WORLD-CLASS JAZZ GUITARIST HARRY MILLER PASSES AWAY IN NEW ZEALAND
A well known musician in the two Samoas as well as in the region, Harry Miller, who was also a music teacher at Fa’asao Marist High School, passed away peacefully on Wednesday at Waitakere Hospital in Henderson, New Zealand. It was Tuesday in American Samoa.
Miller was 59 and a native of New Zealand. His wife Monica Miller was by his side, along with Mrs. Miller’s younger brother Maua, a nephew Venu Stowers from Samoa and a grand niece. Earlier this year, Monica accompanied her husband to New Zealand for cancer treatment.
Asked what she would miss most about her husband of 37 years, Mrs. Miller said, “Harry was my bridge over troubled water. We are quite opposites as those who know us well will vouch for. He was a calming effect to my aggressive and brash self.” (Mrs. Miller is a former editor of Samoa News and is currently news director of South Seas Broadcasting.)
“In other words we were a balancing, and I hope, balanced act,” said Mrs. Miller via e-mail yesterday from New Zealand. “Harry had a special gift... a very talented guitarist and he never bragged, but just let his music — or me — do the talking.”
“While a lot of people will know Harry from his playing on the night club/bar scene, I know he was most proud of his service through his ministry of music at our beloved Holy Family Parish International Community and his role as a music teacher at Fa’asao Marist High School,” she said. “He was also very at ease working with our church youth and his easy going manner and humor endeared him to the young people.”
As a father, and grandfather, she said “Harry was a friend to our children and he had a close and special relationship with all of them; and when they got married, their spouses also became friends with him.”
“He doted on our grandchildren and always made time for them. That was one of the hardest things for Harry ...being away all these many months... not being able to be with our grandchildren,” she added.
Since word quickly spread of Harry Miller’s passing, the family has received messages of condolence and support from many people, locally and off island. There were also messages about Harry Miller’s music.
“It's been very comforting to read messages from people who knew Harry and those who didn’t know him but are familiar with his music, how Harry impacted their lives. His former students especially — and how Harry shared his talents but also his Christian values, his fatherly wisdom and especially his humor,” she said. “He wanted so much to return to his school and tell the students and teachers not to smoke... like he did.”
She reminisced that visitors from off island who heard Harry play would often describe his guitar playing as “mesmerizing”.
“While he was versatile and able to play many genres of music, jazz being his ace, he developed a distinctive style, which I want to call ‘organic’ in that it was original and locally flavored composition,” she noted.
Long time friend and fellow musician Fagafaga Daniel Langkilde described Harry as a “world-class jazz guitarist and a great musician who had such a passion for music and a never-ending dedication to passing on his talents to the youth.”
“There are so many young aspiring musicians in American Samoa today who were music students of Harry Miller,” said Fagafaga, who is also director of the Office of Public Information. “I’ve known Harry for more than 40 years, having played music with him on so many occasions and several recordings. He was also a personal friend.”
“I am honored to have crossed paths with Harry in my lifetime. I will always remember his sense of humor, and will always cherish the music we played together. Harry’s music will live on not only through his many recordings as they continue to be played, but also through the many students that he taught,” he told Samoa News yesterday.
Fa’asao Marist High School principal Victor Langkilde said he was deeply saddened to learn of Harry’s passing, adding that Harry was a “good friend and teacher” at the Catholic secondary school.
“Harry was the Music Director for Fa'asao Marist High School for 20+ years and the longest serving faculty member at the school and the entire Catholic Education System. Harry Miller was the ultimate professional and was very good with the students,” said Langkilde via e-mail from San Diego, Calif., where is attending a meeting.
“Harry was the anchor and pillar of the music program and the reason for its success at performances in the annual arts festival festivities, and during Flag Day & Christmas. He was also the track & field coach for the school,” he said. “Harry will be truly missed as he leaves a huge void at the school and church, as well as in the community. May God comfort Monica & the entire family during this difficult time.”
Rep. Larry Sanitoa, chairman of the International Community at the Holy Family Parish at Fatuoaiga, sent out an e-mail late yesterday morning informing members of the parish of Harry’s passing.
He said Monica had sent an e-mail message following the passing of her husband saying that Harry spoke with all of his children over the phone “and after the deacon chaplain had given prayers and commendation he (Harry) looked at me intently and breathed his last breath.”
“He went peacefully grasping the Rosary my mother had given Faiane (Harry’s daughter) and which she left with Harry when they said goodbye in April,” said Monica in her e-mail to Sanitoa and The Most Rev. John Quinn Weitzel, Bishop of the Diocese of Samoa Pago Pago.
“Dr. Harry Miller was endeared by Bishop Quinn and beloved by our community for helping make our Eucharistic celebration’s special Sunday selections, and was in fact a well renowned and remarkable Samoan musician,” said Sanitoa. (Harry was the International Community Choir Master).
Sanitoa says Harry is revered by many throughout the two Samoas, the South Pacific and especially amongst his personal friends and colleagues for his musical art work that will live on in songs like those by his group AVA with “We Are Samoa”, Naunau i le Ufi, Eleni, Morning Star and many others.
Although born in New Zealand, Harry grew up in Samoa where his late father Willie Miller – Samoa’s first and finest jazz musician — established The Willie Miller Band which included Harry and his younger brothers, Latū and Maua.
Harry moved his family to American Samoa in 1987 where the famous Ava Band was formed with Fa’anana Jerome Grey and Aleki Fuimaono. “Harry continued his love of his music by sharing his gift to the youth in our parish and being a music teacher at Fa’asaō Marist High School since 1995,” said Sanitoa.
“Our hearts are full of grief in sharing the loss of our friend and family member and for the comfort of his family. But our hearts too are filled with joy that Harry is at peace as the Lord welcomes another Angel for his orchestra in heaven,” he said and extended heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies to Monica, their children and all of Harry’s grandchildren.
Monica said they “will be bringing Harry home as soon as possible and hope to have his Mass of Resurrection early next week at the Holy Family Cathedral” at Fatuoaiga.
Samoa News extends our deepest condolences to Mrs. Monica Miller, her children and family.