This interview was first published in June 2014, when Don Cheadle was raising the money via crowdfunding for his film Miles Ahead, about the life of Miles Davis. The film is released in the UK in April 2016.
For most jazz fans, it would be impossible to pick the key Miles Davis album, and that's no different for actor Don Cheadle.
"I love Kind of Blue, but who doesn't?" the 49-year-old from Kansas says, "but then I love Circle in the Round, and the live albums such as Miles in Berlin and Miles in Tokyo. Then there are the bootleg albums. There is just so much great music from Miles."
There is a difference between most fans and the Golden Globe-winning actor, however, because Cheadle is about to fulfil his long-standing dream of bringing to the big screen a film about the trumpeter, bandleader and composer.
Cheadle, who played saxophone in high school, first saw Davis, then 55, play at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver, Colorado, in 1981, but his music has been important since Cheadle was a boy growing up in Kansas. Speaking from New York, Cheadle says: "Jazz was always something that was central to my life and I can remember as a youngster hearing my father play the records of Miles Davis on the turntable downstairs. Jazz has remained a cornerstone of my life and especially the music of Miles."
Cheadle has learned how to play trumpet and will play the lead role when shooting in Cincinnati in a fortnight. The soundtrack will be based around the original Davis music. "You don't want to mess with that man's music," Cheadle jokes. "But there are some recordings where solos are married to the bass and if it works for the film then it will appear to be me playing."
Cheadle has been acting in films for nearly 30 years and he knows the industry inside out. He received a producer's Oscar in 2004 for Crash and will be making his directorial debut on the film, which will be called Miles Ahead. It has been a struggle to get the film off the ground – funds are being raised using an innovative Indiegogo appeal. The campaign closes on July 10 and has already raised $151,396 of its $325,000 goal. The film has the support of Davis's nephew, Vince Wilburn, and son Erin David and Cheadle is sure the musician, who died on September 28, 1991, aged 65, would approve. "We are raising it in a very social way and I'm sure if Miles were alive he would be championing that. He believed music was social.
"There have been many attempts to make a film about the life of Miles Davis happen. The appeal has always been that his is just one of those touchstone stories," says Cheadle. "But I think the problem has been that a Miles Davis movie is seen by a lot of people in the business as a niche subject matter. Jazz is sometimes seen as refined, a bit dated even, and therefore something that it is easier to put in an unfavourable box. There is also the problem that making any film which is a period piece is difficult logistically. But once you have cracked the code of how to do the story then you can work on its international potential."
He is pleased that the UK was one of the first territories to bid on the film.
There are some very talented people involved, too. Ewan McGrgeor, who likes his jazz, is also on board and will be playing a Rolling Stone magazine reporter. Robert Glasper, the Grammy Award-winning musician, is composing music for the film, and pianist and composer Herbie Hancock, who was such an integral part of what is sometimes referred to as Davis's second great quintet in the Sixties – also featuring Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams – is also involved. "I'm so lucky to be able to talk to Herbie about Miles's music," says Cheadle. The script is being co-written by David Baigelman. "This film is being produced independent of any major studios, so every dollar raised by this campaign is going directly towards the budget," says Cheadle.
Much of the movie will focus on the period after 1979, which was just prior to what Cheadle calls his "quote unquote comeback and the challenges to come out of his silent period and return to music." Cheadle adds: "Some biopics fall into the didactic trap of elaborately telling every moment of the subject's career. You can get that in a fine documentary by Ken Burns or a biography. This will not be a staid and dry historical film."
Another factor with Davis, of course, is that a man who grew up admiring the jazz trumpet playing of Roy Eldridge and Harry James branched out in many musical directions. "Miles Davis did not want to be defined by jazz," says Cheadle. "Right before he passed away he was recording with Prince and if he was working today it would probably be with contemporary artists like Jay-Z. He liked every kind of music."
He was also sometimes, I say, a difficult and prickly man to work with, and a man with his own problems of addiction. "Oh, we're not hiding anything," says Cheadle. "But the thing about a genius is that their stories are normally different. A genius will consume everything around them and we the listeners get to enjoy the fruits of that consumption. Lives like his tend to work in concentric circles and that sort of contract is what you get with a personality like Miles Davis. For family and friends and musical colleagues, you decide whether it's worth going through.
"Some tap out, of course. But the film will deal with the questions that Davis faced: about who we really are, what we have to say and how will we say it. How will we ultimately be defined and who gets to say so? This has been a 10-year journey to bring this to the screen and because it's Miles Davis it will be worth it."