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.