Jazz great and influential music educator Ron Miles dies at age 58
Legendary Denver trumpeter and cornetist was among the greatest improvisers and composers of his generation.
Legendary jazz musician Ron Miles, one of the finest improvisers and composers of his generation and musician-in-residence at Metropolitan State University of Denver, has died at the age of 58. The cause was complications from polycythemia vera, a rare blood disorder, his record label said.
The Grammy-nominated trumpeter and cornetist was a beloved member and one of the most prominent musicians in Denver’s jazz scene, but his talent and influence extended far beyond the Mile High City.
“He was simply a great player. Not just here, but nationally and internationally. We need to remember that,” said Norman Provizer, Ph.D., a Political Science professor emeritus at MSU Denver and former jazz critic for the Rocky Mountain News and DownBeat Magazine.
Miles was a unique talent in a genre that values individualism, Provizer said. But beyond his musical gifts, Miles leaves behind a legacy of kindness, modesty and a desire to help others, including the students he mentored as a music instructor and jazz director at MSU Denver.
“Anyone who knew him knew what an incredibly kind and wonderful person he was,” Provizer said. “He was known for what he did, not what he told others he did. Ron was a great player, not a good player, a great player. And at the same time he was a dedicated, terrific teacher.”
For more than two decades, Miles taught in MSU Denver’s Department of Music, a role in which he not only mentored hundreds of young musicians but that allowed him to “keep learning.”
“I really want (my students) to realize that while they’re in school, particularly in music, it’s very important that they get outside of these walls. That they see that their art resonates in the community. It has to. It can’t just exist here,” Miles said from his MSU Denver studio in 2017. “Duke Ellington said he doesn’t write music, he writes dreams. That’s what he does. He just dreams and puts it on paper. And that’s what I want them to do.”
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Miles was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1963 and moved to Denver with his family in 1974, the year he started playing music at age 11. He attended Denver East High School and released his debut album “Distance for Safety” in 1987. Miles went on to record 11 more albums, including the critically acclaimed “I Am a Man” in 2017 and “Rainbow Sign,” his 2020 debut on the iconic Blue Note record label that was influenced by the death of his father.
“There’s this idea of rainbows being a highway from heaven to earth and that we can go back and forth to visit,” Miles told RED in 2020. “Now, it also means inclusion and love and courage … and to meet the test to be positive, vigilant, and still love in the face of negativity we constantly encounter.”
In addition to leading his own bands, Miles has performed in the ensembles of top jazz artists such as Joshua Redman, Bill Frisell, Mercer Ellington, Don Byron, Myra Melford, Joe Henry, Madeleine Peyroux, Jason Moran and many others.
He was nominated for a Grammy for his work on Redman’s album “Still Dreaming” in 2018, and he was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame in 2017.
But Provizer said that improvisation and composing music that encouraged fellow musicians “to do their thing in the context of his music” made Miles special.
“The songs I come back to the most are the songs that allow me and the people that I play with to have a chance to add something to,” Miles said. “Because when we start playing, I’m not the composer anymore. I’m just one of whoever is up there (on stage), and we all get the chance to take the music wherever it goes.”