I do not understand. I don’t get why it had to be him. Mulgrew Miller, the shining example of everything good in this world. Gone too soon. I don’t get it. This was the person who turned my life around at an early point. Mulgrew Miller, the first person outside of my mother and father who made me question the meaning of our existence, to question our purpose and meaning for being. This person is gone already?
I met Mulgrew in 1980 through my trumpet teacher Bill Fielder. He was playing with Woody Shaw and I was still in school at Rutgers. Back then he was already a hero to me because I knew he was with the Ellington band and then with Betty Carter. Later, when he joined Woody Shaw, he continued to amaze me with his writing in that band, with tunes like “Eastern Joy Dance.”
So when I joined Art Blakey’s band, and then a year later we heard that Mulgrew was going to join us, I was beside myself, thinking, “How did this happen?” I didn’t know and didn’t care, because I was going to be in a band with Mulgrew Miller.
From the first moment we traveled together I knew things in my life would change. We would spend many hours talking at first about music and other things, but quickly our conversations turned to spirituality and faith. Mulgrew talked to me for many hours about his beliefs, getting deeper and deeper into the topic after witnessing my own interest in the subject. Later he told me of a few books to read, one of which was Autobiography of a Yogi. I need to talk about this because Mulgrew was the first young person in my life who truly followed a path of faith. I knew many people who went to church every Sunday, but this was a person who was from the South like me, grew up and played in church like me, but had questions like me as well. Unlike me, though, he actively pursued answers. So he quickly became a good friend we could rely on to help inspire us-not only with his playing but also with the way he lived his life.
We all know how great of a musician he was. But for those of us who met or encountered him for any period of time, we know how great of a person he was-a man of huge stature and gentle spirit.
This is my brother. He was like a family member I didn’t get to see as much as I’d like, but whenever we saw each other it was as if it were yesterday that we last chatted. This is why my heart is broken. Because like all of us, I still expect to see him somewhere on the road and catch up, to hear how his wife and kids are doing and to share with him what’s going on in my life. This is why I don’t understand. Here was a person who showed us all how to live and relate to one another. And as I’m writing this I’m hearing him in my mind telling me that the universe is a perfect place.