Friday, May 24, 2013

Prayers for Mulgrew Miller

I am hearing via Facebook that yesterday the great jazz piano legend Mulgrew Miller had a massive stroke. He is in intensive care and in serious condition. He apparently had a stroke a few years ago and recovered well. I hope we can all send good thoughts and prayers in his direction.

Mulgrew Miller is truly one of my piano heroes. The first time I heard him on recording was on "Introducing Kenny Garrett". I also had a recording of him with Art Blakey where he played an amazing solo piano rendition of "Old Folks." I remember his solo album called "Work" which I had on vinyl back in the 90's; I basically wore it out. There's countless other recordings; if you like jazz after 1980, you almost can't avoid hearing Mulgrew Miller. He shows up in surprising places- like the Steve Swallow album "Real Book" and Gary Thomas' "Exile's Gate," to name a couple.

I've always thought of his touch as having the perfect roundness. His balance of sound is impeccable, as is his rhythm. If you listen to enough Mulgrew Miller, you can hear that, although influenced by a variety of sources(including Herbie Hancock, Bud Powell, Chick Corea, and McCoy Tyner, to name a few), Miller has his own identifiable vocabulary. As a jazz piano accompanist, he's one of the greatest, and his discography as a sideman definitively proves that. From Art Blakey to Woody Shaw to Tony Williams to Wallace Roney to Cassandra Wilson to Ron Carter to Gary Bartz to Tom Harrell, to almost everyone in jazz, Miller has shown us all how it's done.

I've not only been fortunate to see Miller live on many occasions, but I've also spoken to him as well; Miller was always friendly to me and was also generous with words of encouragement. I remember one time in Spain, I chatted with Miller, and he had great stories about Tony Williams. Another time, I happened to wander up to Miller after a gig at Sweet Basil's; he was still sitting at the piano, going over some licks. He showed me this hellacious Woody Shaw phrase which really gave me some great melodic ideas to practice.

Mulgrew is tragically underrated as a composer and a bandleader. Sadly, the jazz industry tends to ignore guys who aren't under 25 or over 80. Miller, not an artist easily swayed by passing fads, is a true master of jazz piano and should be studied by anyone wishing to pursue mastery of jazz piano.
As we keep Professor Miller in our thoughts and hearts, here are some clips you might want to check out:

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