Clarence Horatius Miller
|Clarence Horatius Miller|
|Also known as||Big Miller|
December 18, 1922|
Sioux City, Iowa, United States
|Died||June 9, 1992
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
|Genres||Blues, Jump blues|
Miller was born in Sioux City and grew up in Topeka, Kansas. His mother was descended from black slaves and his father was a preacher of mixed black and Sioux origin. He studied the trombone and bass in high school. Miller was 6 feet 3 1/2 inches tall and weighed more than 250 pounds. He acquired the nickname "Big" while playing football as a teenager.
His proximity to Kansas City influenced his style. By 1949, "Big" began singing with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. His first full-time professional job was with the Jay McShann Orchestra where he became a featured performer. It was during this time that his vocal talents began to be recognized. He won fame as a "blues shouter", a musician whose vocal force was powerful enough that it could be heard in an auditorium with a big band behind it even without using a microphone. He also occasionally performed on trombone.
In 1954, after five years with Jay McShann, Miller joined the Fletcher Henderson Reunion Orchestra. He became a popular performer in renowned jazz venues such as Birdland in New York, the Cotton Club in Chicago, and Detroit's Flame Showbar. It was with the Henderson Orchestra that "Big" did his first recording and it was in this period that his career really began to take off. He recorded for Savoy Records early in his career, including with The Five Pennies as backing musicians. His jazz activities also included work with Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
As a vocalist, Miller first rose to national prominence at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival where he appeared with a group led by trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. This led to a New York session with Brookmeyer's ensemble that was released on a well-reviewed LP, The Kansas City Sound, which has since been re-released on CD. After performing with John Hendricks's revue, The Evolution of the Blues, Miller signed with Columbia Records and released several full-length albums, including Big Miller Sings, Twists, Shouts and Preaches (1962).
He became a popular performer in renowned jazz venues such as Monterey Jazz Festival (1960), Birdland in New York City, the Cotton Club in Chicago, Montreax Jazz Festival, and Detroit's Flame Showbar. Throughout his career he had performed with jazz legends such as Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis, just to name a few.
Discouraged by racial tensions in the mainland United States, he began touring other countries and lived for a while in Australia and then Hawaii. In the 1970s Miller toured with Big Joe Turner. Miller found himself stranded in Vancouver when one of his tours ran out of money. He travelled around Western Canada and in 1970 settled in Edmonton, Alberta. He became a Canadian citizen in 1973 and lived there for the rest of his life, working with local musician Tommy Banks and covering "Big Yellow Taxi" with the song's author, Albertan Joni Mitchell. Miller played a major role in the growth of the Edmonton Jazz Society, which began in the late 1970s, and taught at the Banff Centre for Fine Arts. Miller helped to organize Edmonton's Jazz City Festival.
"Big" Miller died in 1992 in Edmonton at the age of 69, of a heart attack.
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- "Big" Miller (Radio Canada International, 1978)
With Bob Brookmeyer
- Kansas City Revisited (United Artists, 1958)
- "'Big' Miller", Alberta Online Encyclopedia
- "Clarence "Big" Miller", Black History Canada
- Oliver, Myrna. "Clarence Miller; Singer With Jazz Groups", Los Angeles Times, June 11, 1992
- "Kansas City Sound", Blue Sounds.
- Eugene Chadbourne, Big Miller at Allmusic.
- Vladimir, Bogdanov. All Music Guide to the Blues: The Definitive Guide to the Blues, Backbeat Books, page 42, (2003) - ISBN 0-87930-736-6
- "Big and the Blues", National Film Board of Canada
- Jon B. Hittle, Jazz Town, Weekender Magazine, Sioux City Journal, March 2004.