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.