Behind the scenes: Acoustic piano technician Dave Miller

Dave Miller is our ears.Dave Miller

Miller, 58, has served as the Mason Gross School’s acoustic piano technician since 1997, tuning pianos and preparing them for recitals and visiting musicians.

“I just hear it,” Miller says. “I don’t have perfect pitch. But I hear.”

Miller’s superior ears—and his palpable passion for music—led him to session work as a bass player and vocalist for commercials, television, radio, and film, as well as years of live shows with his jazz quintet Za Zu Zaz. Miller began playing in rock bands at age 14 and only submitted to a day job in the mid-’80s, when the session work began to dry up. He studied piano technology and earned a bachelor’s degree in voice from Livingston College in 1990 because, “I figured, ‘What the heck?’ ”

Miller has opened for Bonnie Raitt, Richie Havens, and Dizzy Gillespie, among others. He has played to crowds at the Newport Jazz Festival, Spoleto Festival USA, and The Roxy in West Hollywood, and he has collaborated with Bon Jovi drummer Tico Torres.

“My musical life puts me in a different place from other technicians,” says Miller, who lives with his wife, Debra, in a home that once served as a synagogue and a Belarusian church. “I know what it’s like to get up onstage in front of 20,000 people. You don’t want things to go wrong … [As a technician] it’s your job to make the experience go as smoothly as possible [for the musicians]. The visiting artists don’t know you, and they don’t know the instrument. Not too many people can carry their own piano around. It’s being compassionate, having a little empathy for the situation.”

As it turns out, tending to pianos and musicians isn’t such a bad gig.

“It’s a nice team,” Miller says. “We make good music here.”