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BILL VAUGHAN’S TASTY CLIPS: Carl Lumbly gives voice to ‘Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool’

Carl Lumbly has long been a fan fascinated by Miles Davis. So he was a perfect choice to give voice to the words of the iconic jazz trumpeter for the Stanley Nelson-directed documentary “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool” premiering Feb. 25 nationwide on the PBS series “American Masters.”

The busy veteran actor, whose credits include “Men of Honor,” “Night John,” “South Central,” “To Sleep With Anger” and “Doctor Sleep,” listened to interviews to get a physical sense of Miles’ voice and his phrasing which he described as “that St. Louis, Missouri syncopated speech that he had.”

He also studied Quincy Troupe’s book, ‘Miles and Me,” where much of the text that was used in the film comes from.

According to Lumbly, who counts “Tutu,” “Kind of Blue,” “Birth of the Cool,” “On The Corner” and the recently released “Rubber Band” among his favorite albums: “Every goodbye ain’t gone. Miles’ influence, especially on the generations coming behind him and his relevance, his pertinence, his prescience, he was one for the ages.

“Some of his behaviors I would not want to model for anyone, and I don’t know that he wanted to model them, but he played the hand he was given. He fell prey certainly to drugs and to some of the vulnerabilities that fame can bring. He came up in a time where his relationships with women were not always of the highest integrity, but he was honest about who he was and how he represented himself.”

Despite having such a tumultuous life, Lumbly, in his research, couldn’t recall finding any examples of Miles admitting to regret. 

“I think his sense was ‘I am who I am,’” he said. “I got through it the best I could.  I think right up to the day of his passing he was still becoming.”

The prolific star made a most memorable mark in the mid-90s as primetime television’s first black superhero lead with the Fox series “M.A.N.T.I.S.”

He has continued in the genre doing voice work as D.C.’s J’onn J’onzz/Martian Manhunter in the Cartoon Network’s animated “Justice League,” as the character’s father in the live-action CW series “Supergirl,” and a just announced role in the upcoming Marvel/Disney + mini-series “The Falcon & The Winter Soldier.”

Lumbly had an interesting response to directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese opining that comics-based films are less than cinema.

“I think every fox knows its own hole best,” he said. “I would posit that for some people films glamorizing crime organizations that litter the streets with bullet-ridden bodies might not be someone’s cup of tea, no matter how beautifully rendered the depiction is.

“It’s always about a story. Comics have taken the hit of being frivolous and escapist but point of fact, many scenes that could not be addressed in standard literature have been addressed in comics.”

He takes issue that in many of Scorsese’s films, black people are either absent or too free in using the N-word in his depiction of black people.

“Those films, while they were of use, there were also some things I found pretty reprehensible and certainly did not represent black people in total — or at all,” he added. 

“I look at Woody Allen’s films and I would quarrel with the worlds that he chooses to show in that I don’t think, especially as a New Yorker, it represents the world that I see when I go there.  But I don’t think some of his films are artistically challenged, even if I feel they’re sociologically challenged, because art can be found by many different eyes. And just because my eye doesn’t like it, it doesn’t mean it’s not art.”

With much of what he considers his best work on the stage including his portrayal of poet/composer Gil Scott-Heron behind him, Lumbly is currently writing a one-man show on James Baldwin.

“It’s what comes to you to make yourself fertile soil,” said the 68-year-old. “It catches me off guard in a way because I’ve had the good fortune to become, I’ll say seasoned even though we know the old word is what I mean in this business.

“I kind of flaunt this idea that I was being pulled into old age but it’s actually more like something I feel like I’ve climbed.  I’ve achieved an ascendancy, not in terms of the industry, but in terms of my own hopes and desires of the kind of artist I can be and there’s no top to that. You can’t reach the summit of your own creativity because that means you’ve stopped creating.”

CLIPPETTES: Dre Day LA 2020 will be held on Feb. 21 at Echoplex with special guests Battlecat and J.Rocc and others spinning everything Dr. Dre-related

Also that evening, Dj Quik + Tha Dogg Pound are at The Observatory; Kandace Springs brings her vocalese to The Blue Whale; and Craig Robinson begins a three-night stand at the Irvine Improv …  

In honor of the film’s 35th anniversary, “The Color Purple” returns to movie theaters in its first nationwide release in more than three decades on Feb. 23. Visit FathomEvents.com for info

“Georgia on My Mind: The Music of Ray Charles,” featuring Grammy-winning vocal sensation Take 6; Grammy-nominated singer Nnenna Freelon; Grammy-winning jazz saxophonist-songwriter Kirk Whalum; and Grammy-nominated singer Clint Holmes, will be presented that evening at the Irvine Barclay Theatre

Meanwhile, by popular demand, the engagement of keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith with The Katalyst at the Lodge Room has been extended; and Arnold McCuller (long-time featured vocalist with James Taylor and Phil Collins) is at Vibrato Grill & Jazz  

Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge and Storm Reid are expected at the premiere of Universal’s “The Invisible Man” Feb. 24 at TCL’s Chinese Theatre. Arrivals should begin between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. for the film opening to the public four days later  

Also “Chuck Berry: Brown Eyed Handsome Man” will be screened that night followed by a discussion with son Charles Berry Jr., Danny Glover, Earth Wind & Fire’s Verdine White and producer Ron Weisner at the Grammy Museum. The film, to debut Feb. 28 as a PBS pledge special, features full performances of Berry compositions by Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and more.

TC ON TV: Feb. 21 – “Hunters” (Amazon): Executive produced by Jordan Peele and led by the great Al Pacino, this series follows a diverse band of Nazi hunters living in 1977 New York City. It marks the return of actress Tiffany Boone who left the “The Chi” over her charges of an unsafe set. “Gentefied” (Netflix): America Ferrera is an executive producer of this series centering on Latinx cousins operating their grandfather’s taco shop in a rapidly gentrifying L.A. neighborhood. “The Last Thing He Wanted” (Netflix): Writer/Director Dee Rees, the first black woman nominated for an adapted screenplay Oscar for 2017’s “Mudbound,” returns with this political thriller starring Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Rosie Perez and Willem Dafoe. She will next write and direct a movie adaptation of “Porgy & Bess.” “Fresh Off The Boat” (ABC): The ground-breaking comedy ends its run with back-to-back episodes featuring Randall Park (who directs one of them), Constance Wu and Hudson Yang. Jaleel White and Andy Richter guest star. 

Feb. 22 – “51st NAACP Image Awards” (BET): Anthony Anderson returns for a seventh year as host for the event honoring Rihanna and U.S. Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis. Jill Scott and H.E.R., along with Skip Marley, are among the performers.   

Feb. 23 – “Unsung” (TV1): Dru Hill

Feb. 24 – “Black In Space: Breaking The Color Barrier” (Smithsonian): This is the untold story of the decades-long battle between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to be the first superpower to bring diversity to the skies, told by the black astronauts and their families, who were part of this little known chapter of the Cold War. “Independent Lens” (PBS): “Always In Season” follows the tragedy of African-American teenager Lennon Lacy, who in August 2014 was found hanging from a swing set in North Carolina. His death was ruled a suicide, but the family believes he was lynched.

Feb. 25 – “Pete Davidson: Alive From New York” (Netflix): The comedian and “SNL” star drops a candid and intimate stand-up special shot live in Manhattan.

Feb. 27 – “Altered Carbon” (Netflix): Anthony Mackie takes on the role of a prisoner returning to life in a new body after 250 years on ice in order to solve a murder. Renee Elise Goldsberry (“Waves”) and Simone Missick (“All Rise”) co-star in the second season of the sci-fi series.

TASTY QUIP: “I set the stage for a sharp black woman to walk through the door with style, class, humor and looks. I could be creative and expressive and bring ME to the clothes, and Norman [Lear] let me be impromptu and bring me to Willona. My job as Willona was to make it right, fast and funny. It was a wonderful thing that happened. It changed the scene for the type of black woman being shown. The wigs, the hats, my everything was a dream come true. I used to teach acting in NYC and I taught the kids how to present themselves, show them the best. Every dream I had came to fruition through ‘Good Times,’ so those kids could watch me on TV and see me applying all I taught them.” – Emmy Award-winning actress JA’NET DuBOIS [R.I.P.] to Andy Cohen

As featured in the Los Angeles Wave and Independent, Tasty Clips is one of the leading entertainment columns in the nation, serving nearly one million weekly readers. Bill Vaughan may be reached at tastyclips@yahoo.com, via Twitter @tastyclips, or Instagram @tasty_clips.