Monday, February 13, 2023

Celebrating a giant legacy

Friends, fans and fellow musicians from near and far gathered in Naples FL on Sunday, February 12 to celebrate the love and life of trumpeter Dan Miller. He died suddenly on August 19 at age 54 but left a giant legacy. A legacy of phenomenal trumpet artistry, an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz, renown as a skilled and passionate educator, and a life filled with joy and a genuine kindness to everyone he met.

Dan Miller
Those traits were underscored time and again during the two and a half-hour celebration at North Naples Church. The program included a revolving cast of bands, beginning with the Gulf Coast Big Band, which Dan led for 10 years, followed by blends of musicians he had worked with through the years - on the road with the Harry Connick Jr. big band, in New York, in New Orleans, and in Florida for the past 18 years.
Wendell Brunious
"Dan was the embodiment of brilliance, kindness and love for all," his longtime girlfriend, Judi Woods, told the hundreds in attendance.

All of the material on this afternoon, programmed by longtime band-mate Lew Del Gatto, consisted of Dan's favorite tunes. Trumpeters Leroy Jones and Wendell Brunious and clarinetist Caroline Brunious were there from New Orleans, with Jones capping their back-to-back appearances with "When It's Sleepy Time Down South."

Nathaniel Williford
Another group dug into one of Dan's favorite formats, a Jazz at the Philharmonic-style ballad medley. It opened with one of Dan's former students, Nathaniel Williford, playing "Tenderly;" and five tunes later, closed with Horace Silver's ballad "Peace," that featured Del Gatto, trumpeter Terumasa Hino and violinist Glenn Basham.

Lew Del Gatto, Terumasa Hino
The live performances were interspersed with video clips from 11 musicians who were unable to be there in person. They included Connick and fellow New Orleans musicians Craig Klein and Jeremy Davenport; as well as fellow trumpeters Randy Brecker, Chuck Findley and New Mexico-based Bobby Shew, who Dan treasured as a mentor. Singer Carmen Bradford's poignant clip featured her a capella version of "Danny Boy," while teen-aged pianist Brandon Goldberg, who Miller took under his wing about seven years ago, played Duke Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone."
Jeff and Preston Rupert
Later in the program, a septet of longtime Miller collaborators also performed "In a Mellow Tone." This grouping included tenor saxophonist Jeff Rupert, who heads the jazz studies program at the University of Central Florida, and his son, Preston, who was a trumpet student of Dan's since age 10.

The joyous closer was an extended take on Miles Davis's "Blues By Five," which Dan used as a first-set finale at many of his performances. 

This one had a dozen participants: pianist Roy Gerson, bassist Chuck Bergeron, drummer Jim White (in from Colorado), trumpeters Hino, Brunious, Preston Rupert and Kenny Rampton (in from New York), and tenor saxophonists Jerry Weldon (in from New York), Gerald Augustin, Jeff Rupert and Lou Califano. 

In his video remarks, Connick said Dan had been a cherished and talented member of his band and a treasured friend. "His legacy is of joy. He was this giant teddy bear of a sweetheart that we all loved so much."

Blues by Five:
Kenny Rampton, Lou Califano, Gerald Augustin, Lew Del Gatto,
Jerry Weldon, Jeff Rupert, Wendell Brunious (partially hidden),
Preston Rupert, Terumasa Hino

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