Music 02

Charles "Butch" Miles

July 4, 1944 ~ February 2, 2023 (age 78) 78 Years Old


Charles J. "Butch" Miles

July 4, 1944 - February 2, 2023

"We made it as far as Columbus, TX, and pulled in for the night. The light was fading, road was good. But it began to rain lightly and temperature started dropping. We grabbed some dinner and got ready to sleep til light creeps back up from the east (hopefully). G'night all. More adventures on the morrow."


Such were the last words on Facebook from Butch Miles, one of the greatest jazz and big band drummers to ever pick up a pair of sticks - and they perfectly express the heart and soul of this remarkable man. He posted them on the night of February 1 this year, while returning to his home in Buda, Texas after a round of chemotherapy in Houston. The bad weather had made it too risky to continue, so Butch and his wife Linda had found a motel room for the night. While most people would have been out of sorts about having to deal with a situation like that, Butch was positive and treating it like an adventure, the way he always did. As Doug Lawrence, his bandmate and across-the-aisle companion on the touring bus for the Count Basie Orchestra says, "You get to know somebody pretty well during that many nights on the road - and I never met a man with such a sweet disposition and positive attitude."

Butch was born in Ohio on July 4, 1944, and spent most of his boyhood in Charleston, West Virginia. He started on the snare drum at age nine in his school band and began playing a full drum set when he turned 14. He majored in music at West Virginia State University, where he graduated in 1966. Soon he landed a gig with the Iris Bell Trio, a club act that toured the Midwest. His first big break was being hired as part of Mel Torme's combo in 1971.

Then he caught a golden chance in 1975, when on the recommendation of Torme and Buddy Rich, Butch was hired as a fill-in for the Count Basie Orchestra. Butch said that he was sight-reading some of those songs on the first night, but he knew most of them by heart. Legend has it that the next morning, Basie was having breakfast with his baritone sax player and said, "Did you hear how good that drummer was last night? I have to keep him!" He stayed with Basie until 1979 until he decided to try other paths. Butch quickly got a call from Dave Brubeck and jumped at the chance to play with his combo, where he had more leeway to improvise than he did with a big band.

During the rest of his career, he performed with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lena Horne, Joe Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Woody Herman, Clark Terry, Gerry Mulligan, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Benny Goodman, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Zubin Mehta, Itzak Pearlman, Dick Hyman, Zoot Sims, Willie Nelson, and many others. In 1997, he hired back on with the Basie Orchestra and stayed in that famed ensemble until 2006. Butch recorded over 100 albums, was on three Grammy winners, and was nominated numerous times for the European equivalent of the Grammy.

He appeared on CBS 60 Minutes, The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, The Merv Griffin Show, The Dick Cavett Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and six times on The Jerry Lewis Telethon. He played in many jazz festivals from Berlin to The North Sea to Montreux, performed on jazz cruises, and taught clinics worldwide.

During the last part of his career Butch decided to decrease his heavy travels, and accepted a position on the faculty of Texas State University in 2007, teaching in their jazz program. He and his wife, Linda Benjamin-Miles, settled down in Buda, Texas and started making new friends around the Austin area. They frequented venues like Parker Jazz Club and The Elephant Room and while Butch was still playing, sometimes local band leaders would coax him onto the stage, where he would leave audiences stunned with his abilities. Before the COVID shutdown, he would often appear with his small group, The Butch Miles Jazz Express.

An interviewer once asked him about the basis for his drumming style. Butch replied, "There are two driving principles in my drumming. The first came from my teacher Mr. Frank Thompson who told me, 'Always let the band know where '1' is.' The second came from the great Count Basie who said, 'LISTEN.'"

No doubt, those two precepts were also a big part of the way Butch approached life. He was totally straightforward and when someone else was talking, he gave them his attention and was empathetic to what they were saying. We could all learn from the way this man kept the beat of his life going.

Butch was preceded in death by his previous wife Lori and daughter Carlita. He is survived by his wife Linda Benjamin-Miles, stepchildren Eric Bippen and Christine Peters, son-in-law Eric Peters, and three grandchildren. At Butch's request, there will be no formal funeral for him, but musical tributes and gatherings of friends will be announced. Donations in his name may be made to the Texas State University Jazz Program.

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