Don Cheadle’s latest film “Miles Ahead” takes an in-depth look into the complex, yet fascinating life and legacy of legendary jazz musician Miles Davis.
While the movie is a hit at the box office and garnering rave reviews, the musical arrangements have struck a chord with audiences. Two-time Grammy award winning jazz artist Robert Glasper partnered with SONY Music and Don to executive produce and compose all material for both the “Miles Ahead” soundtrack and “Everything’s Beautiful,” a compilation of reimagined compositions.
As both albums contain the prolific, soulful spirit of Miles, the creative process differed for Glasper on each album.
“One of the main things that attracted people to Miles was his swag. The music was one thing, but it was also his attitude that was so fearless." — Robert Glasper
“This ['Miles Ahead'] soundtrack is dear to my heart and probably more interesting than most things I’ve done,” Glasper told NBCBLK. “Half of the recordings are Miles Davis original tracks and the other half are songs that I scored for the movie. There were some things I had to literally recreate and inspire myself to sound like him."
“Miles Ahead” also marks Don Cheadle’s directorial debut, so it was no surprise to learn he was alongside Glasper every inch of the song selection process.
“Don Cheadle is a very musical cat,” he says. “He knew exactly what he wanted and he would have to hear the song play to a scene in his head. On top of that, there were scenes that weren’t filmed yet and the purpose is for the music to match the emotion of the scene. I could play Don ten songs and only one would click for him. That was the most challenging part about composing the soundtrack.”
“As I finished one track, that would be my favorite and as I would finish the next, the next one would become my new favorite. Any composer knows that feeling. But if I had to choose in this moment, I would have to pick ‘Junior’s Jam.’ By next week, I’ll probably go with 'What’s Wrong with That,'" he added.
The musician is not stopping there with paying homage to his favorite artist. On May 27 Glasper will release another album based on Miles’s original music.
Aptly entitled “Everything’s Beautiful,” the album includes a roster of talented guest artists that interpret different songs from Miles's catalogue in a whole new way.
Erykah Badu is featured on “Mayisha,” Bilal accompanies him on “Ghetto Walkin,” and Stevie Wonder closes out the album with “Right on Brotha.” Before handpicked them, Glasper made sure each artist met the criteria of being tried and true Miles Davis fans.
“I didn’t want to call up random artists because they’re famous or had some buzz brewing. I wanted to make sure they all had an honest, real appreciation for Miles Davis," Glasper said of his labor of love. "Not everyone is an A-Lister, some of the artists are from the underground scene, but they have the respect of everyone.”
Glasper didn’t want to approach these two albums like remix compilations or alternative albums. He treated these albums as his own projects.
“The albums weren’t so hard to do,” he says. “Because I’ve infused so many different styles of music together, I felt that I could do in a way that hasn’t been done before. I asked specifically if I could do it differently cause normally when people do a remix album, they always pretty much just take four bars of something, chop it and include a hip-hop beat to it.”
In most cases when artists attempt to attain or sample music from any posthumous artists, tedious procedures may follow. Problems often stem from clearance approvals, copyright infringement, royalty disbursements, but fortunately for Robert, his encounters with the Miles Estate were stress-free.
“I went into the vault to pull multi-tracks of Miles Davis’s albums and make whole new songs out of them,” he said. “They granted me so much access and allowed me to integrate different elements of his recordings together. I would take the bass from one recording, add it to the piano of another recording, mix up certain ad-libs and inflections to make a totally new track.
Glasper is especially proud of the fact that this new album is not just a regurgitation of Miles Davis songs like the ones composed on the soundtrack. "I feel like this album was even better because it signifies the amount of artistic inspiration that Miles has given others. He was all about new things and not dwelling in what you’ve already done. I wanted to keep that spirit going.”
Glasper hopes to pay tribute to more than just the music, but Davis' passion, honesty and artistic boldness.
“One of the main things that attracted people to Miles was his swag,” Glasper professed. “The music was one thing, but it was also his attitude that was so fearless. He had a lot of courage and was so fearless. Once you’re not afraid to mess up is when you stumble across great things. He was a master at knowing who to pick in his band to support him. He never had the same band members for a long time, he always desired for the fresh cats that can translate his funk. Miles was never afraid to share the spotlight and was all for giving the next guy a shot.”