We just received word from Jason Patterson that the wonderful soul of jazz giant Mulgrew Miller passed on May 29th.
He kindly came on air at Jazz from the French Market and spoke with us this April before his show at Snug Harbor.
Jason remembers: Mulgrew had just done a short residency in New Orleans, appearing at the UNO Jazz @ the Sandbar on April 3rd followed by a master class the next day and a performance at the Snug Harbor on April 4. UNO Professor and pianist Victor Atkins had studied with Mulgrew at Memphis State and was an advocate for bringing Mulgrew to New Orleans this spring. He saw how important it was for his students to learn from the master. "The thing about Mulgrew is you could hear so much jazz history in his playing. He could play in an older style of jazz and make it sound new and fresh. My students were able to experience that level of history from someone that had played with and absorbed from so many giants of the music. You can't hear that from the younger players on the scene today."
During his interview at WWOZ on April 4th, Mulgrew kept referring to the "language of jazz" as to what he used as a musician and educator. When I asked him whether he was using "language" as a metaphor, he responded with a warm smile, "no, jazz IS a sophisticated language that we use to communicate. But it is different than English, which we too often take for granted. To be a jazz musician, I tell my students they have to study jazz, it' roots, its structure, its influences, its present and its future."
We have lost a magnificent "spokesperson", a kind and gentle human being, and a brilliant artist.
Geraldine Wychoff has written the following to be published in Louisiana Weekly next issue:
Pianist Mulgrew Miller Passes
Mulgrew Miller, a renowned jazz pianist of great physical and musical stature, died on Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at the age of 57.
Miller, who played with a who's who of jazz artists, was born in Greenwood, Mississippi and was residing in Pennsylvania and teaching jazz studies at New Jersey's William Paterson University. Nonetheless, with all of his New Orleans connections, Miller was considered one of our city's own. Just last April, the pianist performed with students at the University of New Orleans' Sandbar series and in a quartet at Snug Harbor with natives drummer Herlin Riley, saxophonist Derek Douget and bassist Jason Stewart.
“It was a wonderful visit,” says Jason Patterson who books the UNO series and Snug Harbor. “He had a great rapport with the kids at the Sandbar and then he did a Masters Class. New Orleans is a piano players' town, so there was always a great turnout,” adds Patterson, who believes Miller's initial appearance at Snug was many years ago with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.
Miller made his first of many trips to New Orleans at age 20 playing with the Duke Ellington Orchestra led by Mercer Ellington. When he was a member of drummer Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, the frontline boasted saxophonist Donald Harrison and trumpeter Terence Blanchard. His New Orleans ties also include playing on saxophonist Branford Marsalis' first album, 1984's Scenes in the City, and trumpeter Nicholas Payton's 1995 release From This Moment. Miller made his final of numerous performances at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2011 as a member of the Golden Striker Trio.
In a 2005 interview Miller offered that he always looked forward to his trips to New Orleans. “I like coming South – I'm from the South. That's my roots. My upbringing is basically who I am.”