James A. 'Bing' Miller, 71, jazz drummer, bandleader

August 08, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

James A. "Bing" Miller -- a jazz drummer known as the "Buddy Rich of Baltimore" -- died Tuesday of heart failure at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was recovering from injuries suffered in a July 19 accident in Hampstead.

The former Federal Hill resident was 71 and lived in Hanover, Pa.

Mr. Miller was fond of telling jazz fans at Buddies Pub on North Charles Street that he began playing drums only "50 years ago." His quartet reigned supreme at the club, playing there four nights a week after it opened in 1986.

In the late 1940s, Mr. Miller came to Baltimore to study at the Peabody Conservatory of Music but honed his craft in the orchestra pits of strip joints on The Block. During the 1950s and 1960s, he also played with the Ray Gerard Orchestra and the Morgan Baer Orchestra.

"You could tell that he had worked in strip joints years ago," said Marylou Brosso, owner of Buddies. "You could hear it once in a while when he played. He'd bite his lower lip when he played, and he could really make the drums talk. He was the glue that held my place together."

Dressed in khaki pants and a polo shirt, Mr. Miller worked up a sweat with his "straight-ahead jazz" approach to classics from -- the Jerome Kern, George Gershwin and Cole Porter repertoire such as "Sister Sadie," "Satin Doll," "Summertime" or "Stormy Monday."

Said Carole Brosso, Buddies' chef: "[Bing] had so much energy that he could play circles around the younger kids. He also enjoyed tutoring the new generation of jazz players and fans."

A hush settled over the jazz club when Mr. Miller and his quartet started playing at 9: 30 p.m. They might take one or two breaks before winding up at 1: 30 a.m., when Mr. Miller would kick back, wind down and enjoy a small glass of Ketel One vodka with anyone who was still around.

Scott Serio, a city police detective and longtime habitue of the club, said, "He played real smooth jazz. It was the kind of place where you closed your eyes and got lost in the music."

In addition to his quartet, he led the Bing Miller Big Band, which performed locally and abroad.

Mr. Miller was born and raised in Holyoke, Mass., where he graduated from high school. During World War II, he enlisted in the Army and served in the forces that occupied Japan. He was discharged in 1945 and belonged to the Air Force Reserve until 1951. He earned his bachelor's degree in history from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1952.

Mr. Miller was an advertising copywriter and in radio advertising sales before establishing Creativity Unlimited in 1971, an advertising agency he operated until 1990. He also was public information officer for the city Department of Urban Services from 1968 to 1989.

He was a member of the Musicians Association of Metropolitan Baltimore Local 40.

A Mass of Christian burial was offered yesterday.

He is survived by his wife of 15 years, the former Louise Seward; three sons, Garry Miller of Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., Jay Miller of Lafayette, Colo., and Wesley Miller of Glen Burnie; a daughter, Lori Miller of Denver; three stepsons, Robert Bartlett Seward of Towson, Benjamin R. Seward of Glen Rock, Pa., and Bruce P. Seward of Perry Hall; two stepdaughters, Mary Ellen McLewee of Timonium and Melina L. Leckrone of Stewartstown, Pa.; 17 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 8/08/98

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