Oct 17, 2023 3:36 PM
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Ron Miles, the Denver-based cornetist, composer, educator, bandleader and simpatico sideman who shared stages and studios with major jazz artists over the past 35 years, died March 8 of complications from the rare blood disorder polycythemia vera. He was 58.
Known for his purity of tone, solid chops and melodic improvisations on cornet, Miles cast an aura of unadorned beauty on whatever music he performed, whether leading his own distinctive ensembles, engaging in avant-garde adventures with pianist Myra Melford or contributing his instrumental voice to recordings by the blues singer and multi-instrumentalist Otis Taylor.
Miles’ final album was his 2020 Blue Note Records debut, Rainbow Sign, which featured a quintet with some of his most frequent collaborators: guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist Jason Moran, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Brian Blade. He was scheduled to appear at this month’s Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, but later canceled due to health issues. Miles’ fellow quintet members are now slated to perform at the fest in tribute.
“Ron was such a gifted artist,” Blue Note President Don Was said. “He was a sweet, soulful man whose character was reflected in every exquisite note he played. We are heartbroken to lose him so soon, but he will live forever through the music he’s left behind for us.”
Miles was born in Indianapolis on May 9, 1963, and moved with his family to Denver when he was 11. Soon after he began playing trumpet and studied both classical music and jazz, and he frequented downtown Denver jazz venues as a teen. Miles went on to study music at the University of Denver, University of Colorado Boulder and the Manhattan School of Music before returning to Denver.
Beyond Blue Note, Miles recorded numerous albums for the Prolific, Capri, Gramavision and Sterling Circle labels over the course of his career, including his 1987 debut Distance For Safety, 2002’s Heaven, 2012’s Quiver and 2017’s I Am A Man. He appeared as a sideman on a multitude of acclaimed recordings by the likes of Frisell, saxophonist Joshua Redman, the late Denver-based tenor saxophonist Fred Hess, singer-songwriter Madeleine Peyroux, pianist Jason Moran, the Bad Plus and drummer Ginger Baker. He received a Grammy nomination for his performance on Redman’s 2018 album Still Dreaming.
As a professor of music at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, where he had taught since the late 1990s, Miles also led a long and distinguished career as an educator.
Miles is survived by his wife, Kari, his daughter, Justice, and his son, Honor, as well as his mother, brother, two sisters and a half-sister. DB
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