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Ron Miles: Jazz Gentleman

Florence Wetzel By
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Ron Miles copyright Susan Gatschet-ReeseThe Conservative Movement in the '80s

AAJ: During the time you were in New York in the 1980s, there was a movement underway in jazz that some people have called a conservative backlash, which could roughly be defined as saying that anything post-hard bop was not really jazz. Did that movement affect your time in the city?

RM: Well, you know, it's interesting because that time when I was in the city, that thinking was a little less severe in some ways, because I remember the record Black Codes from the Underground (Columbia, 1985) came out when I was in New York. And that album was really exciting because that band was exciting; they were young and they were doing original music, changing meters and all kinds of things. That music, to me, sounded like it was greatly influenced by Miles Davis' bands in the 1960s, and even Ornette's bands of the late 1950s a little bit, but particularly Miles Davis from The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel (Columbia, 1965). And the guys were so young, and it seemed like maybe this could go somewhere, like maybe the music was going to go a different way. But things changed a little bit after that record; that band broke up, and the principals involved in that band, Wynton and his brother Branford, went separate ways for a little bit. Then it seemed like the historical elements of the music started to become more prevalent in jazz; things took a little turn, and the split became a bit more wide.

I felt that split at school, because I was getting just lambasted for being this avant-garde guy, not only by my director but by other people in the band. I remember going into class and people talking about saxophonist Albert Ayler and slamming their fists on the desks and just being really upset. So yes, it was important what was going on.

But Bob Mintzer was really good for me in a way, too, because when he felt like I was just resting, like playing through tunes and just squeaking and squawking because I hadn't learned the tune, he would call me on it. He'd say, "What you're doing is important, and you can't confuse this by just playing some garbage sometimes. If you want to play this way, then you gotta really play. And that also means you gotta take care of the other business too and be able to play over tunes and be able to play over changes, because what you're doing is important." And I was like, "OK."

But it was an interesting time in New York because, like I said, at that time it seemed like there was a possibility the music might hold together. But it soon fractured off, and that split got big.

Photo Credits

Page 1, Top: Monica Frisell

Page 1, Bottom: Susan Wasinger

Page 2: Courtesy of Monette.net

Page 3: Bob Doran

Page 4: Susan Gatschet-Reese

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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