By Claudio Botelho
I was working on a new article when knew of the untimely passing of pianist Mulgrew Miller. I had the chance to listen to him live twice. The first one was in New York, in 1996: he was sideman to explosive trombonist Steve Turre and they played in a small club which name I don’t remember now. Before entering the place, I met him outside and a friend took a picture of both of us. I’d intended to publish this picture, but wasn’t able to find it. I’m sure I’ll find it at any moment. When this happens, you’ll see it.
The second time happened at a couple of years ago, in Brasília, and he was with the soporific Ron Carter along, guitarist Russell Malone and a drummer whose name I don’t remember. Unfortunately, Carter did not seem happy to be there, and things rolled out too smoothly for my taste. I’ll rather stay with his 1996 performance.
Mulgrew was a big man, and his prowess as a piano player was in line with his towering stature, but his introspective nature certainly played a role in keeping him several steps behind the place he deserved to be. Maybe he never felt at easy to be in the spotlights and, rather, decided to be supportive to others...
Last Sunday, I paid homage to him and listened to an album he recorded with the fabulously majestic drummer Tony Williams called “Young at Heart”. In this particular song, Mulgrew put his heart inside out and showed how formidable a player he was!
I can’t exactly outline his style. Its boundaries seem diffuse to me. IMO he’s achieved an unusually high level of playing, doing everything with equal proficiency and could mimic anything he wanted, but he never indulged to this. He just wanted to be himself, and so he was. If I decided to say something about his playing, a word comes to my mind: easiness. To play the piano seemed to be one of the easiest things you could ask him to do. Just like it was to Hank Jones, for instance.
Mulgrew was a humble man. I envy humble man. They all seem to know how unpredictable luck is…