The Artistry of… Mulgrew Miller

The foundation was playing in church as a child. The influences were book-ended by two of the greatest, Ramsey Lewis and Oscar Peterson. Throughout his career, he attended the “universities” of playing with those who influenced the direction of jazz — people like Duke Ellington, in whose orchestra he played piano, and Art Blakey, as a member of his iconic Jazz Messengers. They were jazz universities of the jazz universe that gave him the nutrients he needed to evolve into a distinctive style.

His life spanned the vast, sobering and dynamic distance from being raised by parents who had been raised on Mississippi plantations, to the stellar heights of jazz royalty based out of New York City. Throughout, his music’s foundation is firmly rooted in humility and the respect he had for faith.

This quote, in his words, says it best: “I worked hard to maintain a certain mental and emotional equilibrium. It’s mostly due to my faith in the Creator. I don’t put all my eggs in that basket of being a rich and famous jazz guy. That allows me a certain amount of freedom, because I don’t have to play music for money. I play music because I love it.”

The Artistry of… is a weekly series that reflects on the passion and essence of an artist. It airs Wednesday evenings on Dinner Jazz with John Devenish.