Ethno-musicologist and jazz maestro Lloyd Miller boasts one of the most unique careers in jazz. He plays almost every jazz instrument and dozens, if not hundreds, of traditional instruments from other countries. He's a lover of life, a strict vegetarian for nearly 50 years and has more energy than most guys half his age. His revered mid-‘60s album, ‘Oriental Jazz’, has attracted vinyl collectors with its original mix of Persian and jazz elements and, thanks to the UK’s Jazzman label, his archive recordings are now readily available for the digital generation. As new studio sessions with The Heliocentrics now bear fruit, the interest in Miller’s music has never been greater.
Born in 1938, Dr. (Doc) Lloyd Miller began playing piano aged three. His father was a traditional jazz clarinet player and Miller's mother also played piano and was also a skilled ballet dancer. Music and dance have been a part of Lloyd's life since birth.
By his early teens, Miller had learned to play piano by experimenting and following the keys of the family player piano. Miller then discovered his mother's old 1920s banjo (which he still owns) and C melody sax and began fooling around with his Dad's clarinet until he became quite skilled in the style of George Lewis, Johnny Dodds and, later, Jimmy Giuffre. He laid his hands on an old cornet and then a trombone, both of which he soon learned. Miller organised a New Orleans jazz band to play for the Flintridge Prep School Spring festival in California and was booked with his dance band Miller's Men Of Music to play for the California Flower Show alongside US jazz favourites the Firehouse Five Plus Two. Later, at Todd School for Boys in Woodstock Illinois, Miller learned string bass to play in the Todd School band and continued to pick up various instruments.
In 1957, Miller went with his family to Iran where he stayed for a year before leaving for Europe to find his fate as a jazzman. On their way from the USA to Iran, Miller and his parents travelled to many Asian countries where Lloyd purchased a number of traditional instruments and enjoyed meeting with musicians and learning their styling.
He toured Europe heavily, basing himself in Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany. He moved to Geneva, Switzerland, to study Eastern languages and play at the Cave du Hot Club and other establishments. He journeyed to experience Sweden’s healthy jazz scene. When Miller and the Swedish jazz greats Jansson and Lundin arrived in Paris in 1959, they were an immediate success. In Paris, Miller performed at all of the top jazz spots and other venues such as Salle Pleyel, Salle Wagram, Théatre de l'Etoile, l'Ecole Normale de Musique, Théatre du Vieux-Colombier and the Blue Note. At the Blue Note, Miller would be asked by jazz legend Bud Powell to sit in a set or two with jazz drummer Kenny Clark.
In 1963, Miller returned to the US and went to BYU to earn a BA in Asian Studies, forming the Oriental Jazz Quartet with pianist Press Kies. There, he developed Oriental Jazz by playing Persian santur, Arab oud, Vietnamese dan tranh and other instruments.
During the 1990s, Miller's reputation as a prize winning arranger / composer reached the ears of then Utah Symphony conductor Chris Wilkins who invited him to have his transcription / reconstruction arrangements of Bunk Johnson's ‘Closer Walk With Thee’, King Oliver's ‘Dippermouth Blues’ and Bix Beidebecke's ‘Jazz Me Blues’ premiered by Utah Symphony. Later, when Chris Wilkins was offered the conductorship of Colorado Springs Symphony, he invited Miller to premieres of two full symphony scores by Miller of A Night in Tunisia with solos transcribed from Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Satin Doll.
In recent years, Miller’s mid-‘60s album ‘Oriental Jazz’ has become a collector’s favourite and the UK’s Jazzman label featured a track from it, (Gol-e Gandom or Wheat Flowers) on their excellent ‘Spiritual Jazz’ compilation from 2008. Since then, interest in Miller’s music and approach has grown with a new generation of listeners – Jazzman has issued a compilation, ‘A Lifetime In Oriental Jazz’, covering work from across his career, and he was invited to the UK to record new sessions with Nostalgia 77 and The Heliocentrics during 2008. Miller returned to London during February 2010 to record a full collaboration album with The Heliocentrics for Strut, set for release in July 2010, forging new directions in jazz and world music.