The recent release of Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead, the much-anticipated Chet Baker film Born To Be Blue (with Ethan Hawkes in the lead role) and 2014’s surprise hit Whiplash have seen jazz, and in particular our romantic ideas of jazz musicians as outlaws, firmly back on the mainstream cultural agenda.
Cheadle’s film portrays Davis as a truly troubled soul, an artist whose struggles to find a creative outlet in the confused, bloated mid to late-1970s led to some dark personal drama.
The usual telltale lazy adjective for describing Davis, the man and his music, is “effortless”. But everything the trumpet player did, from producing those delicate, walking-on-eggshells notes, to loosening a tie, smoking a cigarette or growling at an interviewer, was a strategic step, rich with purpose.
That's the way you judge a car, man, when you start it up. It's just the same thing. I mean, I drive a Ferrari – not to be cute, but because I dig it
Davis’ love of cars, and sports models in particular, is well known. Like so many other musicians, he found an escape and sense of freedom while driving. He owned four Ferraris: a 250 California Spider, a 250 GT Lusso, a 275 GTB/4 and a Testarossa.
In 1969, while discussing with a journalist ways to decide whether a piece of music is good or bad, Davis hit upon a motoring analogy. ‘That's the way you judge a car, man, when you start it up. It's just the same thing. I mean, I drive a Ferrari – not to be cute, but because I dig it.’
This was a man dialled in to every detail, someone who used each waking moment as a mode of expression. No wonder he dug Ferrari. No wonder we dig him.