A STRAIGHT 'A' JAZZMAN, A Spotlight Perspective on Jazz Musician
Bob, as a high school student, maintained straight A's in mathematics and chemistry. His expectations were to go to college and become a chemist, like his dad. Bob had a fascination with popular music. His idol was the popular bandleader Artie Shaw. So Bob joined his hometown, Westfield High School band as a clarinetist. After high school graduation Bob went on to Penn State University to study chemistry, but his education was put on hold by World War II.
He entered the Army and was assigned infantry duty in the 3rd Armored Tank Division. As a tank driver Bob received one Battle Star for combat in central Germany. At the completion of World War II the Army reassigned Bob to Wiesbaden, Germany where he finished the balance of his time as a musician with the Special Service Band of the E.T.O. (European Theater of Operations) 314th ASF (Army Special Forces) Band. He was 3rd alto and played all of the clarinet solos for the band.
The Band performed for the troops every Sunday night, "Live" from Wiesbaden Opera House on Armed Forces Radio. This was an all-star band which included Lin Arison as its leader and included such notables as trombonist George Masso and vocalist Anthony DeBenedetto, who would later be known as the song stylist, Tony Bennett. In 1947, after their discharge from the service, Bob and Tony ran into each other in New York City. Tony asked Bob to join him on tour in Paris. But Bob was destined to head back to Penn State to continue his education. Flattered, he respectfully declined the offer.
Bob returned to Penn State and graduated with a degree in physics. From there he attended graduate school. His intentions were to pursue work in chemical research. He joined Atlantic Richfield in Philadelphia as a research physicist where he remained for six years. During this time he was also busy working evenings and weekends playing jazz. He studied saxophone privately with alto great, Lee Konitz and in 1955 he worked with Tony Fruscella in concert at "Circle-in-the-Square" in New York City. In 1956 Bob’s love for jazz made him decide to leave Atlantic Richfield and become a full-time professional musician, giving up a potential lucrative career as a scientist.
He immediately joined the New York musician’s union, Local 802, and began working steadily in New York City and New Jersey. In 1959, Davey Christian, the drummer with the Claude Thornhill big band, heard Bob and recommended him to Kurt Bloom, the Thornhill band manager. He offered Bob a spot with the band. Bob jumped at the opportunity and stayed with the band until Thornhill’s death in 1965. Because of Thornhill’s many health problems the band only worked part-time near the end. Bob played on Thornhill’s last engagement in Atlantic City on the Famous Steel Pier.
It was during a hiatus with Thornhill that Bob began working short tours with Charlie Barnet’s swing-oriented big band. He was also working with other great bands including Woody Herman, Nelson Riddle and Buddy Morrow. While gigging in New York City he became pals and jammed with some of the hottest players of the time, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Phil Woods and Mel Lewis. He was now in his element. In 1961 Bob worked the "Tuxedo Ballroom" with Johnny Butler’s nonet.
Also in 1961, Bob recorded an album with drummer, Barry Miles. The album, "Miles of Genius" on the Charlie Parker label, received an astounding three-and-a-half stars from Downbeat magazine. The record date also included the incomparable pianist, Duke Jordan. The New York Times jazz critic, John Wilson, voted for Bob Miller as the “New Star” of 1962. The Charlie Parker label was headed by Parker’s widow, Doris, and producer, Aubrey Mayhew. They offered Barry Miles another record date, again featuring Bob on alto sax. Unfortunately for Bob, the record company failed and the second date never materialized.
Bob then put together his own quintet and played an extended engagement at “The Penbrook” in Elizabeth on Monday nights. His players included guitar legend, Harry Leahey, Johnny Coates on piano, bassist Frank Savo and drummer, Glen Davis. Bob also featured a different guest star each week. He had such jazz notables as, Kai Winding, Don Rader, and his buddies Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, and Phil Woods among many others. The gig was very successful!
From there Bob continued working gigs in New York/New Jersey area. He worked with trumpet legend, Chet Baker. He also worked two years with the Dan Terry’s Big Band playing New York City and touring up through New York State.
In the late 70’s Bob headed another combo at "The Hub" in Denville, New Jersey. The gig lasted three great years. In the 80’s and 90’s Bob continued working, freelancing with pianist, Rio Clemente, guitarist, Joe Verrusio, and The David Aaron and George Newell big bands, among others.
Bob Miller has remained a working professional musician for five decades and is still very active.