Written by Mark Schramm from WBGO-FM
In the fall of 2002, with an epic series of concerts, pianist Mulgrew Miller opened the Kennedy Center Jazz Club. Those great nights are documented on two CDs from the MaxJazz label. Since then, the Jazz Club (transforming a room that was once a music library) has hosted hundreds of artists and countless Washington, D.C., jazz fans. In the fall of 2012, Mulgrew made a triumphant return before a sold-out house — performances captured in this edition of JazzSet.
Miller’s cohesive band includes Ivan Taylor on bass and Rodney Green on drums. Together, they play everything from bebop classics to Cole Porter and Thelonious Monk. Mulgrew’s take on the timeless ballad “My Foolish Heart” by Victor Young is unforgettable.
Mulgrew Miller is a native of Greenwood, Miss., and studied at Memphis State University. He plays a unique role in jazz piano history: Miller gained years of experience during the era in which young players learned jazz on the bandstand night after night, working for a legendary leader. Through the 1980s and ’90s, he toured and recorded as a member of at least five of the highest-level groups on the scene — the Mercer Ellington Orchestra, the Woody Shaw Quintet, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, the Tony Williams Quintet and the Betty Carter Trio.
In one of his first JazzSet appearances, Miller was in Four for Phineas, celebrating the Memphis pianist Phineas Newborn (1931-89) with three other pianists and pianos at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. In 1997, Miller made the 100 Gold Fingers tour of Japan with 10 pianists, including Tommy Flanagan, Ray Bryant and Kenny Barron.
Miller made his first recordings as a leader on the Landmark label in the mid-1980s. He’s been featured on more than 400 recordings. Now, besides continuing to perform and record, professor Mulgrew Miller is the Director of Jazz Studies and Performance at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J.
The Mulgrew Miller Trio’s sets from Oct. 5, 2012 — highlighted here — were dedicated to the memory of Derek Gordon, the former Senior Vice President of Music Education at the Kennedy Center and founding father of the Jazz Club. Gordon died on Sept. 10 at the age of 57.
Scriptwriter/Producer: Mark Schramm; Recording Engineer/Surround Sound Mixer: Duke Markos.