They say your friends are the family you choose and I was blessed that my parents chose incredible people to be their friends and therefore “Aunts” and “Uncles” to me. A very special part of my extended family belongs to Mulgrew Miller and his lovely wife Tanya.
One of the things I loved about Mulgrew was that he always made time for me. Whether it was to play a silly game or answer a question about music or the piano, he was always patient and present. I remember when I was living in Japan, Mulgrew came through Tokyo while he was on tour. Tour life can be incredibly exhausting especially with such extreme time zone changes. Usually when you have time off all you want to do is sleep. But on Mulgrew’s free afternoon, he found the time to have lunch with me like a good Uncle would and catch up on music and life. At this point in time I was at the beginning stages of doing my first album and he was full of encouragement and wisdom.
Later that evening I went to catch his performance and was left in awe of his magical musical gift. It was humbling to me that a man so great would take the time to nurture a budding artist like me, but that was Mulgrew – full of character. Several years later while I was working in Russia, I played on the same jazz festival as Mulgrew. On the last evening they had a jam session on the mainstage which for me was really special not only because it had Mulgrew on Piano, but my Mom, Dad and brother Orion all also participated in the jam. It was my first time getting to sing with Mulgrew, I was nervous but delighted and I’ll never forget that moment – I had a smile on my face the entire time. After, Mulgrew played a solo piano piece and I watched from the wings and wept from the soul touching beauty and mastery of his performance. I didn’t know that would be the last time I would see Mulgrew before he passed away, but I’m glad I was really present in that moment and allowed it to engulf me. It was a lesson in itself – to be daring and open during performance – so that the warmth and love from your heart can be shared along with your music to everyone that experiences it.
Please enjoy my Growing Up Jazz story about Mulgrew Miller and if you’ve never checked out his music, my favorite album of his is called is called Solo and it’s a great place to start.