May 30, 2013


Conversation with MULGREW MILLER

This week on Spotlight On Jazz and Poetry Mulgrew Miller takes the time, from his busy schedule, to talk about his craft with your host Bigtrigger.Mulgrew Miller is an American jazz pianist born in 1955 in Greenwood, Mississippi. In a childhood filled with early musical experiences and constant meddling in jazz piano, Miller is said to have set his mind definitely to becoming a jazz pianist after hearing a record by Oscar Peterson (a first for Mulgrew). “It was a life changing event. I knew right then that I would be a jazz pianist”. Mulgrew did indeed become a jazz pianist, and has adopted more from Peterson than his profession. Much of Mulgrew's playing has the same technical prowess so often connected with Peterson. Currently, Mulgrew maintains a working trio with Derrick Hodge on bass, and Karriem Riggins on drums. With this trio he has released two albums to date (both on the label Max Jazz Records): Live At Yoshi's Vol. 1 (2004), Live At Yoshi's Vol. 2 (2005).

Mr. Miller, has been hired as the new director of the jazz studies program at William Paterson University, in Wayne, N.J.

On May 20, 2006, Miller was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Performing Arts at Lafayette College's 171st Commencement

Pianist Extraordinaire MULGREW MILLER

Mulgrew Miller was born on August  13, 1955 in Greenwood, Mississippi He began his career as member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.
Miller was picking out melodies on the piano by ear at 6, taking lessons at 8 and going on gigs with his older brother by 10. As a teen, he soaked up every kind of music available in his small Southern hometown - blues, country & western, gospel, R & B, classical - but not until he heard his first jazz record by Oscar Peterson did he find a focus for his passion. “I was blown away,” he recalls. “It was a life changing event. I knew right then that I would be a jazz pianist.”

So in a world where some of the brightest talents burn out early, and some of the most gifted musicians get lost in the jazz life, Miller chose the “easy does it” approach at age 15, focusing on careful attention to craft, impeccable choices in the musicians to surround himself with, and a balanced life that included a stable home and vegetarian lifestyle. He found mentors like James Williams and Donald Brown at Memphis State University who taught him to listen to the greats, saxophonist Bill Easley who got him his first professional gig, and Ray Charles sideman Rudolph Johnson who introduced him to Eastern spirituality. These influences, combined with the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. and the lessons of the civil rights movement integral to his Greenwood, Mississippi, childhood, shaped him as both a person and an artist.

In a childhood filled with early musical experiences, he was mostly playing gospel music in his church and R&B and blues at dances. Mulgrew was constantly meddling in jazz piano, and established a trio in high school that would play cocktail parties. Miller admits that they didn't really know what they were doing and were merely "approaching jazz". Miller is said to have set his mind definitely to becoming a jazz pianist after seeing Oscar Peterson (a first for Mulgrew) on television. Much of Mulgrew's playing has the same technical prowess so often connected with Peterson. Currently, Mulgrew maintains a working trio with Ivan Taylor on bass, and Rodney Green on drums. He has released four albums to date with Derrick Hodge (bass) and Karriem Riggins (drums) (both on the label Max Jazz Records): Live At Yoshi's Vol. 1 (2004), Live At Yoshi's Vol. 2 (2005), Live At The Kennedy Center Vol. 1 (2006), and Live At The Kennedy Center Vol. 2 (2007).
On May 20, 2006, Miller was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Performing Arts at Lafayette College's 171st Commencement Exercises.

Miller lived in Easton, Pennsylvania with his wife Tanya and daughter Lelani. In 2006 he was appointed the Director of Jazz Studies at William Paterson University. He was the Artist in Residence at Lafayette College for 2008-2009.

And so he has worked steadily as a musician, including three years with Woody Shaw’s Quintet, three with the Mercer Ellington Orchestra and over six years with the Tony Williams Quintet. He’s featured on over 500 recordings total and has composed nonstop. In 1985 Miller made his first recording as a leader for producer Orrin Keepnews’ former label, Landmark, and later recorded on the RCA Novus label. He tours throughout the world and in 1997, was invited to tour Japan with an assembly of some of the most prestigious names in jazz piano – a group of ten pianists called “100 Gold Fingers” including Tommy Flanagan, Ray Bryant and Kenny Barron.

Miller was also a member of the Contemporary Piano Ensemble, a unique group consisting of four pianists performing simultaneously on four grand pianos with a rhythm section. Other innovative projects include his duos with Danish jazz bassist, Neils Henning Orsted Pederson, his commission to compose a special work for the Dayton Dance Company and his student workshops.

At age 15, it seemed Miller knew that he needed to pace himself for the long, illustrious career ahead of him.

Mulgrew Miller crossed over on May 29, 2013

May 26, 2013



The life of Jimmy Scott is not one of meteoric stardom but a journey that has taken nearly seventy years to find its much deserved success.

James Victor Scott, one of ten children, was born in Cleveland, Ohio on July 17, 1925. He's known for his high haunting soprano voice & poignant balladeering. His up & down recording career, started in the early 1950's, saw a resurgence in the 1990's when he was signed to Sire Records and received a Grammy nomination after a long period of commercial inactivity. Soon after coming out of retirement, he was seen on stages around the world, performing magical & heart breaking interpretations of old torch songs, Broadway standards and even a smattering of choice modern rock tunes done with generally sparse jazz arrangements.

Almost strangled by the umbilical cord at birth, then orphaned as a boy in depression era Cleveland, the odds against Jimmy Scott ever suceeding were further stacked by an abnormal genetic pituitary hormonal defect known as "Kallman's Syndrome" which accounts for his somewhat effeminate looks & unnaturally high singing voice.

Finding solace onstage, he sang in combos of the post war R&B era, notably as a featured singer with band leader Lionel Hampton, with whom he made his recorded debut in 1950(although his name did not appear on the label). He was finally signed to a steady record deal when he was almost 30, when Herman Lubinsky of Newark's Savoy Records offered Cleveland's finest balladeer a shot circa 1954. Lubinsky, whose label was a great repository of jazz & blues recordings, was also a notorious shyster. In David Ritz's 2002 bio of Jimmy Scott "Faith In Time", Seymour Stein of Sire Records recalls past colleagues at the time calling Savoy Record's Newark HQ the "Slave Barracks". Savoy recorded some well received Little Jimmy Scott sides, but due to Lubinsky's malfeasance, Scott went mostly uncompensated. As time wore on, he grew discontent, started retreating into booze and left the label's fold by the beginning of the 1960's.

Over the years the Lubinsky/Savoy contract would stifle Scott in numerous ways, particularly when he tried to break free and record for Ray Charles' Tangerine label in the early 1960's and another time with Atlantic in the late 1960's. Lubinsky would battle to have the records withdrawn, keeping Scott's music from ever hitting the streets en masse.

1969's attempt at a comeback LP "The Source" was produced by Joel Dorn for Atlantic, featuring backing from a hot group of players including David Fathead Newman on tenor sax, Eric Gale on guitar and Ron Carter on bass...The record was withdrawn due to lawsuit after the first pressing, for a longtme making it a rare and often bootleged masterpiece.

Jimmy's numerous shots at stardom were so hampered by the fiscal mismanagement & bad business dealings, it lead him to frustration, failed relationships, drinking and drugging, and a career ending downward spiral that took him away from the limelight.

His talent was never in doubt, but his successes were measured at best.

A favorite of performers ranging from Billie Holiday & Dinah Washington, to Frankie Valli, Stevie Wonder, and John Lennon, all whom knew of and expressed respect of his work. Said Quincy Jones once,'Jimmy would tear my heart out every night with his soul-penetrating style"...

Even Madonna has said "Jimmy Scott is the only singer who makes me cry,"

Strangely enough, it appears death that actually the catalyst that brought Scott's career back to life...

By the late 70's and early 80's some of his only gigs were occasional charity appearances at senior citizen homes. Scott's day jobs at Bob's Big Boy and in a Cleveland Sheraton hotel gave him a mindset that was set far from keeping abreast of the changing tastes of a fickle record buying public at the tail end of the 20th century.

In 1985, at age 60, he returned to the eastern seaboard, and for the first time in over a decade started working small clubs in New York and Harlem, perhaps getting occasional nostalgic write ups in the NY Times or Village Voice. Scott's subsequent shift back into the public eye ironically began to truly gather momentum at The Riverside Funeral Home on St.Patrick's Day 1991. The sad/happy occasion was legendary rock n roll songwriter and old friend Doc Pomus' funeral.

Jimmy had met Pomus back in the 40's, and they had stayed in touch. In fact, in 1987 Doc even wrote a letter to trade publication Billboard extolling Scott's virtues, decrying the hard times he was going through, and warning the record industry not to sleep on a chance to catch the long overdue second coming of Little Jimmy Scott.

Now a few years later, Scott sat Shiva and was asked by Doc's family to perform "Someone To Watch Over Me" at the funeral, along with backing from fellow old timers Dr. John on piano and Fathead Newman on sax. Scott arrived early and sat unasumedly with hands folded in the back with his 4th wife Earlene. After the colorful eulogies, Jimmy's haunting voice over the tinkling keys stunned the room, with many so far back they could barely see his tiny head over the crowd. The room was filled with dozens of music biz luminaries, like Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler, and the aforementioned Seymour Stein of Sire who felt it was almost his spiritual duty to Doc to simply offer Scott a dignified deal.

Jimmy later told a reporter in 2000 of the bittersweet good fortune coming from his friend's death, " The next day, this cat from Warners comes over with a contract. It was like Doc's hand reaching out from the grave."

He went on to many new career highights ranging from appearing in David Lynch's Twin Peaks & having sold out shows across the US & Europe to performing onstage at Bill Clinton's inaugural ball gala in DC.

Still Scott copes with the fact that his type of fame is fleeting, and has duly noted this phenomena when he sang onstage in the 1990's with the Grateful Dead to a crowd of thousands in his hometown of Cleveland, where the local daily paper referred to him as an "unknown female singer".

Since the quirky career kickstart given to Scott from Pomus' funeral, he has continued touring, recorded some 8 or so albums on half dozn labels, and added a 5th wife to his bio as well. Now with his aged infirmities creeping in, Scott is restricted to moving around onstage via wheelchair...

Music continues to be his life into his eighties, once telling ajournalist “I love performing. You live with reality every day. You can’t miss it. We can try to avoid a lot of trials in life, but it’s better to overcome than avoid. That’s what music has been for me. It’s been my opportunity to overcome.”
"All I can do is give what I really feel."
"It'll work out in the end. You gotta believe" Jimmy Scott


May 11, 2013



Best known as a contributing member of the bebop jazz movement and a member of the Oscar Peterson Trio, jazz bassist Ray Brown performed with jazz giants from Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker to his wife Ella Fitzgerald. Despite Fitzgerald’s short-lived marriage to Brown (1947-1953), she remained a lifelong friend and musical associate. A disciple of the 1940s Oscar Pettiford school of jazz bass, Brown developed an individual style renown for its tastefully executed rhythmic lines within the context of ensemble accompaniment. His talent reflects such breadth and diversity that he was the most cited musician in the first edition of the Penguin Guide to Recorded Jazz (1992). Unlike many of the founders of bebop bass, Brown still performed and earned a successful living as a studio musician, record producer, and nightclub owner.

Raymond Matthews Brown was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 13, 1926. He took piano lessons at age eight and gained knowledge of the keyboard through memorizing the recordings of Fats Waller. A member of the high school orchestra, he soon found himself overwhelmed by the number of pianists among his classmates. "There must have been 14 piano players in it. And 12 of them were chicks who could read anything on sight," explained Brown in Jazz Masters of the Forties. In the book Oscar Peterson: The Will to Swing, Brown revealed the main reason for ending his study of piano: "I just couldn’t find my way on it. It just didn’t give me what I wanted." Soon afterward, Brown, unable to afford a trombone, switched to bass, an instrument provided by the school’s music department.

Brown’s new musical role model emerged in Duke Ellington’s innovative bassist, Jimmy Blanton. As he told Jack Tracey in Down Beat, "I just began digging into Blanton because I saw he had it covered—there was nobody else. There he was, right in the middle of all those fabulous records the Ellington band was making at the time, and I didn’t see any need to listen to anybody else." As a teenager Brown played local engagements. Despite offers by bandleaders, he followed his mother’s advice and finished high school before performing on the road with regional territory bands. After graduating in 1944, he performed an eight-month stint in Jimmy Hinsley’s band. Around this time, Brown fell under the influence of bassists Leroy "Slam" Stewart and Oscar Pettiford, a prime mover of a modern jazz bass approach. He next joined the territory band of Snookum Russell. Eight months later, while on the road with Russell, Brown followed the suggestion of fellow band members and moved to New York City.

In 1945 Brown arrived in New York City, and during his first night visited Fifty-Second Street—"Swing Street," a mob-controlled thoroughfare lined with various jazz clubs. That evening he encountered pianist Hank Jones, a musical associate, who introduced him to Dizzy Gillespie. That same evening, Gillespie, prompted by Jones’ recommendation, hired Brown without an audition. Attending the band’s rehearsal the next day, Brown—a 19-year-old musician still largely unfamiliar with many of bebop’s innovators—discovered that his fellow band members were Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Max Roach. "If I had known those guys any better I would have probably never gone to the rehearsal," admitted Brown in Jazz Journal International. "The only guy I knew something about was Dizzy because some of his records had filtered down through the south where I’d been playing with a territory band." The group’s leader, however, immediately recognized the talent of his young bassist. As Gillespie commented, in his memoir To Be or Not to Bop, "Ray Brown, on bass, played the strongest, most fluid and imaginative bass lines in modern jazz at the time, with the exception of Oscar Pettiford." Shortly afterward, Gillespie added Detroit-born vibraphonist Milt Jackson. In Jazz Masters of the Forties, Brown recounted his early years with Jackson: "We were inseparable. They called us twins."

In 1945 Brown appeared with Gillepsie at Billy Berg’s night club in Hollywood, California, an engagement which, with the exception of a small coterie of bebop followers, failed to generate a favorable response from west coast listeners. In Gillespie’s memoir To Be or Not to Bop, Brown summarized the band’s Hollywood stint: "The music wasn’t received well at all. They didn’t know what we were playing; they didn’t understand it." During the winter of 1946, Gillespie returned to New York and opened at Clark Monroe’s Spotlite on 52nd Street with a band consisting of Brown, Milt Jackson, Stan Levey, Al Haig, and alto saxophonist Sonny Stitt. In To Be or Not to Bop, Brown modestly described his role in the sextet, "I was the least competent guy in the group. And they made something out of me." In May of 1946, the sextet recorded for the Musicraft label, cutting the sides such as "One Bass Hit"—featuring Brown’s bass talents—and "Oop Bop Sh’ Bam,’ and "That’s Earl Brother." On Feb 5, 1946, Brown took part in one of Charlie Parker’s sessions for the Dial label, recording such numbers as "Diggin’ Diz."

In 1946 Gillespie formed his second big band, using the same six-member line-up. On February 22, 1946, Brown appeared with Gillespie’s big band for a RCA/Victor session organized by pianist and jazz critic Leonard Feather. As Feather wrote in his work Inside Jazz, "Victor wanted an all-star group featuring some of the Esquire winners, so we used J.C. Heard on drums and Don Byas on tenor, along with Dizzy’s own men—Milt Jackson, Ray Brown, and Al Haig—and the new guitarist from Cleveland, Bill de Arango." The date produced the numbers "52nd Street Theme," "Night in Tunisia," "OI’Man Rebop," and "Anthropology." Between May and July of 1946, Brown appeared on such Gillespie recordings as "Our Delight," "Things to Come," and "Rays Idea" (co-written with Gil Fuller). In November of the same year, he cut the classic Gillespie side "Emanon."

In 1947 Gillespie assembled a smaller group inside his big band which included Brown, Milt Jackson, pianist John Lewis and drummer Kenny Clarke. As Jackson told Whitney Baillett, in American Musicians II, "We’d play and let the band have a rest. I guess it was Dizzy’s idea." Attending an August 1947 Gillespie big band session Brown’s bass is heard on such numbers as "Ow!," "Oop-Pop-A-Da," and John Lewis’ "Two Bass Hit" which Brown’s bass is heard driving the band and, at the composition’s close, soloing with force and a controlled sense of melody. On December 10, 1947, Brown married vocalist Ella Fitzgerald in Ohio and moved into a residence on Ditmars Boulevard in the East Elmhurst section of Queens, New York. Soon afterward, the couple adopted a son, Ray Jr.

After leaving Gillespie’s band in 1947, Brown and performed with Fitzgerald on Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic tours and various record dates. "When I left Dizzy," commented Brown in Ella Fitzgerald, "the band was getting ready to go to Europe, and I couldn’t. I’d just gotten married to Ella Fitzgerald. At that time I was in a bit of a curl between her and wanting to be with her as well. She wanted me to travel with her trio; she had Hank Jones playing piano. So I finally decided I was going to stay in New York." During a concert series in September 1949, Brown performed when Canadian-born pianist Oscar Peterson made his debut with the tour (according to Brown, he had already performed with Peterson at informal Canadian jam sessions). In 1950 Brown and Peterson performed as a duo, and for the next several years, were also billed on various tours.

In 1950 Brown recorded with Charlie Parker and, between 1950 and 1952, appeared with the Milt Jackson Quartet. The quartet’s pianist John Lewis recounted in The Great Jazz Pianists, "We were all friends and would play together when Dizzy’s band wasn’t working." At another Parker session in August 1951, Brown found himself in the company of such sidemen as trumpeter Red Rodney, John Lewis, and drummer Kenny Clarke. Together they backed Parker on sides which included "Swedish Schnapps," "Si Si," "Back Home Blues," and "Lover Man." A few months later, Brown appeared with the Milt Jackson Quartet, and on March 25, 1952 Brown attended a Charlie Parker big band recording session in Hollywood, California.

In 1952 Brown and guitarist Irving Ashby became the founding members of the Oscar Peterson Trio. Ashby’s replacement, Barney Kessel, performed with the trio a year before Peterson recruited guitarist Herb Ellis who, along with Brown on bass, formed one of the most famed jazz trios of the 1950s. "Herb and I rehearsed all the time," stated Brown in Oscar Peterson: The Will to Swing. "For a trio that didn’t have any drums, we had it all. Herb and I roomed together and we played everyday. Not just the gig. We played golf in the morning and guitar and bass in the afternoon, and then we would shower, take a nap, go to dinner, and go to the gig. We had it all." Under Peterson’s leadership, Brown and Ellis underwent a challenging musical regimen. In Jazz Journal International, Brown revealed his admiration for Peterson’s reputation as a difficult task master: "If you are not intimidated by absolute professionalism, then you have no problem. Sure he’ll throw you a curve from time to time by calling unscheduled numbers or unexpectedly doubling the tempos, but if you’re not good enough to handle that, you shouldn’t be with Oscar anyway."

By 1953 Brown and Fitzgerald ended their marriage. As Stuart Nicholson noted his book Ella Fitzgerald, "Ray remained adamant that he would pursue his career with Oscar Peterson, and the couple had begun to see less and less of each other. Finally, they decided to bring their marriage to and end and filed for a ‘quickie’ divorce." The divorce was finalized on August 28, 1953 in Juarez, Mexico. Fitzgerald maintained custody of Ray Jr., yet she and Brown remained friends. In November 1953 they, along with Oscar Peterson, appeared at a concert in Japan.

In 1958 Peterson replaced Ellis with drummer Gene Gammage, who stayed with the trio a few months until Peterson recruited drummer Edmund Thigpen. Fortunately, Brown was able to stay with the trio and earn a comfortable living. However, by the early 1960s, the group also proved demanding in its performance schedule. As Brown explained in Jazz Journal International, "Some of the tours were really punishing—we’d come to Europe and do 62 one-nighters in 65 days." After his 15-year membership in the Oscar Peterson Trio, Brown left the group in 1965, and settled in Hollywood, where he worked in the areas of publishing, management, and record production. In 1974 he co-founded the L.A. Four with saxophonist Bud Shank, Brazilian guitarist Luarindo Almeida, and drummer Shelly Manne (later replaced by Jeff Hamilton). One of Brown’s exemplary studio dates emerged in the 1974 album Dizzy Gillespie Big 4.

By 1976 Brown appeared four days a week on the Merv Griffin Show. A year later, after two decades of appearing as a sideman on the Contemporary label, Brown recorded the solo effort Something for Lester, placing him in the company of pianist Cedar Walton and drummer Elvin Jones. In Down Beat Zan Stewart gave the album the magazine’s highest rating (five stars), and commented, "Walton and Jones are apropos partnersin sound for the superlative bassist… Ray’s imparts the line to ‘Georgia’—what glorious tone he possesses! It continually overwhelms the listener, as does his superb intonation, for Brown is always at the center of each note."

In a 1980 Jazz Journal International interview, Brown told Mike Hennessey, "I’m very fortunate. I’m still able to travel and play various countries and still be liked by the public. I’m able to play what I like to play and as long as people want to listen, that’s fine with me." During the 1980s, Brown recorded solo albums for the Concord label as well as releases by the L.A. Four, and numerous guest sessions with pianist Gene Harris. Since his first appearance on Telarc Records in 1989, his albums for the company include the 1994 trio LP (with pianist Benny Green and drummer Jeff Hamilton) Bass Face, Live at Kuumbwa, the 1995 work Seven Steps to Heaven (with Green and drummer Greg Hutchinson), and the 1997 release Super Bass. Brown still performs both as a leader and accompanist at festivals and concert dates. "During the past decades Brown’s sound and skill have remained undimmed, "wrote Thomas Owens, in his 1995 book Bebop: The Music and Its Players. "He is an agile, inventive, and often humorous soloist. His arco [bow] technique is excellent, though he seldom reveals it. But he shines most brilliantly as an accompanist. Examples of his beautiful lines are legion." Interviewed in The Guitar Player Book, Herb Ellis also lauded the talents of his former music partner: "[Ray Brown] is in a class all by himself. There is no other bassist in the world for me, and a lot of players feel the same way. On most instruments, when you get to the top echelon it breaks down to personal taste, but I tell you, there are a lot of guys on his tail, but Ray has it all locked up."

Ray did a great deal to revive the careers of Ernestine Anderson and Gene Harris, and recorded extensively for Pablo and Concord. The Ray Brown Trio featured pianists Gene Harris, Benny Green, and Geoff Keezer, along with drummers Jeff Hamilton and Greg Hutchison, and recorded for Concord and Telarc. He continued touring up until crossed over in his sleep while napping before a show in Indianapolis on July 2, 2002. His last batch of sessions, working as a trio with pianist Monty Alexander and guitarist Russell Malone, were released that fall.