Hawke participated in developing “Born to Be Blue,” which costars Carmen Ejogo and Callum Keith Rennie and will focus on the late-career Baker who, emerging from a fog of drug abuse and self-destruction, attempted to stage a comeback before falling down one last time–tragically, out of a window. We may see 1987 “Live in Tokyo”-era Baker, one of his final tours a year before he died facedown in an Amsterdam street in 1988, drugged to the gills and alone. It’s a tragic and triumphant performance that almost had the world fooled that he could survive. (The New York Times’ John Vinocur writes a glimmering story here.)
Can Hawke pull it off? Baker was devastating and debonair until addiction rendered him ungainly and physically bereft.
K5 International will handle worldwide sales rights at the American Film Market in Santa Monica, where another jazz biopic project percolated last year: “Miles Ahead” (named after his 1957 album with Gil Evans, and originally titled “Kill the Trumpet Player”) stars Don Cheadle as Miles Davis opposite Zoe Saldana and Ewan McGregor. Cheadle directs a screenplay by Steve Baigelman about Davis’ cooling-off period ten years after releasing his divisive 1969 fusion record “In a Silent Way,” a masterpiece that had American music critics thinking Davis had sold out. Within the film, which has apparently wrapped shooting, are flashbacks to Davis’ relationship with former wife Frances Taylor.
At AFM 2013, Cheadle was asked whether his part-crowdfunded film was a biopic. His response: “Let’s kill that term, OK? I hope with this film we can kill the biopic. This film won’t try to give a broad overview of Davis’ life and give short shrift to this man’s story,” he said at the time. “For us as creative people, the time of his life that was most interesting was the five years when he wasn’t playing, when he was silent. What was going on in his mind? And how did he come out of it and return to music?”
Entertainment Weekly has the early scoop on “Miles Ahead” here, as we await a release date. Meanwhile, you can see John Hawkes as bebop-playing piano man Joe Albany in “Low Down,” which is currently in theaters and getting mixed reviews. “Like Born to Be Blue” (and unlike Alex Gibney’s “Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown”) this is about an artist’s drug days.
Listen to bits from Baker’s “Live in Tokyo” and Davis’ “In A Silent Way” below. These are two of the great jazz records. Check out Bruce Weber’s Oscar-nominated 1988 Baker doc “Let’s Get Lost” (trailer below). And (for my money) the best jazz film is John Cassavetes’ 1959 “Shadows,” not because it is about the jazz world per se — but because it weaves and bobs to the rhythms of jazz and of the alienated beat generation that drank the jazz scene.