Early on in Stanley J. Nelson’s reverential, lovingly illustrated primer on the jazz legend, its subject (or rather, an actor rasping out his words in a decent facsimile) says, “Living is an adventure and a challenge. It wasn’t about standing still and becoming safe.” True enough: anyone who knows their Kind of Blue from their Bitches Brew knows that Davis was a restless, relentless artist, forever exploring, adopting, and adapting. But who knows, maybe Nelson also put that line up front as a kind of wink to the audience: Yes, I know that my presentation here is decidedly still and safe — i.e., black and white photographs, talking heads, womb-to-tomb structure, etc. — but what of it? I’m just the framer; the man is the artwork. Let that be enough. Enjoy. Well, okay then. The result, for the most part, is pleasant and informative, if not particularly inspiring or revelatory. But now and then, the music and images can’t help but break through: Davis improvising a soundtrack as he watches Jeanne Moreau in Staircase to the Gallows, Davis bloodied and handcuffed after being assaulted by a New York City cop while smoking a cigarette under his own marquee. (2019) — Matthew Lickona
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