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Ron Miles: Jazz Gentleman, Part 3

Florence Wetzel By

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

[Editor's Note: In Florence Wetzel's in-depth interview with Ron Miles, the Colorado-based trumpeter covers the rest of his releases, including an exclusive first look at his forthcoming album, Quiver (Enja, 2012), due out later this year.]

Chapter Index
  1. Laughing Barrel
  2. Stone/Blossom
  3. Quiver
  4. Practicing and Composing
  5. Thoughts on Performing
  6. Self-Promotion and Careers
  7. The Colorado Sound


Laughing Barrel

AAJ: So next you have another Sterling Circle release, Laughing Barrel (2003), which has seven tunes, all your original compositions. Rudy Royston is on drums, and you have two other great musicians: the bassist Anthony Cox and the guitarist Brandon Ross. Could speak a bit about Anthony and Brandon, and how they came together with you on this release?

RM: Well, Anthony was going to be on that record in the early '90s when I was first trying to contact Bill. He was on the list of my favorite bass players that I wanted to reach out to; his album Dark Metals (Polygram, 1992) had just come out then, and he had those great records with saxophonist Joe Lovano. I was a huge Anthony Cox fan. He actually said back then that he would do the record, and so we stayed in touch a little bit.

I knew Brandon from singer Cassandra Wilson's records and saxophonist Henry Threadgill, and I was just a huge, huge fan. He had heard My Cruel Heart, and he told me that at first he thought it was a guitarist's record, because the song "Finger Palace" starts off the album with a big, heavy guitar riff. I think whoever was playing it for him said, "I think this is some guitarist's record," and Brandon said, "Yeah, but who's the trumpet player? That's who I'm interested in." I think Brandon maybe even contacted me at some point. And I thought, "Man, this would be so great to get these guys together and play!"

So again, I wrote a bunch of music, knowing that this was going to be the band, and we just set out to do it. And the same thing: Mickey recorded it, and we were just all in a big room together, and it was pretty easy to do. All those guys have a history with all kinds of music, Brandon with Cassandra and playing banjo and all those kinds of diverse songs in addition to the skronky stuff, and Anthony had the same thing, too. So doing my tune "Sunday Best" with those guys was easy: "Yeah, we know, we got that!"

"Psychedelic Black Man" was written for Anthony, really. The song was already written, but when we were working on it, he just kept saying, "Psychedelic black man!" He kept saying it over and over again, and I said, "OK, man, we'll call it that!" We had a hard time playing that tune, and they asked me to play it on the piano. I can't really play the piano, but it was the same kind of vibe—just me playing on the piano, just the vibe of my non-piano playing, and they knew what to do: "OK, we hear what you're saying, or what you're trying to say." And then we took off from there.

Ron Miles—Laughing BarrelAAJ: That's something that's really interesting about this record, because one reviewer classified it as mainstream jazz and another classified it as free jazz. But then there's also your song "Sunday Best," which exemplifies the kind of Americana or Colorado sound that you sometimes refer to, which is also like your song "Just Married."

RM: There's also "Jesus Loves Me," actually, which we also recorded on Coward of the County. It's kind of stripped down on this record; that's the only one that carried over from that point. But yeah, there's a mix of music here.

The song "Parade," was actually written at a time when I had hurt my neck. Have you ever had that thing where you're kind of like [mimes being unable to turn head], and you can't sleep? So I was up all night, and Showtime was having a Queer as Folk marathon, and I was really into it—I love soap operas, I just love them. One of the episodes had a gay-pride parade, and it was so beautiful. Other pride parades are like, "Well, we can't have those folks show up at our pride parade, because that's not the side we want to show to the public." But a gay-pride parade has all sorts of folks: wild folks, conservative folks and all sorts of folks in between. It just was so beautiful, and the next day I wrote "Parade." I think I wrote it just straight out; it was really pretty easy to write.

When I started to write these more "song" songs, from that point on I only wrote at the piano; I never picked the trumpet up at all. The only time I would even change the key was when it went out of the range of the trumpet somehow, but for the most part, a song would just show up where it was. Sometimes the songs would have a lyric—only a sentence or so, because I can't really write lyrics, but it would have enough of a lyric that I could generate the song. "Coward of the County," I think, was that way, and just about all the songs on this record were that way, too; they were composed at the piano in that kind of process.

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