Remembering Mulgrew Miller On JazzSet The whole keyboard was Miller's canvas. His left hand could stride and swing with great authority, and when the two hands got together, he sent the train down the tracks.

Mulgrew Miller at the Detroit Jazz Festival. David Tallacksen/WBGO hide caption

toggle caption
David Tallacksen/WBGO

Mulgrew Miller at the Detroit Jazz Festival.

David Tallacksen/WBGO

JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater

Remembering Mulgrew Miller On JazzSetWBGO

Remembering Mulgrew Miller On JazzSet

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/189252763/189153754" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

The pianist Mulgrew Miller died on May 29, 2013, following a cerebral hemorrhage. The jazz world is grieving the loss of this "wonderful musician and great spirit," in the words of fellow pianist Kenny Barron. As saxophonist Loren Schoenberg so aptly says, "Mulgrew could levitate a bandstand."

Thinking about his piano alone, Miller's right hand was the great embellisher; the whole keyboard was his canvas. His left hand could stride and swing with great authority, and when the two hands got together, he sent the train down the tracks. Yet he could lay down a carpet of flowers. What a touch. Miller deployed all his gifts and accomplishments anew every time we recorded him, and he always seemed to be with us, grounded in the shared love of the music.

He expressed his credo as a writer with these words: "I strive to compose beautiful melodies and interpret them with a beat that dances."

Miller was born in 1955 in Greenwood, Miss. At 6, he started playing by picking out hymns and harmonies on the piano, always on the black keys. As he told WBGO's Gary Walker in an on-air conversation, he didn't realize that those keys are considered to be the difficult ones to play in.

Mississippi was ground zero for the Civil Rights Movement, and Miller lived that history. "I was in the first wave of children that integrated schools," he says. "I didn't go to school with white kids until I was in 10th grade."

At 14, when he saw Oscar Peterson on The Joey Bishop Show, Mulgrew Miller set his musical direction. First, he went to Memphis State University and met fellow pianists James Williams and Donald Brown. Then, Miller went on the road with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, conductor Mercer Ellington and — in an awe-inspiring sequence and back to back — vocalist Betty Carter, Newark-born trumpeter Woody Shaw, drummer Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, and drummer Tony Williams.

Later, "Professor Mulgrew" shared lessons learned from those experiences with his students. For eight years until his unexpected death, Miller co-led the Jazz Studies program at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., with his colleague David Demsey. WPU has one of the oldest jazz programs in the world; it began 40 years ago under bandleader Thad Jones.

Now, Miller's students and colleagues, bandmates, fellow musicians and jazz lovers worldwide are mourning his loss. We thank him and his family for sharing him. Here, we highlight four performances — solo and duo piano, his sextet Wingspan (the name is a tip of the hat to Charlie Parker, a.k.a. "Bird") and the Mulgrew Miller Trio.

Set List And Personnel

  • "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good" (Duke Ellington)

Mulgrew Miller, piano (WBGO's 25th Anniversary Party on Park Place in Newark, N.J., April 2004)

  • "Like Someone in Love" (Johnny Burke, Jimmy Van Heusen)

Miller, piano; Kenny Barron, piano (Detroit Jazz Festival Artist-In-Residence, 2010)

  • "Waltz for Monk" (Donald Brown)
  • "Farewell to Dogma" (Miller)
  • "When I Get There" (Miller)
  • "Eleventh Hour" (Miller)

Wingspan: Steve Wilson, alto and soprano saxophones; Duane Eubanks, trumpet; Steve Nelson, vibes; Mulgrew Miller, piano; Ivan Taylor, bass; Rodney Green, drums

  • "My Foolish Heart" (Victor Young)

Mulgrew Miller Trio: Miller, piano; Ivan Taylor, bass; Rodney Green, drums (Kennedy Center Jazz Club, October 2012)

Credits

Thanks to the 2010 Detroit Jazz Festival, Artistic and Executive Director Terri Pontremoli and Marketing Director Chris Harrington, and to Director of Jazz Kevin Struthers at the Kennedy Center. Recordings are by AuraSonic Ltd., New York; MetroMobile in the Midwest (Chicago); and Greg Hartman at the Kennedy Center. Surround Sound mixes are by Duke Markos.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Jazz

American jazz trumpeter Harry 'Sweets' Edison performs in 1991. David Redfern/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption David Redfern/Getty Images

Harry 'Sweets' Edison On Piano Jazz

On this episode of Piano Jazz from 1999, broadcast just months before Edison died, the legendary jazz trumpeter joins Marian McPartland for a few classics and an original.

Harry 'Sweets' Edison On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/612283249/612285662" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
George Kopp/Courtesy of the artist

Virginia Mayhew On Piano Jazz

Saxophonist, composer and bandleader Virginia Mayhew joins forces with Marian McPartland to perform "All the Things You Are" and "Body and Soul" on this 1998 episode of Piano Jazz.

Virginia Mayhew On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/610083723/610086310" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Joanne Brackeen and Jason Moran at NPR's Studio One in Washington, D.C. Eric Lee/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Eric Lee/NPR

Jazz Giants Take The Stage At The NEA Jazz Masters Listening Party

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

Jason Moran sat down with the NEA Jazz Masters to talk about their careers and listen to music that played important roles in their lives.

Jazz Giants Take The Stage At The NEA Jazz Masters Listening Party

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/608093895/608239849" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

This 1988 episode of Piano Jazz features Brazilian pianist, composer, and vocalist Eliane Elias. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Eliane Elias On Piano Jazz

Brazilian pianist, composer, and vocalist Eliane Elias is a renowned artist in her home country and in the American jazz scene. Hear her first Piano Jazz performance from 1988.

Eliane Elias On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/607421826/607450646" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Willie Pickens On Piano Jazz

Chicago jazz mainstay Willie Pickens died this past December at age 86. Revisit his performance with McPartland in this 1997 episode of Piano Jazz.

Willie Pickens On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/604342537/604343909" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Cleo Brown on the cover of Here Comes Cleo. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Cleo Brown On Piano Jazz

Cleo Brown makes a rare appearance to perform her greatest hit, "Pinetop's Boogie-Woogie," and to recall the style's heyday in the 1930s.

Cleo Brown On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/602133644/602133663" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

The 2018 NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert

WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center

Dianne Reeves, Pat Metheny, Joanne Brackeen and Todd Barkan are recipients of the 2018 Jazz Masters award — the highest honor the U.S. gives to a jazz musician or advocate.

Gus Bennett, Jr./Courtesy of the artist

Nicholas Payton On Piano Jazz

The trumpet prodigy learned how to improv from fellow New Orleans native Wynton Marsalis. Payton was only in his 20s when he visited with McPartland for this 1998 episode.

Nicholas Payton On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/598825823/600192516" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Cecil Taylor performs at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall in 2002. Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

Cecil Taylor On Piano Jazz

Cecil Taylor encompasses a never-ending range of sound and emotion. Hear an archival session with Marian McPartland from 1994.

Cecil Taylor On Piano Jazz

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/600173531/600190821" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Back To Top