The brilliant jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller will visit WWOZ this Thursday (April 4th) just after 5:00 p.m. before heading over to Snug Harbor for his special shows at 8 and 10.
On Wednesday, the night before, he will be playing with an ensemble of University of New Orleans students at Jazz at the Sandbar (Cove) starting at 7 p.m.
Miller was picking out melodies on the piano by ear at 6, taking lessons at 8 and going on gigs with his older brother by 10. As a teen, he soaked up every kind of music available in his hometown of Greenwood, Mississippi --- blues, country & western, gospel, R & B, classical --- but not until he heard his first jazz record by Oscar Peterson did he find a focus for his passion.
“I was blown away,” he recalls. “It was a life changing event. I knew right then that I would be a jazz pianist.”
He found mentors like James Williams and Donald Brown at Memphis State University who taught him to listen to the greats, saxophonist Bill Easley who got him his first professional gig, and Ray Charles sideman Rudolph Johnson who introduced him to Eastern spirituality. These influences, combined with the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. and the lessons of the civil rights movement were integral in shaping him as both a person and an artist.
Mulgrew played with the great Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, three years with Woody Shaw’s Quintet, three with the Mercer Ellington Orchestra and over six years with the Tony Williams Quintet.
He’s featured on over 400 recordings total and has composed nonstop. In 1985 Miller made his first recording as a leader for producer Orrin Keepnews’ former label, Landmark, and later recorded on the RCA Novus label.
He tours throughout the world and in 1997, was invited to tour Japan with an assembly of some of the most prestigious names in jazz piano – a group of ten pianists called “100 Gold Fingers” including Tommy Flanagan, Ray Bryant and Kenny Barron. Miller is also a member of the Contemporary Piano Ensemble, a unique group consisting of four pianists performing simultaneously on four grand pianos with a rhythm section. Other innovative projects include his duos with Danish jazz bassist, Neils Henning Orsted Pederson, his commission to compose a special work for the Dayton Dance Company and his student workshops.