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Mulgrew Miller, Iconic Jazz Pianist, Dies at 57

By , Editor | The Jazz Line

Iconic Jazz Pianist Mulgrew Miller has passed away, Age 57.

Miller was hospitalized on May 23 following a major stroke. He had been in critical condition and in intensive care for the past six days before passing this morning (May 29) in Allentown, PA.

Mulgrew Miller was born in Greenwood, MS on August 13, 1955. He grew up surrounded by blues and gospel music, playing hymns by ear as best as he could with his right hand on his family’s piano. He started taking lessons at a young age, which gave him the skill to perform gospel at his local church, and move on to R&B at the local dances and cocktail parties with his brother.

The piano was nothing more than a hobby for Miller; that is, until he saw Oscar Peterson on the television, inspiring him to devote himself to the craft of musicianship and Jazz. “It was a life changing event. I knew right then that I would be a jazz pianist,” Miller said of seeing Oscar Peterson perform for the first time.

As his musical voice developed, he became known for his assertive playing style which balanced extreme precision with a fluidity and brightness or ‘bounce’ that would go on to influence younger generations of artists; such as Robert Glasper, who was heavily influenced by Miller, and even recorded a homage to Miller in “One For ‘Grew.”

While he was well respected as a bandleader with a reputation that was set in stone among musicians, he was best-known as a sideman, launching his career with the Duke Ellington Orchestra before joining Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. He has performed with the likes of Woody Shaw, Tony Williams, Freddie Hubbard, and Joe Lovano; appearing on over 400 recordings in career.

Miller continued to play until the end, with recent performances all over North America. However, you would have been more likely to find him travelling across the U.S. offering his wealth of experience at universities across the country than you would in a Jazz club. He was the Director of Jazz Studies at William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ and was most recently seen at the University of New Orleans teaching a public masterclass in Jazz.

Thousands have been sharing their memories of Miller, including bassist Marcus Miller, who said: “Sending love and support to the family of brother Mulgrew Miller who passed today. We weren’t related but when we met, it definitely felt like we were. Soulful, soulful cat…57 years old…seems way too soon. Rest in peace brother.”

Geoffrey Keezer shared that: “Seeing Mulgrew Miller play solo in Greenwich Village in 1986 is what made me want to be a piano player professionally.”

Dee Dee Bridgewater also posted on The Jazz Line, saying: “You have blessed so many around the world with your musical genius. I am grateful to be among those who’ve been fortunate to perform with you, a very high honor.”

Mulgrew Miller – “I Hear A Rhapsody”

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