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Dan Miller: A Life Well-Lived, And Then Some....


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Someone's impact on others is a more meaningful measure of a life well-lived than the number of years they spend on the planet. That notion was reinforced today when we received word that Dan Miller died unexpectedly yesterday (Friday, August 19). He was just 53.

Dan was passionate about a lot of things—auto racing and other sports, fine food, and his family. Most of us knew him best through his many contributions to the world of jazz. He was a high-octane trumpeter, blessed with a bright, soulful sound that graced the ranks of many a band through the years.

His sudden passing came just a few days after he and his sweetheart, Judi Woods, returned from their regular one-week vacation trip to New Orleans. On this visit, he caught up with many longtime musical friends and former band mates, and sat in one night at Preservation Hall.

The Chicago-area native worked with Maynard Ferguson, Harry Connick Jr., the Wynton Marsalis-led Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Tom Jones, Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton and others. It seemed he could do it all—and do it well. He was as passionate about teaching as he was about performing, maybe even more so.

Dan was a fixture on the New York jazz scene until 2004 when he began spending part of the year in Southwest Florida. He moved here permanently about a dozen years ago, quickly making an indelible impact on the region's music scene—as a performer, educator and mentor.

In addition to leading or co-leading groups, frequently with NBC Saturday Night Live Band alumnus Lew Del Gatto, Dan was on the Jazz Studies faculty at the University of Central Florida and also taught privately. He traveled the country frequently as a guest clinician at high school and college jazz programs. He was a Yamaha Performing Artist and Clinician for more than 30 years.

He taught late pianist Barry Harris's principles of jazz improvisation to students of all instruments. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz players and their recordings—-not just the trumpeters whose work he studied in analytic detail. He shared that knowledge freely—-and eagerly.

He started and directed the Naples Philharmonic Youth Jazz Orchestra, and led a Naples-based community big band concert series on Sunday afternoons during the snowbird season.

Here's what Wynton Marsalis shared today on Facebook about what he termed his “inexpressible grief" over Dan's death:

“Dan was the essence of our music: soulful, original, virtuosic and consistent. He was a great great educator and even better student. Most importantly, he was deeply engaged with humanity and how it could best be expressed in our interactions with each other, and through the trumpet. Big sound, big spirit, his sudden passing is shocking and a wake up call for us all to savor every moment down this road. Rest In Peace.”

If you want to read more about Dan's impact on jazz here, there and seemingly everywhere, here is an appreciation of his work that I wrote last September.

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