In jazz, the master craftsmen aren't always recognized for the finely wrought music they create. Jazz piano certainly enjoys a long tradition of such craftsmen, as its practitioners work within the tradition, playing music of great subtlety and understated beauty that seldom calls attention to itself. Few would call pianist Mulgrew Miller revolutionary, but with his dignified touch, harmonic savvy, and unfailing taste, he has certainly set himself at the head of this tradition. Coming to jazz in a decidedly old-fashioned way, Miller began playing and touring with R&B and gospel groups as a teenager before joining venerable jazz outfits such as Art Blakey's Messengers, Betty Carter's band, and the Mercer Ellington Orchestra. The blues and gospel still color Miller's music, though not in an obvious or gritty way. These influences manifest themselves in a quality of brightness and earthiness that surfaces in Miller's playing, even through the densest chords. Greatly respected by his fellow musicians, Miller is the sideman of choice in the contemporary post-bop scene and has turned up on countless recordings. One of the most recent finds him on John D'earth's Restoration Comedy
, sparring energetically with trumpeter/leader and tenorman Jerry Bergonzi. A few Clevelanders might also remember Miller from his Jazz on the Circle performance with idiosyncratic pianist/composer Joanne Brakeen a few years ago. Mulgrew assumed a largely supportive role, but added immensely to music in the trickiest of performance situations: the piano duo. Not at all limited to the role of sideman, Miller occasionally leads his own band and has also proved to be a composer of great skill.