'Birth Of The Cool' Children's Book Introduces Miles Davis' Music to Kids

May 10, 2019

Check out WBGO's Music Calender for information on an upcoming event to meet Keith and Kathleen at Revolution Books this Saturday May 18 at 5pm for an all-ages reading, discussion and signing.

Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound

Birth of the Cool, is a legendary compilation of recordings from Miles Davis. It’s also the title of a new biography on the trumpeter, presented in the form of a children’s book by author Kathleen Cornell Berman.

“I fell in love with his sound as a kid,” she said.  “My brother used to play his records.  I love the way he sounded.  Just beautiful and very haunting.  I couldn’t wait to hear it again.”

The book uses free verse poetry to take readers through Miles Davis’ journey from childhood, to the stage at the Newport Jazz Festival.  Berman also gathered quotes from Miles and other musicians, to add context.

“One that I loved is actually not by Miles, it’s by Charlie Haden who he never played with.  He describes his music as so beautiful and it made him so deeply that he felt like crying when he heard his sound,” Berman said.

Illustrator Keith Henry Brown used to work in comics but took his inspiration for Birth of the Cool from two of his favorite watercolor artists.

“Drawing watercolor style, I was trying to match what I thought Kathy was doing in my own style,” he said.  “There are people that I really admire like Ben Shahn, and there’s a jazz illustrator who I absolutely love named David Stone Martin. I always thought they were the best at depicting jazz in a drawing form.  They also used water color and pen and ink.  I didn’t want to emulate either of them, but I wanted that feeling.”

Birth of the Cool illustrator Keith Henry Brown and author Kathleen Cornell Berman .
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

Brown says the Miles Davis’ sound had an influence on his choice to become an artist.  He hopes the same for kids that pick up the book.

“It’s not just for the words, the music, and the subject but where a kid picks it up and says, ‘There’s a brown person on the cover by the name of Miles Davis and he seems really cool.’  Then he gets on Apple Music and starts playing it and saying, ‘this sounds good,’” said Brown.

“When kids read Birth of the Cooland adults included, I want them to be inspired by his determination,” said author Kathleen Cornell Berman.  “I wanted the biography to be a little different than other biographies that are filled with facts. So, I just really wanted them to feel his music and to feel how he must have felt when he finally achieved his dream.”

To hear an extended WBGO conversation with Kathleen Cornell Berman and Kieth Henry Brown, click below.