Barry Miles possesses a mixture of curiosity and talent that has served him well over his long career in music.
A keyboardist and drummer, the 67-year-old Lower Township man has performed with some of music's biggest names and played on more than two dozen albums.
He played bebop in the 1950s, fusion jazz in the late 1960s and soul music in the 1970s.
In all that time, Miles has maintained a reputation as a musician's musician who isn't too impressed with his talent.
"Barry is one virtuoso musician," said jazz drummer Bob Shomo, of Lin-wood, who added Miles also is generous and open. "He's had one of the most ridiculous careers in mu-sic, but he's very humble."
It seems Miles was al-ways destined to play jazz.
Miles' first exposure to music came from the records his father played while he grew up in Plainfield, Union County.
"When I was a toddler in the late '40s, my dad would bring home records like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman. ... The first music I was exposed to was swing and bebop, so by the time I started playing, that's my roots, that's the first music I ever heard," Miles said.
Miles was considered a child prodigy because he didn't just hear the jazz his father played. Miles, who started piano lessons at age 4 and drum lessons at age 7, was able to play instruments well enough that he could improvise with a sense of swing himself.
Miles was a member of the musicians union at age 9. In his preteen years, Miles played with some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, including John Coltrane, Billie Holiday and Lester Young.
There is black-and-white footage on YouTube of Miles at age 11 drinking milk and participating in a drumming duel on a 1958 episode of TV's "Art Ford Jazz Party."
"Woody Herman (another Jazz Hall of Fame member) took me under his wing. Musically, I was able to hold my own," said Miles about playing with musicians with decades more experience than him.
Miles was just 14 when he released his first album as a band leader, 1961's "Miles of Genius."
But jazz wasn't Miles only interest. He listened to classical music, eastern Indian music, rock and soul. He worked to incorporate elements of each of those types of music into his own personal style. He wasn't the only jazz player doing this.
When fusion jazz took off, Miles was there and ready to particpate.
During the early 1970s when the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report were making the earliest jazz fusion records, Miles also contributed to that movement with the recording of the 1971 album "White Heat." Miles' brother, Terry Silverlight, played the drums, and the recording features two guitarists who would later become famous in jazz circles, Pat Martino and John Abercrombie. But Abercrombie soon left for Europe and Miles needed someone to replace him. That situtation led to his teaming up with Al Di Meola, the musician he remains most closely associated with.
"Al was really conscientious. He started gigging with me," Miles said. "He went to Berklee to study. The same guy who introduced him to me took a cassette of Al playing with me and brought it to Chick (Corea)," Miles said.
Di Meola went from playing in Miles' band to performing in Return To Forever, an all-star fusion group featuring Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White.
In the wake of his success, Di Meola, a four-time winner as best jazz guitarist in Guitar Player Magazine's readers poll, didn't forget Miles. Miles played on five Di Meola solo CDs.
"They were all great players in the prime of their playing," said Miles about the musicians who played on those records. "His compositions were vehicles for playing."
Shomo, 53, was a fan of Miles' during the 1970s and listened to the 10 solo albums the musician released as band leader.
"I loved the sound of the music, the writing," said Shomo.
Later, Shomo was introduced to Miles by the late Cape May jazz pianist George Mesterhazy. That introduction led to a friendship that has included weekly jam sessions and the musicians performing together at Somers Point Jazz Society events and the Cape May Jazz Vespers series at the First Presbyterian Church of the City of Cape May. Miles, Shomo and bassist Tim Lekan, of Ocean City, perform at Sandi Pointe Coastal Bistro on April 22.
While jazz is Miles' love, he has the chops to play soulfully enough to be a sought-after session musician.
He has recorded with Gladys Knight & the Pips, Roberta Flack, Patti Austin and Esther Phillips. It's Miles' acoustic piano that can be heard on "Midnight Train To Georgia," Knight's No. 1 hit from 1973.
"He (the producer Tony Camillo) really had a special feeling about it. There was a lot of overdubbing. The Pips came out and did all the backup vocals without Gladys Knight. I recorded the acoustic piano. It was an evolutionary process," Miles said.
Miles also is well known for his work with Flack. Miles was her music director from 1980 to 1995.
His work with Flack is included in the 1980 two-disc album, "Live & More," with R&B singer Peabo Bryson. That band also included the late vocalist Luther Vandross and bassist Marcus Miller.
"Peabo had a tremendous following on the grassroots level. It was like he was Elvis," Miles said.
Miles is still making music. Last year, he released "Home and Away, Volume One," his first new full-length recording in 27 years.
The 16-track album was recorded between 2010 and 2013 and features Miles' solo piano work. Most of the tracks were recorded in Miles' living room on a Steinway grand piano. Some tracks were laid down using Mesterhazy's Steinway, which resides at the Merion Inn in Cape May.
With all the music Miles has made over the years, some would think solo piano would be the most challenging to do with only his stylings to hold the listeners' attention, but not Miles.
"Very early on, I used to sit at my parents' upright piano. The concept of being a solo piano improviser goes right back to the very beginning, and I always sort of did that through my whole life, but I never recorded it,"Miles said. "It wasn't difficult for me to get into that frame of mind and do that. I have gone full circle. It completes the circle of where I started as a little kid playing piano just by myself in a room somewhere and then coming back to that now as old as I am."
Contact Vincent Jackson:
Tuesday Night Jazz Series featuring pianist Barry Miles , drummer Bob Shomo and bassist Tim Lekan held 8 to 10:30 p.m. April 22 at Sandi Pointe Coastal Bistro, 908 Shore Road, Somers Point. Admission $5. For more information, call 609-927-2300.