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I Remember Mulgrew (part 1)

Mulgrew Miller

Mulgrew Miller was one of the most inspirational musicians I have ever met. A master pianist, composer, and educator, Mulgrew was truly a beautiful human being.
It was in May 1990 at the Jazz Festival in Moscow when a first saw Mulgrew Miller playing. I was 21 at the time, young and enthusiastic jazz lover.

That festival was a big event, it featured many great musicians like Freddie Hubbard Quartet with Benny Green, Branford Marsalis with Kenny Kirkland and Jeff Watts, San Ra Orchestra, Chico O’Farill and more.

Mulgrew Miller was playing with The Benny Golson Quartet. I was really captured by the way he sounded – his big piano sound reminded of Oscar Peterson, blend of contemporary harmonic sound reminiscent to McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock, mysterious brisk melodic runs and dancing rhythmic feeling and blues and gospel in his playing – it was something else! His sound was somewhat familiar but yet so fresh and inspiring.

A couple of years later I was lucky again to watch him play with the Benny Golson Quartet at The Red Sea Jazz Festival Eilat in 1992.

I became to be a big fun of Grew (this is how the musicians call him). I tried to find everything with Mulgrew’s name – records featuring him as a sideman as well as his own recordings as a leader. I still remember the first time hearing him on Woody Shaw “Master of Art” – a brilliant record. 

Mulgrew Miller Week at The Center for Jazz Studies

Alec Katz with Mulgrew Miller 2012I met Mulgrew Miller several years ago and got a chance to get to know him personally, talk to him, see his playing closely, and teach students. It was in June 2012 when Mulgrew Miller was invited for a week of clinics and workshops at The Center for Jazz Studies (New School Academic Program) at The Israel Conservatory of Music In Tel Aviv.
It was a remarkable week full of music and wonderful experiences.
Being a part of CJS faculty, I had quite a few chances to talk with Mulgrew and watch him play.

I have made footage of Mulgrew piano class, his solo performance at Felicja Blumental Hall and the concert at the Einav Center featuring Mulgrew performances with the students and teachers ensembles and the Big Band.

Mulgrew-Miller-at-CJS-poster

It was so sad to find out that a year later Mulgrew Miller has passed away.
Mulgrew Miller was a true master. Although he was a busy musician who was in demand in the recording studio and on stage, I think Mulgrew has had to receive much greater appreciation. He is inspiring being a master musician, creative spirit a humble person and a wonderful human being for young musicians to come.

Today, I would like to share with you footage of some great moments captured from that remarkable week with Mulgrew Miller at The Center for Jazz Studies in Tel Aviv.

Solo Piano

My Old Flame

Mulgrew Miller talks about various aspects of solo piano playing. Speaking of one’s individual approach to playing standards, Mulgrew plays a short excerpt from a ballad My Old Flame (by Sam Coslow and Arthur Johnston). He does a beautiful and a really interesting re-harmonization of the melody of a song.

Mulgrew stops playing in the middle trying to recall his arrangement. It would be nice to find the whole thing recorded, I wonder if he did.

The only version Mulgrew has recorded My Old Flame is from a concert he did at the Jazz en Tête festival in France in 2000. It was released a decade later by Space Time Records on his album Solo. It is a beautiful full-sounding solo piano with rich harmony and brisk right-hand runs and even some stride piano at the end which reminiscent of Oscar Peterson with Mulgrew personal “modern-touch” sound, diminished runs, etc.

He is mostly playing “around” the melody in each new chorus, which reminds of solo recordings of Monk or McCoy Tyner – just like the melody and variations. On this 2000 version, Mulgrew does not change much harmony’, but just a little on some of the melody’s returns.

Body and Soul

Mulgrew talks about personal approaches to playing standards and re-harmonization. He plays a short example of his version of Body and Soul with the beautiful re-harmonization of the first section of a tune. Mulgrew says, he has heard New York pianist Jimmy Rowles who played in the same club Knickerbocker and borrowed some ideas from him. Mulgrew also refers to a Freddie Hubbard version from an album with the same name which has similar kind of progression on an ‘A’ part (just a little bit…)

Mulgrew Miller has recorded Body and Soul on his album With Our Own Eyes (Novus Records 1993) and on his solo album Solo (Space Time Records, 2000). Later is somewhat close to what he did in a class.

Here is the performance of Mulgrew Miller Trio live with Richie Goods and Rodney Green from 1999 on YouTube. Watch Mulgrew ending the tune with a brilliant solo piano section at the last third of the video where he goes real stride piano, truly amazing!

Check out this nice transcription from Michael Lucke here (YouTube link -Mulgrew Miller – Body And Soul (Solo Piano)

Farewell To Dogma

Here is Mulgrew Miller playing his beautiful original tune called Farewell To Dogma:

Old Folks

Here is an exciting moment of Mulgrew playing at the end of his masterclass.
A beautiful ballad “Old Folks” (by Dedette Lee Hill & Willard Robison):

I Have found a  transcription and analysis of Mulgrew playing Old Folks that was made by French pianist Florent Gac.
You can watch and listen to it on YouTube

From Day To Day

Here is Mulgrew Miller with the student ensemble of the Center for Jazz Studies performing his composition “From Day To Day”:

Mulgrew Miller Solo Piano at Felicja Blumental Music Center

Here is a full length (50 min.) solo piano concert Mulgrew did at Felicja Blumental Music Center, Tel Aviv:

Song list (with timestamp)

  1. In Your Sweet Own Way (00:00)
  2. If I Should Lose You (09:19)
  3. O Grande Amour (20:47)
  4. My Foolish Heart(30:00)
  5. Yardbird Suite (40:06)
  6. Ask Me Now (45:40)

You will find more Mulgrew Miller videos in my post I Remember Mulgrew, Part 2

Photos from Mullgrew Miller week in Tel Aviv

Alec Katz

Alec is a jazz pianist, composer, arranger and educator from Tel Aviv. He loves performing, writing, teaching and learning music. Alec has built his website and he likes writing and sharing there his thoughts musical ideas and useful content.

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simona arones
August 13, 2018 23:17

Thank you for sharing, He was a wonderful musician and beautiful soul

Scott Forrest
Scott Forrest
October 14, 2018 18:04

Fantastic article along with the superb embedded videos!! Love and miss Mulgrew

ajazzlvr
ajazzlvr
October 14, 2018 20:02
Reply to  Alec

Tune played was not My Old Flame, but Old Folks.

Erez Barnoy
Erez Barnoy
November 29, 2018 16:22

Amazing article’ Alec, Thank You!!

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