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Meet the Miles Davis heirs who keep his work alive and made 'Miles Ahead'

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Davis' son, Erin, and nephew, Vince Wilburn Jr., open up about preserving the trumpeter's legacy and fielding years of movie pitches before teaming up with Don Cheadle.

“Miles Ahead,” the long-awaited movie about Miles Davis, will be released in theaters this week after making the rounds of film festivals in the U.S. and Europe. It stars Don Cheadle as the late trumpeter. The film also marks Cheadle’s directorial debut. The score was created by pianist and composer Robert Glasper.

In the nearly 25 years since Miles Davis died, there have been several attempts to translate his life to the screen. (Wesley Snipes was reportedly attached to play him at one point!) But any filmmaker with a pitch had to get the blessing of the Davis family members who are the keepers of the artist's legacy.

Erin Davis is the musician's youngest son and Vince Wilburn Jr. is the trumpeter's nephew. The two cousins, along with Erin's sister, Cheryl Ann Davis, are partners in the Miles Davis estate.

"We're all family but we curate and take care of the legacy of Miles Davis." says Erin Davis.

"It wasn't handed to us. It was bestowed upon us," Wilburn adds. "It's like walking. It's protecting our family crest, so to speak." The two laugh at that idea but they clearly take their job seriously. 

Among their responsibilities are managing who and how Davis' music is used, when to issue unreleased tracks, and how to preserve his paintings. Davis was a passionate painter whose work has been collected by the likes of Quincy Jones.

Erin Davis says: "Some people will ask us to license music for samples, and if the content of the music isn't on the up-and-up, so to speak — if it's derogatory in any way, then we know we can't grant that license."

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 10:  Erin Davis, son of Miles Davis, attends Music Discussions with Galadrielle Allman, Erin Davis, Vince Wilburn Jr., Stephen Trask and A.O. Scott during CBGB Music & Film Festival 2014 on October 10, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for CBGB)
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for CBGB
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 10: Erin Davis, son of Miles Davis, attends Music Discussions with Galadrielle Allman, Erin Davis, Vince Wilburn Jr., Stephen Trask and A.O. Scott during CBGB Music & Film Festival 2014 on October 10, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for CBGB)

But Davis says that his father wasn't very explicit in his wishes.

Naturally, if any filmmaker wanted to make a movie based on the life of Miles Davis, he or she had to work with the family. Erin Davis tells The Frame that since his father died in 1991, they've been fielding pitches for feature films.
Movie pitches and meetings came and went over the years until 2006, when Wilburn made a bold statement that ended up setting in motion a series of events leading to Don Cheadle and "Miles Ahead."
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 10:  Vince Wilburn Jr., nephew of Miles Davis, attends Music Discussions with Galadrielle Allman, Erin Davis, Vince Wilburn Jr., Stephen Trask and A.O. Scott during CBGB Music & Film Festival 2014 on October 10, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for CBGB)
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for CBGB
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 10: Vince Wilburn Jr., nephew of Miles Davis, attends Music Discussions with Galadrielle Allman, Erin Davis, Vince Wilburn Jr., Stephen Trask and A.O. Scott during CBGB Music & Film Festival 2014 on October 10, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for CBGB)
The cousins recount the emotional experience of visiting the set of "Miles Ahead" during the Summer of 2015: 

"We walked into what's supposed to be West 77th Street — Uncle Miles' brownstone," says Wilburn, who is a producer on the film. "I looked at Erin. We didn't really say much to each other because we felt a vibe. And I started crying."

Erin Davis, who is is an executive producer on the film, was equally moved: "I didn't see Don right away because they were shooting something. But someone handed me some headphones. And I hear someone who sounds very close to my father coming out of these headphones and I'm like, Oh boy. It was like kind of eerie in the best possible way."

Wilburn says that Cheadle was very welcoming to their input.

Erin Davis sums up their role this way.
Among the ways the family is expanding Miles Davis's music to new listeners is through an album by Robert Glasper, “Everything Is Beautiful" set for release on May 27 which is the day after Miles Davis birthday. The legendary musician would have turned 90 years old this year.
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