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An upcoming biopic based on legendary jazz singer Miles Davis will feature Ohio University jazz performance student Julian Howard.

Q&A: Upcoming biopic on legendary jazz musician Miles Davis features OU jazz performance student

Ohio University student Julian Howard talks with The Post about his new role in the upcoming biopic Miles Ahead.

It was Tuesday morning during the summer of 2014 when Julian Howard received a call from his mother about a rare audition opportunity in Cincinnati.

“My mom called and was like, ‘Julian, they’re filming a movie here about Miles Davis. You need to audition,’” Howard, now a senior studying saxophone performance, said. “ ‘They’re looking for young jazz musicians.’ I said OK. There’s a lot of jazz musicians — how do you know they’re going to pick me. She said, ‘They need young, black jazz musicians in Cincinnati. That’s not a lot. Come audition.’ ”

Howard auditioned. Three weeks later, he was told he would have the opportunity to act and work alongside actor Don Cheadle, Grammy Award-winning pianist Robert Glasper and many others in the new upcoming biopic, Miles Ahead, which play at The Athena Cinema starting in May.

The Post caught up with Howard to talk about his role in the film, his experience on a Hollywood set and his plans after graduation.  

The Post: What was the audition process like?

Julian Howard: The audition took no more than 15 minutes. They had me read like two lines, play like 30 seconds. The whole time I sat waiting more time than the actual audition. I called (my mom) after the audition and was like, ‘Mom, it took me 15 minutes to audition. When I drove 2 1/2 hours it wasn’t worth my time.’ She said, ‘You never know, Julian.’ Then next thing I know, three weeks later, they called me and said, ‘Yeah we’d like to offer you this part.’

P: What was it like working with Don Cheadle and the cast and crew?

JH: It was an experience. Don Cheadle, he was the producer, actor and director of the movie. So you just saw him do a lot of different things. So he would act, then he would go check the cameras. … It was definitely a fast-paced environment, but everyone was very friendly. Everyone got tired and was working 17- and 18-hour days. That’s mainly the actors, not even the crew. Some of the crew would get two hours of sleep, and I was only there for three days. They filmed for a month. … Imagine being there consistently for 30 days. It was an experience and I definitely appreciate it. I’m going to cherish it because it was definitely a once and a lifetime opportunity.  

P: When did you start playing the saxophone?

JH: It was more of a hobby but it was one of those things you do so long where you either grow to love it. I started in the sixth grade. I went to a performing arts high school. So I chose the saxophone, pretty much what I did all throughout high school. We didn’t have sports, so … it was just the thing I did as a kid and music was mine. And I just continued to do it. I think it’s working out.

P: Tell me a little about the character you play?

JH: They decided my role. … I think they decided based off looks — who looks most like this character. Wayne Shorter was a saxophonist. He became part of Miles Davis Quintet ... To play with Miles Davis at that age, you gotta know what you’re doing. He joined them and they were known as the Second Great Quintet of Miles Davis ... Wayne Shorter was just one of the iconic saxophone players of that era. So me going into the movie to play him, I thought, what am I supposed to do. It wasn’t even about that. It’s honestly just creating the project and the art and this tribute to Miles Davis. We’re actually not even playing (our instruments). … They have to use original recordings from Miles Davis. So that is what you’ll be hearing — you’ll actually be hearing Miles Davis.

P: So if you were to point yourself out in the film, which scenes would you be in?

JH: I remember filming three scenes. There’s the boxing scene, which you actually see in the trailer. It’s where Miles goes to the boxing match to get his records back from the guy who had supposedly stolen them. In the midst of all of this, he’s daydreaming and remembering playing with us, the second great quintet. It’s a pretty cool scene. Then there’s another scene where we’re actually rehearsing with Miles Davis in his studio at home. There’s another one that I can’t remember because it’s been almost two years. I haven’t seen the final cut. … I don’t know, it could be 30 seconds of time or 10 minutes. I don’t know, I have no idea. I’m excited though.

P: Did you receive any advice from the cast and crew or meet some of your inspirations while filming on set?

JH: So I was able to work with Robert Glasper. He is a Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist. So meeting him was mind blowing. … He helped us rehearse for a scene in the movie so I actually worked with him even though it was only three or four hours, I worked with him. I got his contact information and he said, ‘If you’re ever in the same city as me, hit me up. Call me.’ I was just like, ‘OK yes.’ No questions asked. That was the coolest experience. It’s someone who I look up to. Also, meeting him. I knew eventually, sometime in my music career, I’d get to meet him but not as soon as two years ago. So I was super excited for that.

P: What’s one of the most memorable moments while working on set?

JH: Don Cheadle he always stayed in character. Always. Out of three days, I think I saw him out of character one time, which was during lunch. That’s honestly one thing I’ll never forget. It’s like I really didn’t get to see Don Cheadle. I saw Miles Davis. It was weird because I adjusted to it and quick. But that’s the most memorable thing. He never broke character.

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P: What are your plans after graduation ?

JH: I’m taking a year off of school. Then I’m going to go to graduate school to get a masters in business and a masters in jazz studies or jazz performance — I’m not sure which one first. But right after school, I’m going to Chicago. I want to enter the hip-hop scene a little bit, just to try some different things but I definitely want to move to Chicago for at least a year. I plan on doing that by June 1. That’s when my lease is up, so that’s when I’m going. But there’s no strict plans. I just want to do what I want to do and play music.


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