A LIFE IN THE THEATRE: John Miller, the Broadway Musical Contractor, Lends an Ear

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15 Oct 2012

Miller grew up on Manhattan's Upper West Side and early on became interested in music. "I taught myself guitar, a little piano. When I was 16 or 17, my brother brought home from college a friend who had a string bass and left it at our house over Christmas. I started fooling around with it. My parents were shocked when I told them this was an instrument I'd like to study. I was just drawn to it."

Miller studied bass at the University of Michigan. "This was the 1960s. A coffeehouse in Ann Arbor, Canterbury House, was the Midwest stopping place for the big folk-rock boom. People like Doc Watson, Janis Ian, Richie Havens, Tim Buckley, Odetta played there. I was 19. I'd get there at 5 PM for their sound check. They'd play by themselves, but I was fearless. I'd walk onstage and start playing bass behind them. They had no idea who this kid was. By the end of the sound check, 99 percent would ask if I'd like to play with them for no money. I said, 'Absolutely.'"

He also played "jazz clubs, and with bluegrass groups, German oompah bands."

He was getting his degree playing classical music, and his teacher suggested he audition for the Minneapolis Symphony. "I realized that fit in the category of things I thought I should do, not what I wanted to do."

After graduation, says Miller, some of the Canterbury House performers "called me to do gigs with them. Then I came home" to New York, to "a wonderful career as a freelance bass player, playing all styles of music." And to Cy Coleman, and Broadway.

Miller is also heard on an album, "Stage Door Johnny," on the PS Classics label, on which he sings and plays fresh arrangements of classic show tunes. 

(This feature appears in the October 2012 issue of Playbill magazine.)

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