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Mulgrew Miller

Mulgrew Miller at home

Photographer Jimmy Katz is trying to figure out where to shoot Mulgrew Miller in his Palmer Township, Penn., home. “Go show him how you skim the pool,” teases Tanya Miller, the pianist’s wife of 20 years.

Miller does more than just clean his one-year-old pool for Katz; the 6-foot, 2-inch keyboardist hops in (with some prompting). That willingness to dive in has been a hallmark of the pianist’s 25-year career as a leader and, primarily, a first-call sideman. Miller has played with Mercer Ellington, Betty Carter, Woody Shaw, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Johnny Griffin, Kenny Garrett, Tony Williams, Trio Transition (his cooperative with bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Freddie Waits), New York Jazz Giants, Wallace Roney and numerous other top musicians. For many years it seemed like you couldn’t turn around without seeing Miller’s name on a CD-his discography numbers into the hundreds-or as part of a touring group. “I’ve intentionally cut back on the sideman work,” he says. “Most of the jobs I do nowadays are kind of all-star jobs or playing gigs as a leader, which means I make more money.”

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