The Death of my Grandfather…whom I barely knew.


On the 22nd of March 2010, my grandfather, Jackie Mills, passed away.
He was 88 years old and his life was anything but boring.

I barely knew him, knowing as a child that I had met him once as a baby. When I was 10 or 11, him and his wife at the time (He has had many), moved to Denver from California. This is what I would consider my first meeting and he was nice to my sister and I. He had a beautiful house in Cherry Creek which made my jaw drop. I won’t say we grew up poor cause it sounds so cliché these days but we grew up appreciating the little things. This house wasn’t little and I’m sure I was in awe. We were invited to stay for a few days. I have pleasant memories of this stay to a certain degree. His daughter was there, who is my age and I’m not sure she liked my sister and I too much at the time.(As a sidenote, I have since, very recently written back and forth with her and she is very nice!) My Grandpa’s wife, Janie, I’m pretty sure didn’t like us at all. We didn’t know it at the time, but apparently the few days we were there was too long and my parents received a very early phone call one morning letting them know we were ready to be picked up. That’s the last time I ever saw him.

This isn’t all I know of him though. My Mom didn’t have much of a relationship with him either but she knew him and his history and I used to love the stories.

You see, many people don’t know that I am a descendent in a short line of brilliant musicians and singers. I can’t give you exact dates or exact circumstances, I can just tell you the broad range of stories I have been told over the years.

My grandfather, Jackie Mills, was a jazz drummer. He grew up in Harlem, NY and from what I have heard, started very young and got recognition quite young also. He started his own band and in this whole process, somewhere in the late 40’s, met my Grandmother. My grandmother was a singer, Jackie was playing the drums with the Desi Arnaz Band. I’m making assumptions on dates here because I know what year my mother was born and I know how long Jackie and Grandma were married. They wed, they had my mother in Manhattan and then things turned not so good. When my mother was 3-ish, they divorced. Apparently, it was hard to keep the women away or hard to keep him away from them(and I think I’m being gentle in saying that). I won’t fault him for it and I have nothing to forgive. It was the way he was and the biggest thing that sucks about it is I’m sure my grandmother was heartbroken and my mother lacked her father being around most of her life.

I know there was plenty of stories in between here but we’ll skip back to my mom. Sometime when she was 16 or 18…I don’t know why I can’t remember…it may have been both, she flew the coop of her mom’s and went to live with Jackie in California. She has a million stories about who she met, what she went through. She worked at Jackie’s music studio, Larrabee Sound Studios. She met some of the greats before they were great. She met plenty of one hit wonders too. I hope this is all tying into my mom’s obsession with music and her new (Shill Alert) Coasters!

EDIT: I need to correct the below statement. Jackie did not help her get to Japan though he did meet with Tokyo Productions to make sure they were legit. My mom was a singer and a good one and I’m sorry to say that my memories aren’t serving Jackie as well as I thought. He was in the music business but not once, did he hear her sing. My mother called agents for days trying to find her own way when this opportunity arised.

In the end, when my mom was in her early 20’s and before I was ever a glint in her eye, Jackie did something for her. He got her a singing gig, (yes my mom sings too), in Japan. My mother sang for 6 months in some of the coolest described clubs I’d ever heard of or have ever seen. She told stories of showing the Japanese little ladies how not to take shit from the mean men who thought they could have their way with them. She was a contemporary  Susan B. Anthony. There would be no women’s suffrage if my mom had anything to say about it! And then my mom came home and through a slew of strange events, she met my Dad and fell instantly in love, never to return to Japan again.

I know little things here and there. The stories of both my Grandma Perry and Jackie are many. I’m not going to lie and say I’m “Sad” that Jackie has passed away but I am sad that I never really got to know him. I never wanted anything from him, never needed anything but love of a Grandpa. I was lucky enough to have my father’s dad who had his own hiccups and issues in life but as children, we never saw the other side. He was just my grandpa and I loved him and miss him.

My mother has 2 half brothers, a half-sister, a half-sister who had no interest in knowing Jackie and a son whose claim to fame was he didn’t belong to Jackie. One may never know the truth. If any distant family, who I have no relationship with, happen to read this…please take no offense. It’s all I know. There are bad stories and good stories and I think I have told truths and no lies. I have been gentle when I could scream and yell a battle my Mother never fought.

He could’ve had class….he coulda been a contender. But that’s all it is..a coulda, woulda, shoulda of could have beens but never was. I was forwarded a letter today about his passing and what a wonderful, devoted person he was. I wouldn’t have known….

My grandfather playing with Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey (He’s the drummer):

Jackie, My Mom, and David (mom’s half-brother)

Jackie Mills, you were a wonder; A wonder on the drums, a wonder to your close family and a wonder of my imagination. R.I.P.

ADD: I found a very recent interview with Jackie. Makes me sad that he was never able to share such stories with me or my sister.

http://www.namm.org/library/oral-history/jackie-mills

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11 Comments

  1. Hey
    I appreciate your comments and thoughts about your grampa. I think what you wrote is fair , sad, and reflects your personal perspective. The man was complicated, conflicted , wonderful and tragic. I wish he would have chosen to be closer to his family…his life would have been much richer. I don’t know that he knew how. Its like money, he burned thru it and endlessly.why? Because he didn’t know how to do it differently. Jackie Mills, ( my dad )….didn’t have a bad bone in his body…….irresponsible, selfish, obssessed with women, and a lover of music yes.
    I have heard stories from so many people over the last 3 weeks about dad….none are completely accurate or complete……..We all have our personal perspective~
    RIP Jackie mills I love you unconditionally

    • Hi

      I am your half brother Jan born 1947, my mother Joyce was married to Jackie in 1946
      and they lived for a short time in my mothers house with her mother and father. Your father real name is Jacob Berlfein(I wonder if you knew that?) I only saw him twice in my life time, once at about 12 in court and the other was in the late 70’s at my home in redondo beach, calif. If you get this and want to chat please email me, I would like to know about any other siblings I have.

      thanks

      Jan

  2. Hi Courtney,

    Because I lived with him and later near him and after he retired from playing the drums, I got to know your grandfather from different perspectives. He was devoted to, adept at, and appreciative of music his entire life. My sons Linden and Holland (your cousins) were not close to him for most of their lives, but in the past 4 years or so began calling their grandfather to talk. From your grandfather and theirs they received an open ear and unconditional support. After a while, your grandfather called and asked about them. You can always make a connection with us here in Los Angeles. Call me or write. Your sister lives out here. She stayed with me here for a bit. I understand that she lives nearby, Los Feliz area? She can call or write to me as well. Best Wishes

    David

    • Hi David,

      Long time my old friend. Sorry to hear about your father, Bless his soul. He was a great man and lived a long and prosperous life. I found this blog today while looking for old friends. I remember the days of Larrabee and the hiking trips you used to take me on. Your passion for health and well being was amazing and is the reason why I am still a health nut today. It’s been about 30 years man. After leaving The Gap Band, I got married and moved to Sweden. I am still doing music and traveling around Europe. Life is good but I still miss the good old days of L.A. I came back a few times but Larrabee West was gone and I tried to find you without success. Take care my friend and may God bless you and yours.

      Ira

      • Dear Mr. Ward,

        I’m David’s Niece, Cortney. My Mom is David’s half brother, Lorie. Anywho, I will make sure he gets this message. David owns an awesome outdoor garden fountain business in Culver City now. I’m sure he will be thrilled! I’ll pass along the email address you have listed here.

        Thanks to my Mother…I’m a huge fan 🙂

        Cortney

      • Hi Cortney,

        Thanks and Bless you!

        Ira

  3. Hey my thoughts, prayers and thanks go out to Jackie and his family. I was fortunate enough to be guided by him in my early music career with my band, Woodwork back in the early ’70’s. He was a master and a gentle genius. Along with the great Taavi Mote we turned out some excellent tracks. Sorry to have only just learned of his passing. Has there been a service already? a memorial? I would love to correspond with Kevin, but in the meantime I respect yours and your family’s privacy. Jackie was a giant in a small package. I loved him and so did so many others that were blessed to know him. Cheers, Jackie! – Chris Clifford

  4. I am so sad to hear of Jackie’s passing. I knew him quite well in the mid to late 1970’s. He was my manager and record producer. I remember the long days at Larrabee Sound, with Jackie (and Taavi) behind the glass. We recorded a few songs and I did some studio singing at Larrabee, but mostly I was the voice behind “The U.S. of Archie” show and some of the “Groovie Goolies” episodes. I was (and still am) very fond of him, and was very sad to have lost contact with him after he left Larrabee Sound. Yes, Jackie was an imperfect and complicated person, as we all are, but I always felt that he treated me more like a friend than a singer/artist, and I appreciated him greatly for that. My greatest sympathies go to his family and friends. — Tom McKenzie

  5. I always thought that Jackie handled the Harry James Band better than Buddy did. He’s on a few James records I have and always respected what he did to stay out of the way, something which most drummers don’t do, including Buddy Rich. Ziggy Elmer, trombonist with Harry at the same time as Jackie agreed with me. Jackie play the right stuff at the right timer than stayed out of the way and let the band swing.

  6. I am sad to hear that your grandfather passed away, though I know it’s a part of life. Jackie plays a big part in my life. I lived next door to him when I was a young child & would stop to talk when I was walking home from school. After months of talking, meeting my mom and stopping by for an afternoon chat, he offered to teach me how to play drums. Jackie is the reason I took such an interest in playing and I am so very thankful. He never charged a penny for the lessons and made sure I’d come over every day to practice. He was such a blessing to me.

  7. Great perspective on your life and family. This is wonderful that your family has connected. Very touching. I was looking up Jackie Mills today trying to get an idea who this record producer was as I have an obscure Ray Draper Radio Copy of his record. Great Jazz, hard bop tuba player. The 45 is very rare and your Grandfather produced Ray Draper “Spareribs” Red Rice and Beans Band performing Ray Charles’ Mess Around. He certainly appeared to be a very interesting man. Sad about your Grandmother and of course the situation had to be difficult during that time. I hope you have connected with your family and you have made a wonderful family connection as we all need family. Loved reading your life’s history.


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