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Ron Miles: Jazz Gentleman, Part 3

Florence Wetzel By

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Stone/Blossom

AAJ: Your next CD Stone/Blossom (2006) is also with Sterling Circle. This is a really interesting release because it has two discs: Stone is seven of your tunes, and it's generally straight-ahead jazz with a quartet of you, Rudy Royston on drums, Kent McLagen on bass, and Eric Gunnison on piano. Then on the second disc, Blossom, you have a whole range of personnel: there's Rudy Royston, Greg Garrison on bass, Roger Green on guitar, Erik Deutsch on piano, Glenn Taylor on pedal steel guitar, and Eric Moon on organ, accordion, and keyboards. The music is different, too—it's six of your tunes plus two really interesting covers: "I'll Be There" from the Jackson 5 and "I Woke Up in Love This Morning" from the Partridge Family. One reviewer said that the album's a mix of jazz, 1970s love-rock, and Americana.

RM: I think that's exactly right! I told those guys on Blossom that I wanted our love for that music to be just no holds barred; I said, "I just want it to be incredibly soft and incredibly hard, all of it in there."

The original idea was to do all the music as a quartet record and to have a double quartet record. We even recorded some of the songs from Blossom as a quartet, but the quartet's relationship to pop music isn't the same as the people on Blossom. Rudy's on both of the records, though; he's the person who always fits!

I remember the guitarist Roger Green came by one day and played the beginning of "Since Forever," and then it was like, "There we go!" I wrote all the tunes on the piano, so they were supposed to be piano tunes, but I heard what Roger did and it was like, "There we go! That's it!" Then I was ready, and I set about finding folks to play on Blossom. So the people on Blossom really were my band after that for a while, for the most part; the band was also called Blossom.

With the song "Since Forever," I'd never even heard the Byrds, but I imagined that that's what the Byrds sounded like. And it turns out they do sound like that, because everybody I've talked to says, "It sounds like something the Byrds would do," and I said, "Yeah, it does!" I just heard some kind of jangly guitar thing.

Ron Miles—Stone/BlossomBut, you know, the songs on Blossom are not all the same; they change meters, they move around in their subtle ways, but they're so tuneful that I really didn't want any of the compositional trickery or devices to be in your face. I wanted those things to almost not even be noticed. Same thing with "I Woke Up in Love This Morning," which I loved from the Partridge Family—it's almost unrecognizable on this record. When I arrange songs, for the most part, I just pretend like I wrote them, and so I wonder, "If I wrote this melody, what would I have done with it?" So all the chords on this tune are different from the original version, and there's this other part that's not even in the original that I thought would be nice to have in there. I thought, "This part would be better in seven, I think; it kind of flows." So that's the idea with that song.

The same thing with the Jackson 5 song "I'll Be There." Glenn Taylor came up with this beautiful pedal steel part, and that made the song jump off, and then I was home free from there. People were playing thumb pianos and all sorts of stuff; there's even a Casio trio at some point on the record, which was supposed to be my homage to "Dead Man Blues" by Jelly Roll Morton; that song has a clarinet trio, but I thought I'd have a trio of Casios and have it be my '70s love-rock mix with Jelly Roll Morton. No one gets the Jelly Roll Morton reference at all when they hear it: "What? Something's buggy; it's Casios." And it is; it's a Casio trio. So that was really fun to do.

With the quartet record Stone, again it was all recorded in the same room, live with no amplifiers, no headphones, just us playing. And so that allowed that record to be what it needed to be; it didn't have to try and be that other thing on Blossom. And the pop sensibility that some of the musicians brought to Blossom could also be its thing, too; people didn't have to feel like they had to go over to the music on Stone. And like I said, Rudy is cool either way; he's fine, no matter what.

AAJ: Another interesting feature on this release is that on Blossom you play the cornet throughout the whole record.

RM: Yeah, I think I switched in the middle, after we did the quartet record. I played this really heavy Monette trumpet, and it was just so heavy that I switched to the cornet. I always loved the cornet, and so we made that switch, which corresponds with the music we were making at that time.

I must have played the cornet for seven years exclusively, and now I play a trumpet with my cornet mouthpiece; it gives me a little bit of both instruments, which I like. I switched to cornet when I started playing with the singer Madeleine Peyroux; it was right around that time.

AAJ: Did you just take up the cornet at that point, or had you played it previously?

RM: I played it occasionally, and I always liked it, but you know, if you're playing in a section of trumpets, the cornet maybe doesn't work so well. But at the point I was recording this album, I pretty much realized I wasn't playing in sections too much anymore; I was the only one there, so I could play cornet if I wanted!

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