By Brittany Morse
Pete Mills’s band does not use a single sheet of music when they perform. At times the performers won’t even speak to each other between songs because it is not necessary.
“Sometimes, more often than not, I’ll start to play something and [the band] will know what it is. We use a body of music called standards and grow from there. We focus on the central idea that jazz is improvisation,” says Mills, the band’s saxophone player.
It is not rare to walk past Burton Hall and hear the smooth, syncopated sound of Mills’s saxophone played against a metronome. Mills has been at Denison since 1999 and directs the Jazz Band. He also teaches private saxophone lessons, a class on improvisation and a Jazz history class. Mills currently lives in Columbus and commutes to Granville on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, which allows him to do more outside of Denison, including performing at Moe’s in Granville.
“It’s kind of a monthly thing,” Mills says. “Seth Rogers came up to me one day and said ‘dude we need to have a gig’ and that’s how it all started.” Mills, along with Rogers (percussion), Doug Richardson (bass) and Brett Burleson (guitar), began performing on Wednesdays at Moe’s Barbeque last semester, and decided to continue with it this semester.
The band performs at 8:00 p.m. on the second floor, which is the bar, and is open to anyone until 9:30 p.m. when it is reserved for patrons that are 21 and over. “We wanted to develop a music community off campus and include members both under and over 21,” Mills said.
The performances draw people from the Denison and Granville communities.
“We’re interested in getting a nice mix of people there,” he said. “You always play differently depending on the audience. Every time you play music, the flow of people and the vibe of the room is different. And of course it’s fun to play for a lot of people. The energy in the room forms a good vibe. It’s nuts, but it’s great nuts.”
Unlike places in New York, or even Columbus, where seeing a good jazz performance requires you to pay $30 or more, Moe’s does not require a cover fee. Although the band is compensated for their performances, it is not much. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it,” Mills said. “It won’t make me a millionaire.”
In addition to performing at Moe’s, Mills performs with his Pete Mills Quartet frequently. The quartet plays at the Park Street Tavern in Columbus on Tuesdays. He has also produced four solo CDs, his most recent being Sweet Shadow, which features many jazz musicians including guitarist Pete McCann, drummer Matt Wilson, bassist Martin Wind and pianist Erik Augis.
He also works on bringing jazz to Denison students by producing jazz events on campus. On Feb. 11, Mills’s group, along with a guest trumpet player, will be playing The Side One Series at the Bandersnatch. The group will be performing Eddie Harris’s entire album “The In Sound.”
Denison students should keep their eyes peeled for Pete Mills and his band as they work to bring the sweet sound of jazz music to Granville.
Photo Courtesy of Pete Mills