When the esteemed drummer Ed Shaughnessy passed away this past Friday, May the 24th, of a heart attack at the age of 84, I could feel a bit of myself pass with him–an icon of my youth. This dynamic engine of the Tonight Show Band, played with everyone from Buddy Rich and Booker Ervin to Jimi Hendrix and John McLaughlin. When he passed, I was surely saddened, yet oddly wistful…84 is a taste. My Moms passed at 84. Anytime a loved one passes is too damn soon, but 84 is a taste…84 is a life.
However when I opened up the NY Times on Wednesday, May the 29th, and discovered that the great pianist Mulgrew Miller had suffered a stroke and passed away earlier in the day I screamed in horror: “Oh, my God!”
I mean we are talking not only about a real gentleman, but one of the greatest jazz pianists of this or any other generation. Mulgrew Miller was a cornerstone of modern jazz as defined by a liquid cherry center of swing and bebop, as well as the folkloric tributaries of the sanctified church and the blues–both urban and rural and all points in between.
Mulgrew’s mastery of the American vocabulary was distinguished by an indomitable commitment to extending upon those foundations without flummery or gimmicks. In my mind, Mulgrew’s mastery was analogous to that of someone like Hank Jones. Their mastery was both commanding and comprehensive, yet so refined, elegant and understated that their music often seemed to proceed in the manner of water itself–taking on the shape of the vessel with such effortless power, as to render them…if not invisible, then ubiquitous in a way that was always at the service of the music. Those cats who knew who was chickensalad and who was chickenshit, understood Mulgrew’s enduring greatness. However Hank Jones lived to be 91…Mulgrew Miller was only 57, damn it.
And so now we lay him down to sleep, with an expansive orchestral piano
rendition of Cole Porter’s “I Love You” featuring the pianist as a mature
veteran and beloved teacher, as well as this dynamic SOUND SIGNATURE of
the pianist as a young giant on the rise, with the great Woody Shaw in
1981 on the trumpet master’s final Columbia session, UNITED, showcasing an
all-star sextet on a Defcon 8 evocation of Max Roach and Clifford Brown–a
FOR MEN ONLY equestrian gallop through “What Is This Thing Called Love?”
I hasten to point out that my sense of jazz inclusion and outreach does
not preclude a devotion to bebop–believe me, I get it…well, here is
some Bebop with a Capital-B that is truly state of the art, and does
Mulgrew ever drive the soloists like a mini-big band, sort of a cross
betwen McCoy Tyner, Phineas Newborn and Oscar Peterson.
Much love, Mulgrew, much love..