Jazz, is "one of the most discussed items in the entire [Miles] canon."

It marks one of Davis' earliest compositional efforts.  But it's how it was composed, or rather wasn't, that makes the album so alluring and astounding.  

While in Paris playing at Club Saint-Germain, Miles was propositioned to arrange the music for a French film under production.   Shortly thereafter, he arrived with his sidemen to a small theatre, where the director briefly explained the plot, then ran some loops of the scenes he wanted scored.

On the spot, Miles Davis improvised the entire soundtrack. 


"Florence Sur Les Champs-Elysees"

"Chez Le Photographe Du Motel"

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