Many choices of events on Saturday, December 31, include dinners, theater, concerts, light shows, a hockey game, a film screening, a comedy show, and a bonfire. Registration and reservations are advised before heading out to any of the events listed below. We wish you a happy and healthy New Year.
Doug Miller of Plainsboro on keyboards will be joined by Bernhard Geiger on acoustic bass to perform quiet jazz from the American song book from 6:30 until 11 p.m. at Blue Rooster in Cranbury. A five course prix fixe menu will be served from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. $90 includes an amuse-bouche, a starter dish of scallops, rabbit, pear; sorbet; a main course selection of lobster, duck, beef, or ravioli; a dessert of a souffle, truffles, or cheese; and coffee.
“New Year’s Eve is special for us this year,” says Miller. “It is a miracle that the Blue Rooster recovered from the damage sustained by Hurricane Irene. Bob and Karen Finigan (former Plainsboro residents) worked against all odds to revive the business.”
The house, now known as the Blue Rooster Bakery and Cafe, was built around 1850 and has retained its Victorian character. Hurricane Irene damages included eight feet of water in the basement that drowned the heating and electrical systems, inventory, and equipment. There was no flood insurance and the Finigans’ loss was close to $100,000. People from the community volunteered to get the Blue Rooster back on its feet, and contractors worked as inexpensively as they could. They were closed for six weeks. “Like a phoenix rising from the ashes — or in this case, a blue rooster rising from post-deluge wreckage,” says Miller.
“Karen and I share many coincidences,” says Miller, who was raised in Hightstown. Although Karen was from Cranbury, they were both students at Hightstown High School in the early 1970s.
“At that time, Cranbury students attended Hightstown High School,” he says. “Many times, over coffee, we reminisce about the fantastic teachers we had during our times there.” They became even better friends when she was his neighbor on Plainsboro Road.
Miller was born in Aquiree, Puerto Rico, on a now abandoned sugar cane plantation on the south side of the island. His mother was a teacher on the island, and he was raised in an environment surrounded by music, art, encyclopedias, and relatives. He has been playing and performing on the piano keyboard for more than 50 years. “Raised in a traditional Latin American family, I am inclined to explore indigenous art forms as well as sounds found in nature,” he says.
Although his mother was his first piano teacher, he credits Elsa Rahlpack, a classically trained pianist and educator he studied with from 1954 to 1957. “I remember vividly walking through a cemetery after elementary school to Miss Rahlpach’s house for classes once a week,” says Miller. “It was here that I learned about middle C, the rudiments of reading music, and most of my scales.”
He studied with Theran Mills from 1959 to 1964 and credits him with “showing me the intricacies of musical theory and complex chord structures — as well as introducing me to the Wurlitzer electronic piano.” Mills also led him to the world of live performance. “The musical theory education I garnered would later serve me well while working with numerous contemporary musicians and composers,” says Miller.
The family moved to Hightstown in the early 1960s. “I have a deep personal relationship with the residents of Cranbury and an understanding of the cultural relationships of the Hightstown and Cranbury communities,” says Miller, who studied jazz piano in the late 1970s with the late Norman Schnell, a resident of Cranbury.
“Norm was pianist with the Gene Krupa Orchestra in the early 1950s and grew up on Main Street Cranbury, down the road a piece from Karen,” he says. “I also inherited Norm’s 78 rpm record collection of more than 600 jazz classics.” Miller will play selections from Schnell’s jazz book and record collection at the Blue Rooster.
F. Ming Chang, professor emeritus in music from Seton Hall University, was his teacher from 1964 to 1970. “Our study of the range, quality, and density of sound through classical piano literature provided me with the passion I have today for expressive dynamics in performance,” says Miller.
Frustrated by his inability to find a musical direction, he took a job as pianist for a youth choir in a regional church where he learned gospel piano style. He worked in the church and with several of its choirs for more than eight years and studied with Lillette Jenkins Wisner during the mid-1980s.
“Around 1995 I had finally isolated myself from contemporary music long enough to spend some time seriously exploring improvisation,” says Miller. “I found I still hadn’t acquired the rudimentary theory and skills to get through a four-hour solo piano engagement.” He studied with Laurie Altman, a composer, pianist, recording artist, and teacher circa 2000. “To this day I refer to my class notes with Laurie, and if I have any improvisational ability at all, it is to him I owe the credit,” says Miller.
Miller’s daughter, Flannery Miller, graduated from High School South in 2008 and is a senior at Alfred University majoring in art and design. She composes her own music, is an avid photographer and videographer, and she enjoys experimenting with mixed media and jewelry making.
He is married to Tari Pantaleo. The couple, who were married for the first time in 1976, parted after seven years. “Twenty years later, we re-encountered, and the same things that appealed to us the first time brought us together again,” she says.
Pantaleo, born in Albany, New York, finished high school in Chappaqua, New York, and graduated with a degree in East Asian Studies from Princeton University, Class of 1975.
She has been working at the Kingston Post Office for close to 25 years. She is very involved with Kingston Greenways Association, Friends of Princeton Nursery Lands (FPNL), and D&R Greenway Land Trust. Miller and Pantaleo recently completed a grant to install an outdoor self composting toilet for FPNL’s park.
When Miller is not promoting live musical improvisation, he does sound design or soundtracks for the private and not-for-profit sectors of the film and video industry. “Our whole house is pretty much a working multi-media production facility,” he says. “I’m past the point of wanting, needing, or desiring to travel long distances to produce product. Besides, media production technology has reached a level where it’s now possible to work from home, and I try to take advantage of that.”
Jazz Supper with Doug Miller and Bernhard Geiger, Blue Rooster Cafe, 17 North Main Street, Cranbury. Saturday, December 31, 6:30 to 11 p.m. Piano and acoustic bass. Five-course dinner is $90. Register. 609-235-7539. www.blueroosterbakery.com.