The jazz world says goodbye to a much-loved pianist and to the documentarian of an iconic photo.
By J. R. Carroll
Mulgrew Miller will forever live in our hearts. twitter.com/MAXJAZZ/status…
— MAXJAZZ (@MAXJAZZ) May 29, 2013
After several days of contradictory anecdotal reports, it’s been officially confirmed that the widely admired pianist Mulgrew Miller has passed away following a massive stroke. (See Nate Chinen’s fine obit in the New York Times.) He suffered an earlier stroke in 2011, but had largely recovered and as recently as November 2012 recorded a set with his trio for NPR’s Jazz Set.
Miller’s modest but exemplary catalog of releases under his own name belies the extraordinary scope of his recorded and live performances as a full participant in the musical projects of others. Following early gigs with Mercer Ellington and Betty Carter, in the 1980s and early 1990s he was a key member of Woody Shaw’s Quintet, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and Tony Williams’ Sextet, Quintet and Trio. In recent years he collaborated with fellow pianist Kenny Barron and with bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen in inspired duets, and with guitarist Russell Malone in Ron Carter’s Golden Striker trio (which brilliantly revived a trio format championed by Nat King Cole, Art Tatum and Ahmad Jamal).
There have been numerous links posted today to performances by and interviews with Mulgrew Miller, and surely many more to come. I was privileged to hear Mulgrew and Benny Golson with the Harvard Jazz Bands when the two of them were artists in residence in 2008, and so I’ll leave you with this lovely rendition from 2000 of Benny’s “I Remember Clifford” with trumpeter Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew at the piano:
Thinking of Mulgrew Miller I’m reminded of an African proverb on those who pass on to ancestry: “One is born. One dies. The land increases.”
— Willard Jenkins (@IndyEar) May 29, 2013
Jean Bach spent most of her life as a radio producer, but the jazz world will best remember her as the creator of a memorable documentary about one of the most iconic images in jazz history, Art Kane’s 1958 photo of “A Great Day in Harlem” for Esquire.
A lifelong aficionado, Bach had deep roots in New York jazz: Her stepmother was Irene Castle, who, with her husband and dance partner Vernon, teamed with bandleader James Reese Europe in 1914, a remarkable interracial collaboration that can arguably be said to have launched the jazz scene in New York. In 1989 she learned while having lunch with bassist Milt Hinton (himself a superb photographer) that he had shot several rolls of his own during Kane’s photo shoot, and that his wife, Mona Clayton Hinton, had used his 8mm home movie camera to film silent segments of the musicians arriving and greeting one another as they assembled on the steps of that now-legendary brownstone in Harlem. Hinton was able to retrieve those film clips from his basement, and Bach began the task—with the considerable assistance of producer Matthew Seig and film editor Susan Peehl—of restoring the aging footage and augmenting it with interviews with surviving musicians whose images had been captured in Kane’s photo.
The film was finally released in 1994, and received an Oscar nomination the following year for Best Documentary. In 2007 it was reissue in a two-DVD set in which the original one-hour film was supplemented by over four hours of new material, including profiles of Art Kane and of the five dozen musicians who appeared in his photo.
Jean Bach passed away on May 26th at the age of 94, still immersed in the music she loved. As the New York Times obituary noted, “Until six months ago, she was out on the town listening to jazz.”