Mulgrew Miller Returns To Boston For James Williams Tribute
Upon the conclusion of Miller's music studies at Memphis State, he rejoined his friend James Williams in 1975, taking up residence in Boston. His residency was short lived, however, and after about three months he was performing with Rudolph Johnson, Rick Zunigar and then with the Ellington Orchestra. While Mulgrew Miller has performed with many jazz greats, including Johnny Griffin, Benny Golsen, Freddie Hubbard, and Bobby Hutcherson, his longest stint lasted from 1986 to 1994 with the innovative drummer Tony Williams. Tony Williams was a native Bostonian who at one time honed his jazz skills at Wally's Café, located on Mass Ave.
Even though Miller admits he has lost count of how many times he has been recorded - he approximates it at 400 - the pianist sums up his numerous sessions this way: "I'm sort of proud of the fact that I'm on the first album put out by several younger players," naming Branford Marsalis and Nicolas Payton among them.
Presently, Mulgrew Miller is touring with the Ron Carter Trio. Carter, who along with Tony Williams rose to prominence in the 1960s as part of the legendary Miles Davis Quintet, is one of the most highly regarded bassists in jazz.
Miller openly admits it is difficult to express the emotions he associates with playing in the Ron Carter Trio. "From the time I was a teenager, Ron was one of my idols" Miller explained. "I'm humbled and grateful for the opportunity [to play with Ron]. I'm in total awe of him." He also stated that performing with both Tony Williams and Ron Carter places him in a status that is beyond anything he ever hoped to achieve, describing it as "unfathomable". The Ron Carter trio, which recently performed at the Regattabar in Cambridge, MA, could also be heard this past August at the 50th Anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival - Miller's third appearance at the historic annul event.
In addition to playing with the Ron Carter Trio, Miller leads his own musical project - a piano trio. This trio is comprised of former Ray Brown sideman Karriem Riggens, who Millers describes as "a marvelous drummer" and Derek Hodge, a young upright bassist from Philadelphia. The trio is featured on Miller's latest CD Live At Yoshi's Volume I , which is available on the MaxJazz label.
The weekend of October 8th and 9th, Mulgrew Miller returned to the Boston area. He appeared at Ryles Jazz Café as part of tribute to his friend and mentor James Williams. Along with Miller, Donald Brown and Javon Jackson made the journey. Sets were rounded out by Bill Piece, Andy McGhee, Greg Hopkins, and Yaron Israel, all of whom are Berklee faculty, and Tony Reedus, nephew of the late pianist being honored. Proceeds from the two-day event benefited the James Williams Scholarship at Berklee College of Music.
Miller recalls his friend, stating "What comes to mind is enormous humanity. As much as he was about music, and he was a lot about music, he was about people. He was into bringing people together. He reached out to others." Miller continued by stating "I am really pleased that a school as prestigious, large, and important as Berklee would do [this] in James' name. It keeps his name out there and commemorates his giving."
The inner circle may have lost one of its masters, but his memory lives on.