Mulgrew Miller at the Detroit Jazz Festival.
Mulgrew Miller at the Detroit Jazz Festival. David Tallacksen/WBGO
"Like Someone in Love" (Burke & Van Heusen)*
"Waltz for Monk" (Donald Brown)
"When I Get There" (Miller)
"When Lights Are Low" (Benny Carter)*
"Four" (Miles Davis)*
* Mulgrew Miller and Kenny Barron
Mulgrew Miller comes from Greenwood, Miss., and attended Memphis State University. After that, he went to work with the Mercer Ellington Orchestra, Betty Carter, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, trumpeter Woody Shaw and drummer Tony Williams. Few could claim such a jazz lineage, yet Miller doesn't drop names. He simply delivers great musicianship, hears around corners and focuses on the moment.
As Artist-in-Residence at the Detroit Jazz Festival, Miller was booked solid. In our highlights, he first joins Kenny Barron for duo pianos on the main stage. I don't believe either said a word, yet they converse in tandem, call and respond, with friendly competition and forward motion. When the two met again a few weeks later at Jazz at the Bistro in St. Louis, James Henry Smith wrote on allaboutjazz.com that Miller's left foot was the third man, pulsing four on the floor, and the session was a master class in listening.
Next, Miller joins his long-running group Wingspan on the Waterfront Stage — a chilly night at a smaller venue, but it's packed. Hats off to the Detroit audience. They come out, stay late, listen, love and encourage. Between "Waltz for Monk" by Donald Brown (Miller's predecessor in the Jazz Messengers) and Miller's own "When I Get There," Thelonious Monk hovers over the set. In putting our highlights together, I've become obsessed with the waltz, and highly recommend the unusual bars 3 and 4 and the four ascending quarter notes that lead into bar 8. You can sing them for days on end and never tire.
On an early Wingspan CD, Mulgrew Miller wrote his credo for the group: "I strive to compose beautiful melodies and interpret them with a beat that dances." Miller is the Director of Jazz Studies at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J.
Wingspan personnel: Steve Wilson, alto and soprano saxophones; Duane Eubanks, trumpet; Steve Nelson, vibes; Mulgrew Miller, piano; Ivan Taylor, bass; Rodney Green, drums.
Mulgrew Miller (left) and Kenny Barron perform at the Detroit Jazz Festival.
Mulgrew Miller (left) and Kenny Barron perform at the Detroit Jazz Festival. David Tallacksen/WBGO