After years in development, it appears that all the pieces are finally falling into place for the Miles Davis biopic Kill the Trumpet Player. Don Cheadle is set to portray Davis and will also direct the film, working from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Steven Baigelman. Ewan McGregor and Zoe Saldana will take on supporting roles.
Though Davis was one of the most influential musicians of all time, Hollywood has never before succeeded in bringing his fascinating life story to the big screen. Kill the Trumpet Player will adopt an unconventional structure to communicate Davis’ personality. According to the official press release, the film will tell “the story of a few dangerous days in the life of Miles Davis, the virtuoso, fighter and genius, as he bursts out of his silent period and conspires with a Rolling Stone writer (McGregor) to steal back his music.”
That description places Kill the Trumpet Player in the early ’80s. Davis left the public eye in 1975, withdrawing into his home and descending into a haze of booze, sex and drug addiction. It was only in 1981 that he reemerged, releasing a rock-oriented album titled The Man with the Horn.
Developing Kill the Trumpet Player has been a labor of love for Cheadle; the House of Lies actor has been pushing the project forward since 2006. The film will now serve as his directorial debut.
Back in 2011, he described his vision for the film as the following:
I wouldn’t call it a biopic. We’re working on a film about a couple days in Miles’ life, and it’s wall-to-wall his music, and wall-to-wall him… It’s actually during his silent period. It’s a very interesting take on the genre, to me. And that’s why I’m excited about it, because it’s not a cradle-to-grave, right-down-the-middle story where you’re [hitting all these biographical] benchmarks, like when he met Charlie Bird, and was introduced to John Coltrane. It’s not trying to be what I think a PBS show could do much better, which is an overview of Miles Davis’ life. It’s a movie that Miles Davis would have wanted to star in… Miles Davis was relevant as a musician for 40 years. Where do you get in and out? How do you do that without giving every bit of his life short shrift? So we didn’t want to try to cram into a 90-minute movie, or even 120-minute movie, every bit of information that we could. We wanted to create a piece of art, a piece of film, that would intrigue people and maybe want to make them do their own investigations of his life, and decide what his life and music meant to them.
Cheadle’s obvious enthusiasm for the project has me very excited. Davis was a remarkably eclectic figure in the music world, and Kill the Trumpet Player sounds like it will focus on the tormented man behind the music, which is an undeniably risky but extremely promising proposition. Especially with an actor of Cheadle’s caliber involved, the chances of Kill the Trumpet Player hitting all the right notes are extremely high.
McGregor is likely playing Rolling Stone writer Don DeMicheal, who wrote a cover story on Davis in 1969, and I’d bet that Saldana is portraying actress Cicely Tyson, who helped Davis overcome his cocaine addiction and later married him. Both actors have experience playing figures from history; McGregor played the titular convict in I Love You Philip Morris as well as Gene Vidal in Amelia, while Saldana recently wrapped the Nina Simone biopic Nina.
BiFrost Pictures will finance and produce Kill the Trumpet Player, which will likely shoot at some point next year.
Are you excited to see Cheadle’s take on one of jazz’s most enduring pioneers? Let us know in the comments section!