Ron Miles came by our shop in January to play a private concert for us, and a group of us helped him celebrate the release of his new double album. The double album consists of the first CD, STONE, recorded on his decorated presentation RAJA NIRVIKALPA SAMADHI, and the second CD, BLOSSOM, recorded on his 900 Series PRANA Bb CORNET. The reviews have been glowing, including two recent write-ups in the New York Times.
Dave Monette: Please tell us about the new double CD!
Ron Miles: Dave, thanks for asking about the new CD. It is a double CD titled Stone/Blossom.Stone was recorded first and features a quartet of trumpet, Eric Gunnison on piano, Kent McLagan on bass and Rudy Royston(who also appears on Blossom) on drums. We wanted to capture the acoustic blend of the band so we recorded with no amps or bass direct and without headphones. The songs are all composed by me. The Blossom record features a larger band and has a couple of covers of bands I loved as a kid. I'll Be There by the Jackson 5 and I Woke Up In Love This Morning by the Partridge Family. On this recording I play a new Prana cornet. Rudy is on drums, Roger Green on guitar, Glenn Taylor on pedal steel guitar, Erik Deutsch and Eric Moon on keyboards, and Greg Garrison on bass. I play some other things as needed in addition to cornet.
DM: Your music is very easy to listen to, impossible to forget and at times quite outrageous. Where does it come from?
RM: I love so much music and really only think in categories when thinking in a historical context. I think the music springs from my imagination. And we try to keep the song going as long as possible. At our best we aren't trying to prove anything. We want to play what should go there. Whether it be something very simple or something that may seem complex.And when you remove the need to show people how good you are you can really give people your heart.
DM: Who are your mentors and who inspires you?
RM: I really love bands: Wayne Shorter Quartet, Brad Mehldau Trio, Jason Moran Trio, Bill Frisell Trio, Cuong Vu Trio, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Prince's Musicology band, Old and New Dreams, Ornette's bands, Miles' bands, Coltrane's quartet, Public Enemy, Bad Brains, Nirvana. And solo artists, Sonnny Rollins, Steve Lacy, Monk, Ellington, Elliott Smith, Ella, Billie, Mavis Staples. So many.
DM: Can you give us some specific insight into how you compose new tunes?
RM: Often they start with a few words. I am not a skilled wordsmith so a phrase is about as far as it goes and then I go to the piano and start. The concerns are whether it is a through compsed piece, do we improvise on the form, no form or new forms for improvising. Don't worry about keys. Wherever it shows up is usually where it stays. Then we have to learn to play the music. There is sometimes a misconception that just because you wrote something means you can play it. And that may be true eventually not necessarily true right away.
DM: You seem to tour more and record more with a wider variety of people than any musician we have ever met. Can you tell us about the variety in your work, and about your collaborations with other favorite performers you have toured with?
RM: In the last year mostly I have been touring with Bill Frisell's various groups. He is one of my favorite musicians ever, so being on the bandstand with him is always great. I have also been touring with Madeleine Peyroux. Madeleine is a great singer and wonderful improviser. I hadn't had the opportunity to play so much with a vocalist in a small group setting. And I have learned tons about supporting the lyric and leaving space.
DM: Your own bands change instrumentation and size often– can you tell us about some of the more unusual instrumentations you have tried and what you like about them?
RM: for me and a lot of the folks I work with it has always been more about the musical personality of the individuals and how that makes the group dynamic more than their instrument. I have been in bands with trpt, trombone, violin, guitar. Wayne horvitz' new band has cello, bassoon, cornet, and piano.
DM: How does your very strong background in classical music contribute to your jazz work?
RM: Classical music is such wonderful music so just hearing it changes ones life. aside from that the great composer's teach us so much about the craft and how one can transcend that and achieve something mysterious and magical.And playing the instrument. Bands again the orchestras of Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, and Vienna. Soloists like Andre, Gould, Schwarz, Bartoli, Price, Zoon, Battle, Marsalis.
DM: What was it like to compete and then win the competition at the International Brass Clinic in Bloomington back in the mid-80’s?
RM: It was fun. Being from Colorado one can feel like you are far from the center of things so it was nice to get some encouragement like that. But most imporatntly it gave me a chance to go to the conference and hear some amazing musicians.
DM: How do you view your place in society as a musician?
RM: It's a blessing. Basically people are coming and collectively asking you What do you think, How do you
feel? and so few get asked that and it's too bad because there are people out there with some answers but they just don't get asked. Also I think we are all trying to make a difference in our communities and by playing, creating, and encouraging we are doing that.
DM: Is there a switch somewhere in your brain that got turned on in your early years that enables you to play and compose with such originality and intensity?