New York City filmmaker inspires diverse youth with Miles Davis' documentary

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, Manhattan (WABC) -- The man who made a new documentary about Miles Davis calls the late jazz trumpeter, "the coolest man who ever lived," and producer/director Stanley Nelson says as important as Davis' contribution to music surely was, his influence as a man might even have been greater.

"Cool" is one of those words that's hard to define, but the music of Davis sure comes close, as a new documentary called "Birth of The Cool" makes abundantly clear.

"Miles Davis was one of the most important figures in all of jazz all of music," Nelson said.

With Davis' music evolving over time, Nelson calls him "a certified genius."

"Miles kind of redefined jazz," Nelson said. "And in some ways redefined the music four or five different times in his life."

Davis' later work helped set the stage for hip-hop, and the jazz great's influence extended well beyond music.

"Miles defined a different way that African Americans and African American men could look at the world," Nelson said. "My skin color is not something to hold me back, but as somebody says in the film, also something that can promote my ascendancy."

"Birth of The Cool" is just one of the films coming out of Nelson's busy facility in Washington Heights, where he nurtures the talents of the next generation of documentary filmmakers.

"Diverse views give you diverse films and pump energy and life into documentary filmmaking," he said.

His new movie will be eligible for an Oscar next year, and Nelson sees signs of change at the Academy Awards.

"The Academy has realized that they need to diversify and has really pushed for diversification within their membership," he said.

And Stanley Nelson says that has changed the films being nominated.

He reminded me that two years ago when "O.J.: Made in America" won the Oscar for best documentary feature, four of the five features in that category were made by African Americans.

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