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Denver-Bred Ron Miles and Bill Frisell Are Among the Greatest Collaborators in Jazz

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That sound, that unmistakable Ron Miles sound, is rich, full-bodied and lyrical. Frisell remembers exactly where he was the next time he heard it. He was driving up a hill in Seattle when a Duke Ellington song played by Boulder-based saxophonist Fred Hess came on the radio. A trumpet solo cut in, and Frisell knew immediately who it was.

When he got home, he found the tape with a phone number on it. Frisell called Miles and they talked for a long time. They learned that they both knew Dale Bruning and that they both went to East High School.

"Just from that conversation I knew we had to play together," Frisell says.

On October 8, 1994, Frisell and Miles played their first show together at the Ogden Theatre with Dale Bruning, bassist Artie Moore and drummer Rudy Royston. That show was the start of a two-decade-long musical kinship that extends to both artists' recordings. The younger Miles saw his time in a few of Frisell's bands in the mid-'90s (starting with the Quartet project, which also featured violinist Eyvind Kang and trombonist Curtis Fowlkes) as something of an apprenticeship -- something that was never part of his formal music studies at the University of Denver and the Manhattan School of Music. "When I came up in the '80s, it was almost like you didn't have to apprentice anymore," says Miles. "It was like you were supposed to get a record contract at twenty, get your own band and go out there and do that. It got a little lost.

"There's a reason you apprentice with somebody. You see them put sets together. You seem them weeks on end, playing songs and dealing with stuff. You can't learn it in school, you can't read about it in a book, you have to go out there and do it. So, my time to do that was being in his band."

Miles says he's learned lots of specific things from Frisell about the logistics of writing and performing music. But, he says, "more than anything, it's just about how to be a musician and be authentic and have integrity." He turns to Frisell. "You know, how you treat people on the road and all that stuff. Lots of stuff."

Now, Miles is the one serving as a mentor for young players -- he's been a teacher at Metro State University since 1998 and is the coordinator of jazz studies there. According to Frisell, that's always been a role he was suited for. "I never thought of you as an apprentice," says Frisell with a laugh. "No, he's been my teacher the whole way. And I still want to stop all this rigmarole and just sign up for his jazz history class.... He always felt like a master to me."
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon