Miles Davis sounds a trumpet for storytelling

Storytelling in marketing boils down to taking your audiences on a fantastic journey — along a winding road with surprising twists and turns that keeps them highly engaged and yearning for more. Consider that our species fundamentally gains knowledge through stories and the most impactful and memorable lessons occur when a number of the 5 senses are stimulated in concert.

Recently I experienced a multi sensory extravaganza of such inspiring proportions that it lit up parts of my brain that I didn’t even know existed. It all started with the highly rated production that depicted the life and times of the legendary jazz trumpet maestro Miles Davis (1926-1991) in a movie titled Miles Ahead. The biographical account of the artist is action packed, unlike most movies of this genre, and kept me at the edge of my seat, which is exactly what the director, Don Cheadle, intended.

Cheadle took a big risk in this creative approach that revolved around a moment in time and spun a drama about the trumpeter’s fall from grace and bouncebackability that characterised his long and prolific career, and thus creating a dazzling visual representation of the man and his demons.

It is ill advised to watch the movie before reading the book, but I did it anyway because I received Miles, The Autobiography as a Christmas gift soon after watching the film. Written in his own voice, the book provides a linear account of his upbringing, his rise to stardom and the twilight years with a heavy dose of American street slang and swearing that would make a sailor blush. If he played his trumpet the way he wrote, he’d have died of starvation.

Anyone in the creative field will relate to Miles’ life especially when he narrates the tales about the inspiration behind his music and how he pieced his bands carefully together to create new sounds and break new ground. It wasn’t all hunky-dory and indeed his darkest days seem to have inexplicably propelled the man to new heights.

Through the movie and the book I was able to see and sense the fire in his belly that drove him to the edge of insanity but inspired him to create the greatest jazz over 6 decades. However, the ultimate story, the real magic and the spell that forever binds you is the one that is cast through the celebrated music that he composed and played.

He may not have been able to write to save his life but he could spin a tale with his trumpet that takes your soul to a whole new level. His discography of 149 albums is the quintessential autobiography perceived through sound as it captures your spirit and haunts your dreams; told like no one else can tell it. Every time you hear his music, another chapter of his life unfolds, like a gift that keeps on giving.

Within interactive advertising we cannot afford to wait a lifetime to tell a compelling story but what my recent experience illustrates is that you must find an angle, like they did with the movie; base it on a underlying human truth, like he did with the autobiography; and it must be filled with passion, as it is with his music.


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