September 24, 2009
Bronze bust of city
jazz icon set to grace Strathcona park
Memorial to Big Miller will be
By Roger Levesque, Freelance
For many fans, he was a
larger-than-life character, and now Clarence Horatio "Big" Miller will
enjoy a larger-than-life presence -- in bronze.
Saturday afternoon, the public is invited to witness the unveiling of a
new bronze bust of the late Edmonton blues and jazz singer.
Local artist Danek Mozdzenski was commissioned to sculpt a bust of
Miller's image, which was recently cast in bronze. The metre-high bust
will sit on a special pedestal in the small park named after Miller, just
outside the Yardbird Suite jazz club in Old Strathcona.
"Big Miller was part of a great era in Edmonton, a real member of the
community who helped to set the standard musically," explains John Mahon,
executive director of the Edmonton Arts Council. "He was an important
mentor for many in the music scene and a guy who really exuded
It's been seven years since a committee, including Sen. Tommy Banks and
city parks officer Terry Jossy, began raising funds to create the Miller
memorial. Mahon got involved about a year ago to help finish the project.
Some 50 individuals or organizations, including the Strathcona Playground
Society and Don and Barbara Poole, contributed to the statue's $60,000
cost, most of which went to materials.
Mozdzenski's work is already well-known locally. He created the figures in
Ezio Faraone Park and the Fire Fighters Memorial next to the Walterdale
Theatre, among other sculptures.
"It's a great gift to the city and to our musical legacy," adds Mahon.
Miller was born in Sioux City, Iowa in 1922, and was rooted in church
music and the blues.
He originally came to fame for using his powerful baritone in the Kansas
City blues shouter style. During his early career, he performed with some
of the greatest bandleaders from the golden age of jazz and blues,
including Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, hitting many
famous venues across North America.
"The blues is a way of life," he explained in a 1991 interview. "It fits
into your life's plan."
Brushes with racism pushed Miller to relocate to Australia and then to
Hawaii during the late 1960s. He was stranded in Vancouver when a tour
with Jon Hendricks' Revue folded in 1970 and he was gradually working his
way back to the United States when chance brought him to Edmonton. A few
gigs here with pianist Tommy Banks cemented their friendship and the
singer returned to settle in Edmonton, becoming a Canadian citizen in
Before long he was a fixture of the local music scene. In addition to
leading the Big Miller Blues Machine, his association with Banks' Big Band
brought him a Juno Award for his part in a live recording at the 1978
Montreux Jazz Festival. He toured Japan and Europe as a musical ambassador
for the provincial and federal governments. Miller taught at the Banff
Centre, collaborated with Decidedly Jazz Dance, and even enjoyed a short
film career with an appearance in the notorious, locally produced feature
Big Meat Eater (1982). The National Film Board produced a documentary
about his life and music, Big And The Blues, in 1981.
In his later years Miller could be heard singing an eclectic range of jazz
and blues material, scatting up a storm and playing occasional trombone.
He died in 1992.
The unveiling takes place Saturday at 3 p. m. at Big Miller Park, corner
of 102nd Street and 86th Avenue, with a reception to follow.