Ron Miles
Evolution of the Horn

Ron Miles

Throughout the past twenty-five years there has been a strengthening and maturation of the musicianship, compositions and performance persona of jazz musician Ron Miles. His resume is impressive and legendary in the jazz world. In the early days of his professional career, while playing trumpet in the orchestra of an Italian production of “Sophisticated Ladies”, Miles attracted the attention of the late Mercer Ellington, the son of the incomparable Duke, and bandleader of the Duke Ellington Orchestra from Duke’s death in 1974 until the early Nineties. Ellington immediately recruited Miles for the Ellington Orchestra after hearing Miles’ ability to make his trumpet growl in the perfect style of Duke’s star 1930s-40s era, trumpet-player, Cootie Williams.

After having bucked the odds, making his mark indelibly in the roots world of jazz as a trumpet player, one would think Miles would continue doing what he was known for: playing trumpet. To change instruments would be akin to Eric Clapton abandoning the guitar for a cello.

For a number of years, Miles remained a trumpet man. When he began playing on a custom-made seventeen pound Nirvikalpa Raja Samadhi Serial #1422, made by Dave Monette, who had become known to the general public as “the guy who made that horn Wynton plays”, it marked a milestone in Miles’ career. The money invested into a Monette horn is astonishing. A Monette horn is not only a fantastically detailed, personalized, custom instrument; it is also a work of art. A Monette horn says you have arrived and are tightly integrated into your field.

Miles agrees. He loved his Samadhi trumpet. “When I got sick a couple of years ago, I lost a lot of weight. I’ve never really come back from it. I struggle to keep 130 pounds on. Well, that beautiful horn was just so heavy. It was heavy even before I got sick. It was heavy then. But now, it would be really, really too heavy.

I would play it if I could. But it is just too heavy.” Miles weighed his alternatives and decided that he would switch to cornet, a change that is not as easy as it might sound. At the end of 2006, Miles began publicly playing on a Prana 900 series Monette cornet. Miles had to learn to play all of his music in a different key, as well as bringing the sounds he wanted out of a similar, but, frankly, different instrument. The change seemed to suit Miles.

Alison Balsom
Ron Miles'
Custom Sattva

Having listened to Miles both on trumpet and cornet, Monette, conceived the idea for a totally new instrument for Miles, essentially a horn that was part trumpet, part cornet, but completely different in many aspects. Monette dubbed this new hybrid instrument the Sattva. Miles explains:

“Well, you know the range is a little bigger. It definitely goes lower because it’s a lower horn. But it even goes higher in some ways too, I think. Because the horn is bigger and lower, it lets me play with a mouthpiece that has a little more zip in it somehow. So t hat has been nice. But really, it doesn’t affect much, I mean, I never write music on the horn anyway. I write it on the piano. Then I just have to figure out how to play it. I don’t change the keys once they’re written to make them easier or anything. I just leave t hem where they are. I just like the sound of it.”

Currently Miles has no plans to switch horns again. But as a musician who is compelled to try alternative, and create new, aspects within his craft, one can never say anything is a surety. Whatever future changes, if any, that Miles brings to his instrumentation, it is a guarantee that his faithful listeners will bend and mold their ears to embrace his sound. After all, even in this era of easy access to the music of players all over the world, there isn’t anyone, anywhere, who can play like Ron Miles.

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