Pete Mills and the Magic Sax
“Sweet Shadow” the latest CD by Pete Mills, faculty instructor in jazz, is sweet indeed and has it been making lots of waves on the jazz charts.
The CD is number 25 on JazzWeek and even higher on the Canadian Jazz Charts (number 5). Mills, who plays tenor saxophone and leads the ensemble, composed 11 of the 14 tracks. “I’m excited that people are enjoying this music,” he says. “The big thing to me is that this music is fun. It’s important that it has joy.”
Mills handpicked Sweet Shadow’s musicians: Pete McCann on acoustic and electric guitar; Erik Augis on piano; Martin Wind on bass; and Matt Wilson on drums. They are colleagues who he has worked with collectively and individually on projects during the last 12 to 15 years. He knew that they were musicians who could add color to the music with their own interpretations in a relatively short time.
That’s especially important, since jazz CDs are typically recorded over one or two days. “I try to write music that I want to play and that allows my band members, who are really terrific musicians, to have the opportunity to improvise. I want to give them the freedom to put their own stamp on the compositions.”
Jazz musicians lead a peripatetic life, and Mills’ own history is proof of that. He has performed and recorded many times both as a soloist and in collaboration with other musicians during his career. Among his other “hats,” Mills has a regular gig as a featured soloist with the very well respected Columbus Jazz Orchestra and he works on several ongoing jazz projects around the US and in his native Canada. At Denison, he teaches saxophone, a class on the history of jazz, improvisation and leads the jazz ensemble.
Mills was beguiled by jazz at a young age. His father, who was a fan of Duke, Gillespie and Parker, introduced him to the music at an early age. “My dad, I guess you could say, was a jazz groupie. He enjoyed making the rounds to all the clubs in Toronto and always had a camera and an autograph book with him. I now have a collection of photographs and autographs of guys like Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker and I love to show these treasures to my students. They are museum pieces and I am humbled that I am able to share them with my classes.”
As a composer, Mills refers to that history too. “I like to write strong melodies with a lot of rhythmic excitement,” he says. “I try to have a foot in history while I look towards the future.”