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Family Of Miles Davis Celebrates Documentary And Restored East St. Louis Home

Family of Miles Davis celebrated his life and legacy at his childhood in East St. Louis on Sept. 5, 2019.
Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio
Family of Miles Davis celebrated his life and legacy at his childhood in East St. Louis. The first phase of development, which includes a museum, is now complete.

The first phase of a project to restore the childhood home of famed trumpeter Miles Davis in East St. Louis is now complete.

The House of Miles East St. Louis opened its doors in June 2018. The first phase included the creation of a Miles Davis museum, an art gallery and a classroom setting for musicians and children. The space, which includes concert posters and artifacts, is a fitting tribute to the jazz musician, his family and friends said this week.

“This is a beautiful homage or a beautiful contribution to what made Uncle Miles Davis, Miles Dewey Davis,” said Vince Wilburn Jr., the famed trumpeter’s nephew. “Can you picture him coming out of the house, going to school, spitting rice with his embouchure right down these streets where we’re standing? That’s amazing to me.”

Willburn, who played the drums in his uncle's band, visited the house Thursday with the trumpeter's son, Erin Davis, and his daughter Cheryl Davis. They arrived to attend the St. Louis release of "Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool," a documentary on Davis and his contributions to jazz and popular music.

Directed by filmmaker Stanley Nelson, the documentary traces the trumpeter's evolution as a musician and journey to New York City, where he would become one of the most influential musicians in jazz. Nelson, who also came to the house, said the composer was a remarkable presence. 

“Nobody has done more to innovate in jazz than miles over five decades of music,” Nelson said. “Miles is a very complicated individual, and that complication makes for a more complicated, richer film.” 

The film will show at Landmark's Tivoli Theatre in University City through Sept. 12. It features interviews with members of the Davis family and musicians who worked with the trumpeter, including pianist Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones and Carlos Santana. Some of the first interviews for the documentary were filmed inside the house, Nelson said.

“This is where he’s from, right here,” Nelson said. “I’m sure that Bethoveen’s house is commemorated; I’m sure Bach’s house and that’s where Miles stands in the pantheon of musicians. Miles is a giant, there’s nobody like Miles.”

Now that work on the first part of the house restoration project is done, workers will begin renovating its basement, said Lauren A. Parks, president of House of Miles East St. Louis.

“[Davis] practiced with his first high school band in that basement,” Parks said. “We’re going to renovate that so we can share that with our young people.”

Work on the next phase of the project will begin soon, said Jasper Gary Pearson, vice president and co-founder of the project. It will feature a multipurpose building that will include some of the composer’s most-valued possessions. 

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

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Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.