Jazz festival honors Miller

Photo by David Monroe
Dr. Ronald Myers entertains the crowd playing the piano
Monday at the Mississippi Jazz and Heritage Festival. Myers
organized the event and also played trumpet.

By David Monroe
City Editor

Greenwood Commonwealth Newspaper
Geenwood, Mississippi

September 8, 2009

(Greenwood, MS) – Mulgrew Miller couldn’t attend the jazz festival held in Greenwood on Monday, but friends and fans paid tribute to the musician hailed by festival organizer Dr. Ronald Myers as “the finest, greatest piano player in the world today.”

Myers, who has organized the Mississippi Jazz and Heritage Festival for its entire 14-year run, said he wanted to honor Miller’s influence by bringing the event to Greenwood, where the renowned pianist was born and raised. The first portion of the festival was held Saturday in Greenville.

“We have much to celebrate in Mississippi when it comes to jazz legacy,” Myers said.

Miller also will work with Myers and Bertron Cowan on putting a jazz museum in Greenwood. The planned location is the site on Market Street that now houses Cowan Music.

Miller, who has appeared on more than 400 recordings as a leader or sideman, lives in Easton, Pa., and teaches in the music department at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

He could not attend the festival because he had a prior commitment in New York City. But two of his siblings, Albert Miller of Alpharetta, Ga., and Rosetta Miller of Memphis, were there to accept a lifetime achievement award on his behalf. An award also was presented to honor drummer Al Fielder, a native of Meridian.

Albert Miller said a number of his brother’s classmates and other acquaintances were present Monday and had asked about him.

“I’ve been texting him back and forth tonight, and he really apologizes for not being able to be here,” he said.

Rosetta Miller, who graduated from Mississippi Valley State University, said they had heard about the festival only in the last couple of weeks. Their mother, Arlene Miller, who still lives in Greenwood, had received a flier about it.

Rosetta Miller said they didn’t know about the plans for the museum until they saw an article in Monday’s Commonwealth. However, she said, “if the family needs to be involved, then we certainly will.”

The festival was held near Bo’s Bar-B-Q Bar and Grill. Roosevelt “Bo” Roach, owner of that business, said Myers first suggested that location about two weeks ago when the two saw each other at the Amtrak station.

They have discussed holding the event there every year, and Roach said he’s looking forward to it.

Myers’ festivals showcase Mississippi jazz artists, and Monday’s ensemble included performers from Jackson, Greenville and Leland.

The headliner was trombonist Dick Griffin, formerly of Jackson and now living in New York. But the others got their chances to shine, too, including vocalist-percussionist Rod Shannon and guitarist Billy Smiley, both of Greenville, and a talented group of percussionists. Myers also played both piano and trumpet.

At one point, Shannon teased the audience sitting across the street by the Amtrak station, asking whether they wanted to hear “Midnight Train to Georgia.” After hearing an enthusiastic yes, he had to tell them the band didn’t know that one.

But their selections — occasionally drowned out by an arriving train — did include “Summertime,” “Misty” and a slight reworking of “The Girl From Ipanema” titled “The Girl From Itta Bena.”

Griffin, who has known Miller a long time, said he tries to visit Mississippi once or twice a year. He has family in Greenville but couldn’t remember having visited Greenwood before.

“I always love to get home whenever I get the opportunity,” he said.

Copyright © 2009 - Greenwood Commonwealth


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