Mulgrew Miller dies at 57; influential jazz pianist

Mulgrew Miller, 57, an influential pianist regarded as one of the finest mainstream jazz players of his generation, died May 29 at an Allentown, Pa., hospital from complications of a stroke, the Allentown Morning Call reported.

The versatile pianist made hundreds of recordings and worked with a series of imposing jazz leaders. In the 1980s he was a member of Grammy-winning bandleader Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Miller also had important stints with singer Betty Carter, a noted jazz improvisationalist, and Woody Shaw, an innovative jazz trumpeter.


Miller was "one of our great jazz masters" and possessed a "soulful, amazing technique," Marko Marcinko, a drummer who had performed with him, said last week.

Born Aug. 13, 1955, in Greenwood, Miss., Miller began playing piano at about age 5.

At 14, he saw the great jazz pianist Oscar Peterson on television, and "it hit me where I lived," Miller later said of the moment he found his calling. Miller's technical prowess at the keyboard would later be compared to Peterson's.

As a student at Memphis State University, Miller was part of a then-thriving jazz scene, but he left after two years. He moved to Los Angeles and worked in jazz clubs before joining Mercer Ellington's big band in the late 1970s. From the mid-1980s until the late 1990s, Miller was part of a distinguished quintet led by drummer Tony Williams.

Since 2005, Miller had been director of jazz studies at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

Before he would launch into his fluid and invariably swinging piano playing, he would sometimes be introduced to audiences along with his telling nickname: "State of the Art."

— Los Angeles Times staff and wire reports