Skip to main content
Ron Miles, beloved fixture of Denver jazz scene, dead at 58
Email share
Beloved instructor and Denver jazz legend Ron Miles passed away March 9, 2022.
Photo by Elliott Ross, Ron Miles Music

DENVER — Ron Miles, a jazz trumpeter and legend of the Denver music scene, passed away Monday, March 8. He was 58 years old.

Miles died from polycythemia vera, a rare blood disorder.

Following the news of his death, tributes to Miles, whose discography includes a dozen albums, flooded social media. Many people recalled taking his classes at Metropolitan State University of Denver, where he taught for more than 30 years.

“Very sad news to hear about the passing of one of my former teachers and great and brilliant trumpeter Ron Miles,” wrote Kenneth Brown, a jazz musician based in Tennessee. “I learned a lot playing in his big band at metro state university. R.I.P. Ron Miles.”

City Cast Denver podcast host Bree Davies, another student of Miles’, described him as a “really cool guy, great teacher, incredible musician.” Brooklyn-based musician and educator Eric Dalio said for him, Miles redefined what music could be. "He was so generous with his time and talent on so many occasions when I was starting out," Dalio tweeted. "Always had a smile and incredible music to share."

In a Facebook post, KUVO Jazz asked its audience what stories or memories people had of Miles. "I have never had a teacher who saw me as well as Ron did," one commenter wrote. You can read more responses here.

Miles was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1963. When he was 11 years old, his family moved to Denver. It was around that time Miles started playing the trumpet. He went on to attend Denver’s East High School — where he played jazz with future movie star Don Cheadle — and studied music at the University of Denver.

According to the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, pianist Ron Jolly, who taught jazz improvisation at DU, encouraged Miles to pursue a full-time career in music. Jolly said Miles was “the most talented student” in his classes.

An educator himself, Miles relished the opportunity to work with the next generation of musicians, once saying “through teaching, I feel I just get to keep learning, which is really what I want to do every day [...] Each student is so different. I really want them to realize that in school — particularly in music — that it’s very important that they get outside of these walls, that they see if their art resonates in the community. It has to.”

Miles' music certainly did. In 2017, he was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame alongside his fellow East High graduate and frequent collaborator Bill Frisell.

“Recognized as one of the finest melodists of his era with a gift for improvisation, Miles has lent his distinctive style to the work of a diverse list of musicians, including composer Mercer Ellington, fellow Coloradan and saxophonist Fred Hess, saxophonist and arranger Redman, and legendary Cream drummer Ginger Baker,” the Colorado Music Hall of Fame wrote after Miles' induction.

Metropolitan State University of Denver

Jazz trumpeter, composer and longtime faculty member Ron Miles talks about his induction into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame and what motivates him as a mentor to young musicians.

Speaking at his induction ceremony, KUVO Jazz’s general manager Carlos Lando said Miles was the “kind of musician, after you get home, put your head on the pillow, you can still hear that crystal clear tone. So beautiful.”

Miles himself said his recognition from the hall of fame was mind-boggling. “Music has been something that allows me to, every day, have a sense of renewal,” Miles said at the time. “And a sense of dedication and a sense of something to strive for.”

Miles released albums in five different decades, beginning with Distant for Safety in 1987. Writing about Miles' final record, 2020's Rainbow Sign, National Public Radio jazz critic Kevin Whitehead said the music was like "something heard in a dream."

In 2020, Miles performed during the virtual Five Points Jazz Festival hosted by Rocky Mountain Public Media. You can watch his full performance below.

Ron Miles

Ron Miles performs at Five Points Jazz Festival 2020.

Thomas Burns, the president of Capri Records — for which Miles recorded two albums, Witness and Ron Miles Trio — told Rocky Mountain Public Media he was in a "state of shock" after learning of Miles' death.

"Beyond the music and everything," Burns said, "Ron was the kindest, sweetest human being I think I've ever known."


Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at kylecooke@rmpbs.org.

Spotlight Newsletter

Community stories from across Colorado and updates on your favorite PBS programs, in your inbox every Tuesday.

Sign up here!