Ohio University student Julian Howard (far right) stars alongside Don Cheadle (center) in the new Miles Davis biopic, "Miles Ahead." (photo provided)
Ohio University student Julian Howard (far right) stars alongside Don Cheadle (center) in the new Miles Davis biopic, “Miles Ahead.” (photo provided)

OU Student Graces Silver Screen in Miles Davis Biopic

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It’s summer 2014. Ohio University student Julian Howard has just wrapped up a long work day, saxophone in hand. Nothing too unusual about that, since Howard is a music major.

Except in this case, one of his bandmates happens to be actor Don Cheadle.

Howard is one of the actors in the long-awaited Miles Davis biopic, Miles Ahead, opening today in select cities around the U.S.

Cheadle plays the legendary trumpeter, while Howard portrays Wayne Shorter, the saxophonist in Davis’ mid-’60s band, known as the “second great quintet.”

Earlier in 2014, Howard’s mother called him in the midst of his work and summer classes, urging him to audition for a role in a Sony Pictures movie about Miles Davis. Howard, now a senior majoring in music performance and minoring in business, drove to Cincinnati – where much of the film was shot – for a 15-minute audition the following day.

Three weeks later, Howard received a phone call, telling him he got the part. Although he was excited, he held back on telling his friends for about a month, being careful not to over-exaggerate.

“I really didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know how big or small the role was, and I didn’t know what i would get to be doing,” he said, adding that especially in the talent industry, “I never want to assume an opportunity to be too big, (but) it was a great opportunity.”

"Miles Ahead" band

Howard found himself working alongside one of today’s most respected actors, who also happened to be the film’s producer and director. Cheadle’s dedication to his craft made a big impression on the OU student.

“One of the most memorable things (about working with Cheadle) is that he never broke character on the movie set, except perhaps on a lunch or dinner break,” said Howard.

For an aspiring jazz musician who has played the saxophone since the seventh grade and has since started to learn the flute, clarinet and guitar, Miles Davis has always been an artist to admire.

“He’s one of those key legends that you want to listen to. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to like them, but you have to listen to them because they are who they are because of what they’ve done,” Howard said. “You owe it to yourself to listen to him because he’s a great musician.”

Howard has waited nearly two years since filming to see the final production. It will release in certain cities first, and will gradually become more available. Howard hopes to see the movie with family and friends in Cincinnati and Chicago.

In addition to Cheadle as Davis, the movie stars Ewan McGregor, Keith Stainfield and Emayatzy Corinealdi.

Howard graduates from Ohio University on April 30. He hopes to move to Chicago in May, where he will work as a freelance musician until auditioning for grad school in the fall.