• Allan Dyen-Shapiro

Remembering Kirby, an elegy in prose for one most prosaic

Noted clarinetist Kirby Miller passed away last night at his home in Provo, Utah. Miller was best known as the founder of the Catatonic School of Jazz, pioneered with beloved 1970s album White Keys. In the title cut, Miller held one note of the C major scale for an entire two minutes and forty seconds. Commenting on the influence of this album, saxophonist Blake Miller (no relation) recalls, "It was magical. Nobody held that note like Kirby. Once we tried transposing the song for a gig at the Toledo Holiday Inn, but it just didn't have the same groove." Other jazz musicians noted that Kirby was renowned for never having had a groove in the first place.

In the 1980s, after attending a Tom Cruise movie marathon, Miller began dressing like a vampire. Said contemporary Branford Marsalis, "The undead thing fit with his music. The man's music had no soul. No soul whatsoever. Even for a white dude."

Controversy dogged Miller throughout the 1990s. When an attendee of one of his concerts outside the Fargo, North Dakota Wall-mart noted an influence of Glenn Miller (no relation), Kirby stopped the concert. "How this man could have thought that be-bopping, jive music could have had any influence on me, I've no idea. It made me quite peeved." The other attendee of the concert noted that Miller had looked quite angry, completely out of step with his music.

Near the end of the 90s, Kirby shocked the jazz world by becoming deeply involved with his spiritual side. In an interview, Kirby shrugged off those who called him a granola hippy. "Minnesota Lutheranism just appealed to me. Until the church accepted an ethnic family; then I left. I wouldn't want to be exposed to radical influences of any sort." Upon leaving the church, Miller became addicted to barbiturates, after being introduced to them by his manager. "It helped Kirby reconnect with the somnolent spirit of his earlier oeuvre," the manager said in an interview between adjustments of his toupee.

Kirby's retrospective collection, Calming Jazz for Old Guys in Tuxedos, missed being nominated for the 2010 MTV online only award for best album for old guys in tuxedos when his brother's Internet service went out during the voting. When the award went instead to another band's recordings inspired by whale flatulence, Kirby Miller retired and never touched the clarinet again.

Miller is survived by his goldfish, Floyd Miller (no relation). To fulfill his dream of playing Carnegie Hall, services will be held in the men's room of this venue, during the intermission of the Hoople, South Dakota Symphony Orchestra's salute to Vanilla Ice.

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© 2016 by Allan Dyen-Shapiro

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