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Brian Blade, Bill Frisell, Jason Moran, and Thomas Morgan Play the Music of Ron Miles
In March of 2022, the Music Department lost our dear colleague Ron Miles. In his more than 30 years of teaching at MSU Denver, Ron impacted countless lives and inspired so many students to believe in themselves and to enjoy the process of learning and developing as artists and scholars.
Join us for this special celebration of his life and his music, performed by his bandmates – drummer Brian Blade, guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist Jason Moran, and bassist Thomas Morgan.
Miles introduced the all-star quintet with his widely hailed 2017 release I Am a Man, which built on his trio with Frisell and Blade featured on 2012’s Quiver and 2014’s Circuit Rider. With Moran and Morgan on board Miles’ compressed lyricism continued to unfurl on the 2020 quintet album Rainbow Sign, his debut for the iconic Blue Note label. In adopting the name with its Biblical allusion the Rainbow Sign quartet expands a singular musical legacy. A gentle soul with a steel trap mind, a generous mentor and educator with a deep well of wisdom, Miles created a sumptuously melodic body of music that this band continues to illuminate.
Friday, February 10, 2023
King Center Concert Hall on the Auraria Campus
THIS SHOW IS SOLD OUT.
$65, VIP seating w/ reception (balcony seating)
$30 seniors/military (w/valid ID at box office)
$15, students, 18 and under, MSU Denver alums (w/valid ID at box office)
Free to current MSU Denver students/faculty/staff (general seating only)
Ticket proceeds benefit the Ron Miles Endowed Scholarship Fund, extending Ron’s legacy as a dedicated teacher and mentor who always lifted others.Consider a Donation
Brian Blade was born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana. The first music he experienced was the Gospel and songs of praise at the Zion Baptist Church where his father, Brady L. Blade, Sr., has been Pastor since 1961. In elementary school, music appreciation classes were an important part of his development and at age nine, he began playing the violin. Inspired by his older brother, Brady L. Blade, Jr., who had been the drummer at Zion Baptist Church, Brian shifted his focus to the drums throughout middle and high school.
During high school, while studying with Dorsey Summerfield, Jr., Brian began listening to the music of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Elvin Jones and Joni Mitchell. By the age of eighteen, Brian moved to New Orleans to attend Loyola University. From 1988 through 1993, Brian was able to study and play with most of the master musicians living in New Orleans, such as: John Vidacovich, Ellis Marsalis, Steve Masakowski, Bill Huntington, Mike Pellera, John Mahoney, George French, Emile Vinette, Germaine Bazzle, David Lee, Jr., Alvin Red Tyler, Tony Dagradi and Harold Battiste.
In 1997, Brian Blade formed The Fellowship Band with pianist Jon Cowherd. The band members are bassist Christopher Thomas, saxophonists Myron Walden and Melvin Butler. The Fellowship Band has released five recordings, beginning with their debut in 1998, Perceptual in 2000, Season of Changes in 2008, Landmarks in 2014 and Body And Shadow in 2017.
While continuing to work with The Fellowship Band, Blade has been a member of the Wayne Shorter quartet since 2000. He has recorded with Daniel Lanois, Joni Mitchell, Kenny Garrett, Joshua Redman, Ellis Marsalis, Chick Corea, Marianne Faithfull, Norah Jones, Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan.
Bill Frisell’s career as a guitarist and composer has spanned more than 40 years and many celebrated recordings, whose catalog has been cited by Downbeat as “the best recorded output of the decade”.
His latest recording released this November 11 is FOUR, on Blue Note, a quartet album with Gregory Tardy (clarinet; bass clarinet & tenor sax); Gerald Clayton (piano) & Johnathan Blake (drums). “Bill Frisell moves closer to a coolly thematic contemporary jazz… This new quartet is improvisationally looser in its ensemble conversations… and also builds compelling grooves out of gospelly moods…. irresistable.” – John Fordham; Jazzwise
In March 2022, a biography on Frisell, entitled Beautiful Dreamer – The Guitarist Who Changed The Sound of American Music, written by Philip Watson was published by Faber and released in the UK, Europe, South, Central America & Asia. Through unprecedented access, and interviews with his close family, friends and collaborators, Philip Watson tells the story of the innovative and influential guitarist and composer.
Recognized as one of America’s 21 most vital and productive performing artists, Frisell was named an inaugural Doris Duke Artist in 2012. He is also a recipient of grants from United States Artists and Meet the Composer, among others. From 2013 – 2015, Bill was Resident Artistic Director for Jazz at Lincoln Center for their Roots of Americana series, and in 2016, he was a beneficiary of the first FreshGrass Composition commission to preserve and support innovative grassroots music. Upon San Francisco Jazz opening their doors in 2013, he served as one of their Resident Artistic Directors. Bill is also the subject of a documentary film by director Emma Franz, entitled Bill Frisell: A Portrait, which examines his creative process in depth. He has also received an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music.
Jazz pianist, composer, and performance artist Jason Moran was born in Houston, TX in 1975 and earned a degree from the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied with Jaki Byard. He was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2010 and is the Artistic Director for Jazz at The Kennedy Center. Moran currently teaches at the New England Conservatory.
Deeply invested in reassessing and complicating the relationship between music and language, Moran’s extensive efforts in composition, improvisation, and performance are all geared towards challenging the status quo while respecting the accomplishments of his predecessors. His activity stretches beyond the many recordings and performances with masters of the form including Charles Lloyd, Bill Frisell, and the late Sam Rivers, and his work with his trio The Bandwagon (with drummer Nasheet Waits and bassist Tarus Mateen) has resulted in a profound discography for Blue Note Records. The scope of Moran’s partnerships and music-making with venerated and iconic visual artists is extensive. He has collaborated with such major figures as Adrian Piper, Joan Jonas, Glenn Ligon, Stan Douglas, Adam Pendleton, Lorna Simpson, and Kara Walker; commissioning institutions of Moran’s work include the Walker Art Center, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Dia Art Foundation, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Harlem Stage, and Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Thomas Morgan is a double bass player with a unique approach to the instrument and an exceptional musical understanding. He has played on more than a hundred recordings and toured all over the world as a member of bands led by Bill Frisell, Jakob Bro, Craig Taborn, Masabumi Kikuchi, Jim Black, Dan Weiss, Paul Motian, John Abercrombie, Dave Binney, Steve Coleman, and Tomasz Stanko, among many others. It is Thomas Morgan’s extraordinary way of being in the moment in music and putting his own signature on it that has made him one of the most in demand jazz bassists on the international scene.
MSU Denver Alumni share reflections on their time spent with Ron and his lasting impact.
Ron was so inspiring as a musician, as a teacher, and as a person. As a musician, he played all the beautiful notes. There was so much heart in his melodies. He was also a considerate player. When he played with students, he was so willing to be a servant. That alone may have been the greatest lesson he taught us. He could play with the best of them, but he had a beautiful humility. He loved sharing the experience of making music with anyone he could share it with. As a teacher, he was as wise as he was patient. He knew exactly how to lead. I remember so many of the methods he used to teach us something. And they always worked. And somehow music seemed more vibrant after. He never lost his temper. Not once. His drive was to show students about the passion of music. He was such a gracious man. As a person, he was one of the warmest people I had ever known. His music reflected his soul. He was humble, considerate, wise, and genuine. He inspired beauty. He was an encouraging figure to all the students and faculty at MSU. He was never too busy to check in and have a conversation. My heart is grieved to know that he passed away. Denver feels a little colder now that Ron has passed. I miss him dearly. Ron, thank you for everything. God bless him and his family.
Masterful Student – As I was processing the passing of Ron with my wife, I decided to sit and listen to his Circuit Rider album with my sons while she listened to me speak about Ron and the many facets of life that he impacted through my contact with him. What came to mind were the words Masterful Student. Ron was a master of the craft and of his craft. Through his humility, kindness and quality of character, Ron shared every moment and even while teaching, he was willing to learn. He learned from the music being shared by the person(s) he occupied time and space with, or learning from a conversation prior to a rehearsal downbeat that had nothing to do with the material we would rehearse. I experienced shared moments with someone who made me feel like a friend and then, like any good Master, he turned the moment on its head to teach. There were often revelations. I didn’t have 4 years under Ron in my time at MSU Denver. I started my collegiate studies in my 30s at a different institution. But I did get a year and a half with him. In that time I regained lost confidence and found a new quality in my own sound and a quality in my soul that I hope to continue to emulate. One of my fondest memories of Ron was in a combo rehearsal. I happened to glance at him as we were running some tunes. He was seated, eyes closed, head focused down, hands on his thighs, listening. He absorbed every nuance of the moment. When we were done he intentionally reflected on everything good and everything that needed improvement. Nothing was ever bad. It just needed work. That’s how I felt, anyway. Justified in my choices and then gently corrected to something better and in the moment, humbled by masterful teaching and a shared experience. I hope that my sons have the opportunity to be influenced in such a way by someone at some point in their lives. Play on, good sir…and thank you.”
My whole family has looked up to Ron throughout our careers for guidance as the example of how to be a musician. He has been such a center point for our musical family and directly impacted the way that we all have grown as musicians and experienced music. But what made Ron so special was that he was so thoughtful, kind, humble, genuine and caring; always so attentive and involved with anything brought his way. I always thought about how massive of an icon he was in the music world and yet it was still important to him to be there for me and other students. He was a place of solace for my family and many others. I’ll be forever grateful for Ron’s character and his impact on me, my family, and my community.
Ron Miles had a gift to hear and to see the very heart of whatever music he was experiencing. He used this gift to nurture the unique voice of his students to achieve whatever their musical goals were. It didn’t matter that those goals weren’t directly related to jazz, academically accepted, or seemingly intellectually adventurous. All they had to be was important to his students. I feel so lucky to have been one of those students.
Ron always greeted me with a beaming smile and a comment that made me feel special and capable. It never failed to brighten my day. I looked forward to coming back after a break, asking him how his break was and hearing him tell the most fantastic musical stories that happened during that time in the most casual, self-effacing way that only Ron could.
During my time at MSU, Ron took a chance on me and allowed me space to experiment while learning and growing from my mistakes. He was a vibrant source of inspiration, and the champion of our most adventurous ideas, just as everyone else was ready to write them off as wild stunts. He was always very generous with his time, even after I graduated, he took time to meet with me and talk about my endeavors all while offering up advice and encouragement.
Ron was a kind, soft spoken, humble man who gave me so much and only asked that I do my best to make the music I wanted and to share it with others.
He was my teacher, my advisor, and a mentor. He taught me so much about jazz, music, life, and so much more. I only hope I can honor his memory by trying to give my students the love, kindness, excitement, and support that he so freely gave to me and everyone I knew. I’ll never forget you, Ron. Thank you for everything.
It will take me a long while to understand how deeply Ron Miles has impacted me. For days after hearing of his passing, I couldn’t even bring myself to translate my feelings into written words; it seemed unjust to write only a few sentences to convey his influence on my music, philosophy, and life.
I am honored that Ron availed himself countless times throughout the years for us to have lengthy phone chats. Many times, those conversations consisted of me asking questions (some great and some dumb) with the hopes of getting Ron’s sage wisdom. He could have insisted on me taking private lessons with him outside of MSU Denver, but instead decided to pour into me casually, the same way he had done with so many students. He had a beautiful way of saying a lot without saying a lot. Very simple and concise statements had a way of hitting you like a ton of bricks.
On one phone call while he was preparing to go on vacation with his family, he mentioned how he would still build in practice time in his itinerary. Around that time, I was feeling extremely busy with building a family and grinding to make money as a full-time musician in Denver. I was “playing music” but it felt like I didn’t have the time that I wanted to practice and develop my sound. I essentially asked him how he was able to fit in dedicated practice time while being a husband, father, professor, composer, recording artist, and traveling musician. His response was that “you can always get up earlier or stay up later.”
On another occasion, I remember asking Ron about whether I should take a $50 jazz recital gig. In my unmerited hubris, I felt as though the person offering the gig should have offered more funds, even though my experience playing jazz was extremely limited compared to a lot of other jazz pianists in town. Instead of giving me his honest opinion, he assumed a position of not knowing what to do but stating that “there are musicians in New York that take $50 gigs.” I know that there was a lot to unpack and criticize in that statement, but he said it and then let me deal with how to process it. I took it to mean that there are folks who are extremely hungry to play and engage the scene that would jump on it. It was one of many situations where a conversation with Ron would challenge me to examine my relationship to jazz and the scene.
Ron was so invested in me growing as a musician that he allowed me to play gigs with him, even though I didn’t have a lot of professional experience outside of church. I was so green that I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. Yet, instead of the “tough love” approach of mentoring, he chose to use gigs as opportunities for me to connect to the music. In the rehearsals or performances I had with him, there was never a pressure to play in another pianist’s style. He was trusting and accepting of everyone he chose to be on the stage with and believed in the band’s ability to interpret his compositions in their own way.
Admittedly, I didn’t understand Ron’s recorded music when I first heard it. In a season of my college career when I was obsessed with transcribing song forms and solos, his music seemed almost impossible to neatly codify with notation if you didn’t already have access to his hand-written scores. However, the opportunity to perform his pieces with a band completely opened my mind. He didn’t write pieces to be pretentious. Ron wanted to maintain a sort of “mystery” to his sound. He wrote what he heard. And, being the master musician that he was, the results were always the perfect balance of sophistication and simplicity. His melodic writing was so strong that once you truly sat with his tunes, they stayed with you. For me, “Witness,” “Circuit Rider,” “Angelina,” and “I Am A Man” are etched in my heart forever.
I count every moment spent with Ron as a gift. I am grateful for all the recordings, videos, and interviews of his that exist for me to revisit. But what I’ll miss most is that still, small voice on the other side of the phone line encouraging me and simply being a friend.
When I first met Ron Miles, I was a skinny little college kid in Wyoming. My jazz teacher, Tracy Pfau (who was like a father to me in many ways) organized for Mr. Miles to come to the Casper College Jazz Festival, and Ron sat with me for over an hour in what could have been called a “private lesson”, if it were a more traditional meeting. But, Ron never considered things to be this way. Rather, it was an opportunity to play music together. His first question was: “What do you want to play?” Oddly enough, I didn’t really have an answer, because no “teacher” had ever asked me… This was my first clue. It wasn’t anyone else’s job to determine my path – it was mine. This WAS his teaching.
The following year, I came to the Lamont School of Music, which was about two blocks from Ron’s house. He would periodically invite me to walk over, sit in the back music room, and he would ask: “What do you want to play?” No matter what the answer was, he would add basslines, harmonies, countermelodies, and anything else to “whatever I wanted to play”. My next clue – it doesn’t matter what you play, only that you do.
It was that spring that my schooling at Lamont did not go well (to say the least). Mr. Miles asked me if I knew about a school called Metro… I didn’t. He got to work right away, and the next week, I had an audition and meetings to go to, at “a school called Metro”. If it hadn’t been for this school, and this man, I don’t know what would have happened to my college career and the remaining life thereafter…No joke. Next lesson – helping people in dark times is an essential part of contributing to humanity.
So, I auditioned, met with people, and began riding the 15 bus down Colfax with a saxophone and bookbag in-tow. I worked my work-study job, practiced, and did my work (most of the time). Private meetings at the houses of Fred Hess, Ron Miles, and Mark Harris would carry me forward into a place of believing that maybe I did have something to offer the world, and maybe Metro was the place where I would learn how to grow into that idea.
What I never told Ron (or anyone) during that time was that I was food insecure. I went all day without eating, or only would have a granola bar, or something from the vending machine. Maybe after pay day, I would purchase a baked potato at the Tivoli. All day – hungry.
That first Christmas, I received an envelope in the mail with four $25 gift certificates for King Soopers inside. There was no name attached, no note, just addressed to me (in what I would later learn was Ron’s handwriting). Mr. Miles had sent them. Of course, when I asked him, he denied it. Another clue – live your beliefs. Actions speak louder than words.
That spring, he gave me two tickets to see Wayne Shorter play in Boulder – one of the most memorable nights of my life. Wayne Shorter, Danilo Perez, Christian McBride, and Brian Blade (to be seen in coming bands with Ron himself). Then, there was the time I wrecked my boyfriend’s car, and Ron picked me up in the little silvery-blue car with the stacks of CDs on the floor… Or, the time when his children’s school had a music teaching job open, and he recommended me. Or the time he bought me the book “Footprints” to read… Or the times he gave me his latest CDs, which I would later go buy from Twist and Shout. The interesting thing: these stories are not unique. It’s just the way he treated people. He cared about us, and he believed in us. His students were family. Yet another lesson: When in a position of power over another, share who you are rather than passing judgment on who (or where) they are. Remain humble.
All of this, and yet the most important memory to me is the time that I took a job in a run-down school with temporary walls and orange carpet… And, he came to play music. My husband and I found ourselves playing Miles’ originals, spirituals, blues, jazz, and children’s songs, along with Ron Miles – on three different occasions, for a bunch of little kids… He signed a poster “To Kendrick Lakes Elementary School – THANK YOU! – Ron Miles”…
Like, who in their right mind would ever consider that a player like Ron would thank an elementary school, much less one the likes of ours? Seriously… Give. me. a. break. This man – who could play ANY kind of music, with or for ANYONE. This virtuoso – deliberately chose to come play with a school teacher, for children in a run-down little school? I don’t even know what to do with that information, except to cry… Another lesson: Be in the world, and not of it. Make sure you are of service, and plant seeds for what our future world may look like. You never know what or who may bloom, or where the bloom may come from.
The reality is that heaven gained an angel on March 8th – a human who chose to show up in life in the same way that he will likely show up in death – helping us; speaking to each of us in his own ways; asking us what we want to contribute to planet earth; nudging us to be our own people, to play our own songs, to be humble and contribute to the greater good; telling us to connect with the divine through music, deed, and humanity; telling us to live in truth.
God help us all to be a ripple in the pond as a result of Mr. Miles’ pebble (or boulder in most cases). May we all be brave enough to be “Rainbow Signs” after other people’s storm. May we all stay connected to ourselves, others, and the divine. May we all hope to live our lives with fidelity and contribute to the world of music and humanity. God help us all, and maybe Mr. Miles will too… Or, at least we can hope so.
While studying at MSU Denver I was privileged to spend time with Ron Miles and not just learn about music from this icon but he also taught me lessons of intention, humility, and compassion. When I first met Ron I knew he was a talented musician, to be the head of a Jazz program, but that was about it. Within my first weeks at Metro, Ron’s musical excellence became known to me. I had heard the whispers of how great of a musician he was, but it wasn’t until I heard him play that I found out what everyone was talking about. Before Ron, I really wasn’t a fan on the trumpet in general- too loud, forward and in your face. When Ron played it was such a sweet sound, and he was so thoughtful and played melodically with such intent. That is one of the biggest lessons I have learned from Ron- intent. I remember him describing ways to make phrases in music and how he would practice starting his phrase on different parts of the measure, so he didn’t fall into patterns while starting a phrase. When you listen to Ron play you can hear that amount of thought with each phrase he plays. He made improvisation seem effortless, with a seemingly endless resource to choose from. Even if I thought I knew where his phrase was headed, I was always mistaken. It was like he knew what the average listener (me) was thinking and deliberately went a different route. Ron’s intentionality in music was just one of the reasons why it was so enjoyable to watch him play.
The second big lesson I learned from Ron was humility. Ron was such an unassuming person that no one would ever think he was one of the greatest musicians ever to live. He was always so modest and so thankful, he made you feel welcome and present in conversations. Ron made time for everyone. I’m not sure how he did it being a father, husband, head of a jazz program, band leader, mentor, community leader, the list goes on. He would show up to student performances- both for personal projects and school. Ron was interested in hearing recordings of students’ bands, and student performances. He offered valuable feedback and was always so encouraging. I remember seeing him at my senior recital, which I was amazed he came out for. He gave me a slow clap and a “well done, Mr. Majerus”. That meant the world to me. He made everyone feel like we were a part of his family. While being such a good role model to us students he would be making some of the best music with some of the top musicians in the world. It’s hard to believe that someone of that caliber would have time to say hi, let alone listen to music that you made personally. Incredible. How did he find the time? I don’t think he “found” time, he made time for the novice musician. For people who didn’t feel adequate as a musician, he made you feel like there was hope to become someone like him.
I remember when I first learned to play some of Bill Frisell’s music. I asked my private guitar instructor, Professor Dave Devine, about finding Frisell’s music. At the time I really had no clue that Bill and Ron were such good friends and played together since they went to East High in Denver. Dave said Ron had played on the very song I was learning and maybe we could ask him about it (his office was next door). Ron graciously made a copy of his hand-written chart for the music. I was floored that he played with Bill and that he just gave me the music. That is a special moment to me.
Ron exemplified how to show humility both in music and in life. He constantly helped others reach their goals, while still accomplishing his own. I hope to lead half of the example that he did. I am so proud to have known Ron and will hopefully pass some of his teachings and music on. Rest in peace Ron Miles- I will never forget you.
I’m having a difficult time putting his memory into words. Ron Miles was a strong and sure presence. Humble, kind, fierce, with a gentle soul and a dedicated heart. He would probably say he loved music, was passionate about music, but I think we all know that he was music. Music was him. Through the ridiculous pretension, the young fighting minds of us college kids, he just kept on going. Going and giving. We were so brambly and bumbling and desperately trying to find our place in the world, and he just absolutely believed in us with all his heart. Every single one of us can point to a time or fifty times this was so apparent it made you want to cry. But also to keep going, or get better, or be kinder, or whatever. And god knows we didn’t want to disappoint him. There are those times too, luckily not very many, but any other JAIM people reading this will confirm, there was nothing worse. But there he was, calling you kiddo, telling you to just go ahead and play the root – “it’s a perfectly good note, don’t try to prove anything that doesn’t need saying,” offering his office for a quick chat, sending you a new Becca Stevens album, or graciously advising on where and how Jazz and Improvised music fits and needs to be in a sea of white sis gender folks who have too many ideas or not enough. Long after I’d graduated, we would still write to each other. I guess we all just called him Ron, there wasn’t much “professor Miles” floating around the halls, but in these emails he would keep reminding me that I was no longer his student, but a peer, a sister. I reread those messages the other day, and I will fall into line with the countless others expressing a similar sentiment – I will never stop learning from you.
Heaven will always be one of my favorite albums of all time. I’m listening to it as I’m writing this, and it feels like we could just be at the old Dazzle. That tiny room taking in the music and the mac and cheese. The city is grieving, and my heart absolutely goes out to his family and closest friends. When I got married, he congratulated me on joining the best club in the world. But you know what Ron, we all feel more than ever that the best club, the best rooms, the best conversations, were the ones you were in.
Miss you, friend. Rest easy from now on, you sweet special soul.
Ron was an incredible musician and educator. Just being in his presence was enough to make you feel special as a musician, and a human. He was extremely kind and compassionate, and his patience when it came to teaching was unmatched. He just wanted you to grow as a musician, he knew everyone was at a different stage in their journey with music and no matter where you were along that journey he would help you, laying a path for greater understanding and growth. He showed me what it meant to “serve the music“ and helped so many others along their way as well. I will never forget my time at MSU and the low key or masterful knowledge he would drop on his students every day. A truly magical person who will be greatly missed and forever remembered.