Don Cheadle said there was little chance he’d get to see much of Asbury Park.
“I’m getting on a plane first thing the morning,” he said during a Friday night interview just before the Asbury Park Music in Film Festival 7 p.m. screening of “Miles Ahead,” the film he wrote, directed and transforms into the iconic jazz trumpeter, composer, and band leader.
The Asbury Park Music in Film Festival, which continues throughout Saturday and Sunday with films, concerts, and panel discussions at entertainment venues throughout the Jersey Shore city, was organized to help fund music education for the city’s youth while ensuring Asbury’s rich music culture continues on its trajectory.
“One of the most important things about this festival for me is giving back to the city’s youth and giving back to Asbury Park,” said Tom River native Danny Clinch, a photographer and Grammy nominated filmmaker.
Alisha Armstrong and Teddy Clermont, 57, drove down from Jersey and Union City, respectively for the screening at Asbury Park’s historic Paramount Theatre.
“You better blame it on social music,” Armstrong immediately following the screening, referring to Miles’ pivoting album and the poignant line from Cheadle’s film: “Don’t call it jazz man, that’s some made up word – it’s social music.”
Armstrong said although she is not a musician, the film managed to convey Miles’ talent for hearing the missing element.
Cheadle’s vision of the artist’s transformative period showcases a riff of past and present in a collision of untethered imagery and undefined story structure.
“I liked it, actually,” Clermont said. “I don’t think there was enough of the music but I understand [filmmaking] is a business. I was introduced to Miles in the late 1970s but this Miles I didn’t know. There’s an aspect of this that is new to me.”
As Cheadle and Miles took poetic license, so does this writer – for the apprehension I felt for just how one of my favorite entertainers would convey the artist’s brilliance was quickly shattered with the strong cuts and soft segue from past to present and back again.
In December 1969, Don DeMicheal said in his Rolling Stone article, “Miles Davis stands in relation to jazz music as Hemingway stood to the American novel, as Picasso stands to art.”
Cheadle delivers that message in his homage to the artist’s edict of not playing what’s there but playing what’s not there.
For me the film showed the generous heart of a complex man who shared his brilliance freely but went to the river’s edge to get what is stolen from him – albeit a bit of ‘Maltese Falcon’ chase, according to Cheadle.
My interview with the House of Lies star, who set off in 1987’s Hamburger Hill and brought us metered performances in Devil in Blue Dress, Rosewood, Boogie Nights, Traffic, Crash, and Hotel Rwanda, was brief.
But neither of seem to mind the impromptu questions from 5-year-old Elias Washington of Taluka Lake, Calif., who was visiting his mother Sechita McNair’s hometown.
Washington, a child actor, recognized the Iron Man star and wanted to ask a few questions of his own. The two actors shared quips in German and Dutch before I had the opportunity to ask one or two questions of my own.
Cheadle said he took on the project to ensure that it wouldn’t go away.
“I’ve been a Miles Davis fan for many, many years,” he said. “I first became aware of him as early as the 6th grade. I was into jazz.”
When asked what he takes away from his journey in learning the intimacies of the jazz legend [I know Miles hated being called a legend], Cheadle said, “His constant and continued commitment to trying to find the next way to express himself through his music and with his art. He was constantly on the search for the next musical adventure and that is something that is really inspiring to me.
“Think about all the different musical styles and genres that he touched; from his early jazz all the way up to the later years of his life when he was creating music with Prince. This is someone who was always on that hustle and always reaching for something. That to me is really something, that is really the inspirational and aspirational aspects of his life.”
The Asbury Park Music in Film Festival continues Saturday and Sunday with events at the Paramount Theatre, Wonder Bar, Jersey Shore Arts Center, The Stone Pony, House of Independents, The Saint, and Exhibit No. 9, Salt Studios, Parlor, and Art629 galleries.
For tickets and more information, visit www.apmff.com.
The Asbury Park Sun is affiliated with the triCityNews newspaper.