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Clarence Miller; Singer With Jazz Groups

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Clarence Horatius (Big) Miller, jazz singer who performed with such greats as Count Basie and Duke Ellington, has died in Edmonton, Canada. He was 69.

Miller died Tuesday of a heart attack.

He had lived in Canada for the last 30 years and helped to organize Edmonton’s annual Jazz City Festival.

Miller, who was 6 feet 3 1/2 inches tall and weighed more than 250 pounds, earned his nickname when he played football as a teen-ager.

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Born in Sioux City, Iowa, he grew up in Kansas where he studied bass and trombone and played for shows at the Kansas Vocational School in Topeka. He began singing during the late 1940s and performed for five years with Jay McShann’s band.

Miller worked in Los Angeles during the 1960s, performing at Shelly’s Manne Hole and making albums for Columbia. He also went to Monterey’s jazz festival to take part in Jon Hendricks’ presentation of “Evolution of the Blues Song.”

After working a couple of years in Hawaii, Miller went to Canada to tour with Hendricks’ show. He wound up stranded in Vancouver.

“I began to look around for work,” he told Times jazz critic Leonard Feather in 1983. “I played bass and sang in a pizza parlor. Traveled the hinterlands with an organist and a drummer. Worked Klondike Gay ‘90s-type dates in Edmonton.

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“It seemed like a friendly city,” he said, “and I wound up settling (there) and getting myself an agent.”

He organized workshops and shows for high school bands and sang whatever they wanted to hear. He also lectured widely and performed throughout Canada. He even became a Canadian citizen.

“There’s been no race problem,” he told Feather. “People accept you as a person. I’ve always worked with white musicians--even led an all-white, 16-piece band with Marc Vasey in the trumpet section. I don’t know that I’m a black in Canada.

“I’ve worked just about everywhere with damn near everyone,” he said, “and I can sing anything and put together a show that’ll fit anywhere. I finally own a home and two cars. So I’m pretty lucky.”

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