How did you get started in music?
There were many musicians in my family, both sides. There were family jam sessions. My dad played guitar, an uncle, piano, my grandfather played violin, and another uncle played trumpet professionally. The rest all played ‘by ear’. It was natural that I would start piano lessons. I was more interested in science and working with my hands, I did not get serious about music until a friend, a sax player, suggested I go to FSU with him to study music. It took off from there.
Were you always interested in composing and/or arranging?
When I heard Nica’s Dream on a Jazz Messengers album, I was touched and started on the road to composition. The sax player friend is the one who played it for me. This was ca. 1959.
Although you have earned degrees from FAU and The University of Miami, do you consider yourself a self-taught composer and pianist?
Yes, I am mostly self-taught by listening, transcribing and spending hours on the 5th floor of the stacks (studying scores) at the U. of Miami (Library).
Having spent a lot of time studying scores – any compositions, orchestrations, or arranging books that were influential? Who do you consider your main musical influences as both a player and a composer?
Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe. Never studied books of others. I wrote the definitive books. I listen mainly to classical music. For playing jazz: Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans and Cedar Walton are influences. For jazz composition: Horace, Wayne Shorter, Monk. Mingus are my main influences. For classical composition, Ravel, Stravinsky, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Holst.
Can you describe your approach to composition?
(I discuss it) in my latest book, Jazz Composition, The Creative Process. (There) I describe how I compose. I took it off the market to add to and improve it.
Do you have a favorite personal composition?
Too many to pick one.
Seventh Sign - wrote that chart in 1974 when I was young and innocent. I feel it is clean and transparent while still being deep and musical. Halcyon Days, Secret Ceremony - like Seventh Sign, it’s simple, but can burn. Kepler’s Dream. Ruth, Smile, and other nonet charts are more recent. I arranged Ruth before I retired, sitting in my recliner watching football with earphones on, Sibelius on my MacBook, it turned our ok... Ruth on the porch grading papers. Smile for a CD Then a few for the FAU Jazz Rats group.
Of the rest, One Nite Strut recorded with (David) Liebman and, Sun Child recorded with Ira Sullivan. American Hope is special...
Have you done a lot of large jazz ensemble arranging and/or orchestrating?
The 1st Big Band arrangement was Nutville (Horace Silver), which I arranged for the big band at Miami Dade College. I was always a small group guy but playing in that band gave me the itch to write a chart. It’s in the style of Gerald Wilson. I also did an arrangement of Gemini, which is more in the style of Gil Evans. Later, I did some writing for The Bakers Dozen in the early 1970’s (13 pieces, featuring Ira Sullivan and directed by Vince Maggio), including Seventh Sign and Secret Ceremony. I think Seventh Sign was the 1st chart I converted to a big band instrumentation. (Recorded along with Halcyon Days by the UM Concert Jazz Band on the album entitled Halcyon Days). When I Look In Your Eyes - my orchestration chops possibly at my highest (skill level), maybe too much Gil Evans (influence)?
Since your retirement from teaching in The Studio Music and Jazz Program at the University of Miami, what's been your involvement in music?
Archiving all my hand written big band charts to Sibelius 7, then posting them on YouTube; transcribing music that I think students and others need to know and posting them on YouTube. Then of course the “RonJams”, currently with John Hart, Tom Mitchell, Steve Rucker and Jeff Carswell.
Any hobbies/interests outside of music?
Cooking, video games, the beach, and spending time with (my wife), Ruth.
You were on the Jazz Faculty at The University of Miami from 1974-2007. You’ve had a formidable influence on your students. To what do you attribute your significant impact on their writing and playing?
I think they perceived that I was sharing my love of music. I did not judge any particular student regarding their background or innate musical abilities. I tried to give them confidence in their abilities. (I wanted them to) just have fun with music. Of course, I also gave them the musical skills to realize their musical aspirations.
Did you enjoy teaching to the same extent as playing and writing?
What did you find to be the greatest reward(s) during those years of teaching on the college level?
Seeing students realize their love of music and confidence in their realization of their music aspirations.
What's your perspective on today's jazz education?
I am out of the loop.
If you could go back, would you change anything in your philosophy or methods of teaching?
Do you believe university Jazz programs can create a laboratory of experimentation, which can foster future innovation?
How? Can jazz programs replace the bars and night club scenes of the past that provided musicians with a laboratory to experiment?
When I first started to UM there was no small group program, yet we organized jams, many… that is how the Miller/Colby band started, then later, all the jams in my office that came to be known as “RonJams”.
So, constant jams is the answer.
With such a small percentage of jazz fans in the country do you think the music can survive and grow in the decades to come?
I am so out of the loop. I rarely play in public. The last time was The Music of Ron Miller event at Gusman Hall on the University of Miami campus, where only 50 or so people showed up.
Who do you see in today's scene that you believe will carry the torch as an innovative composer, arranger, and/or orchestrator?
I don’t hear anybody influential like Bird, Bill Evans, Gil Evans, Miles, Coltrane et al that can change the jazz world. For carrying the torch, Maria Schneider is keeping Gil Evans alive. There are many more, but I am not sure carrying the torch is as important as innovation.
Where can Jazz Fans, musicians, and students access and/or study your music?
They can listen and study my scores at http://www.ronjam.com/
RonJam Quartet CD: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ronmmusic