Following a successful professional career, trumpeter Will Miller returns to complete his degree

Will Miller

Will Miller

When Will Miller arrived in Los Angeles in 1981, he had just completed his duty with the highly-regarded U.S. Army's Jazz Ambassadors and, prior to that, had been the lead trumpeter of UNT's prestigious One O'Clock Lab Band.

His UNT background and his connections from the College of Music helped him begin a professional career that included work with internationally-renowned musicians, including Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin and others.

But, years later, he knew he needed something more from the university.

When Miller left in 1978, he was just nine credits shy of his bachelor's degree.

This December, Miller will walk across the stage at the Coliseum and receive his degree for music composition.

Will Miller conducting

Will Miller conducting the One O'Clock Lab Band playing his compositions.

Though he was very close to graduation, Miller had been eager to start his career as a professional musician and signing on with the Army band seemed one way to facilitate that. Once he was discharged in 1981, Miller went to L.A. to integrate himself in the music scene and found connections through another former One O'Clock Lab Band lead trumpeter, Gary Grant. Grant was a staple on the Los Angeles music scene, working with Frank Sinatra, and later Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and more. Soon after Miller's arrival, he was working on records and with Quincy Jones.

 "When I landed in L.A., within two weeks, I had a job," Miller recalls. "Word gets out if you're from the University of North Texas. Everyone wants to check you out."

By 1982, he took a job performing with Duke Ellington's touring band – a job that allowed him to travel the world for 13 years. From 1985 to 1990, he toured with Diana Ross. He also worked with Barry White, Natalie Cole and recorded with Earth, Wind and Fire. More recently, he's worked on music for American Idol and the Grammys.

Miller loved the tours, but he wanted to diversify his career.

"When looking into certain jobs, I fell short on the degree requirement," Miller says.

He wanted to come back and finish his degree, but with an active professional career, Miller didn't have time to come back to Texas for traditional classes.

That's when Division of Jazz Studies Chair John Murphy told Miller it would be possible to finish his degree with online classes and a recital, which he completed in September.

The online courses he took from Murphy and Music Theory professor Thomas Sovik gave Miller useful information about the way the recording industry works today, as well as historical perspectives, including the development of jazz. The knowledge Miller gained was like getting necessary solutions to a formula that will guide him in his future ventures, he says.

"I want to do more and better things," he said. "The world is changing and I am changing with it."

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