This is the first of many memorable lines Q-Tip read as Miles Davis in a sold out script reading for Nelson George‘s My Funny Valentine at the Public Theater Monday night. Narrated by Margot Bingham and featuring Chris Beetem, Jaime Lincoln Smith, Morocco Omari, and others, the screenplay is set in the early 80s and finds Davis drugged out and frustrated, the famed trumpeter trying to maintain relevance in an era where jazz no longer reigns supreme as America’s soundtrack.
But an avid young white fan by the name of Sammy (Rarmian Newton) reignites a passion for life and music in Davis. The latter responds to the former’s letter asking to meet him while he’s in New York City on Valentine’s Day. The events that transpire between the two constantly teeter between comedy and poignancy, as Sammy slowly realizes that the “So What” trumpeter isn’t who he used to be. He hasn’t touched his trumpet or his electric piano in years. He’s disappointed in some of his peers because they’re comfortable with playing traditional jazz and not experimenting with the genre. He’s also envious of peers who’ve successfully crossed over and made jazz interesting to a younger audience. And he’s looking for love on Valentine’s Day, a through line that manifests itself not only through his relationship with music but his relationship with on-and-off again partner Enzinga, portrayed by actress Simone Missick.
Q-Tip’s portrayal of a post-fame Davis was so compelling that I constantly forgot I was watching a hip-hop icon portray a jazz icon. The two were intertwined; Q-Tip’s imitation of Davis’ raspy and soft voice showcased the trumpeter’s multiplicity — his angst, charm, humor, coolness. Davis was a flawed human being and the dedication Q-Tip offered in conveying that is an integral part of My Funny Valentine‘s allure.
Ideally, George will transform his screenplay into a full play. (Unlike a play script readings aren’t complete productions, with actors and actresses simply reading their parts.) But even if he doesn’t, My Funny Valentine as a script reading was still a compelling and immersive experience, with Q-Tip capturing the flawed genius of one of music’s greatest artists.
“I’m trying to be your funny valentine’s bitch.”
“Have we fucked yet?”
“Eating pussy comes with a multitude of sins.”
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