Big Miller & Tommy Banks
reviewed by R. Doull
There are four stories that come together to result in this CD and any one of the four would fill a book. The independent jazz based Chronograph Records label was founded by bassist and CKUA radio announcer Kodi Hutchinson in Calgary in 2004 and has active releases from a roster of about twenty-six different musical aggregations. This CD is a fundraiser for the educational programs of the Edmonton Jazz Society and the Yardbird Suite and is released in conjunction with the Yardbird’s 60th Anniversary celebration. Both Big Miller and Tommy Banks were prime movers in the development of the Edmonton Jazz Society and in 2009 a small park in Old Strathcona was named after Big Miller and a bronze statue of him was erected there (he died in 1992). Tommy Banks was instrumental in the effort to recognize the contributions Miller made to the development of musical culture both in Edmonton and around Alberta, including stints teaching at Grant MacEwan and the Banff Centre. Miller was also awarded an honourary doctorate from Athabaska University.
The story starts in 1922 when Miller was born in Sioux City, Iowa. In 1949 he began singing with Lionel Hampton out of Kansas City and then moved to Jay McShann’s band. The same band Charlie Parker started in. Miller was big, almost 6’ 4”, and made his reputation as a Kansas City shouter. You had to be commanding to appear in front of the territory bands or you would get blown off the stage. He worked with Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and many other well-known bands.
In 1967 he got stranded in Canada when he was appearing as part of Jon Hendricks’ review – The Evolution of the Blues – and they went broke. He started taking one off gigs to raise the money to go back to the US but after visiting Edmonton and appearing with Banks on several occasions he was persuaded to stay. High praise for Banks and great news for Alberta.
This CD is a duet recording with Miller on vocals and Banks on piano. It was recorded in an afternoon in August 1989 and is a program of nine jazz standards, originally intended as a demo for a band recording that was never realized. It is a warm intimate session that could only have been produced by two old friends and consummate professionals who could hear each other breathe.
Quatuor André Lachance The Orange Challenge CD review Next Post: