Leonard Miller
Leonard Miller

A couple of weeks ago I wandered in to Rembrandt’s Wine Bar (they have beer and liquor now, too) and a man I’d never seen before was playing the beautiful Yamaha grand piano. I asked owner Bob Maile who the guy was, and he said, with absolute glee in his voice, “That’s Leonard Miller! He just walked in off the street and asked if he could play on Friday’s and Saturdays. He’s tremendous!”

I knew right away I had to get Leonard’s story, and what a grand story it is.

Leonard Miller was born an only child some 74 years ago down on the Florida-Georgia line into a family he charitably describes as tumultuous. “Dad was gone a lot,” Leonard explained, “and when he was home, he and mother didn’t get along.

“To make things worse, I had a severe speech impediment, and mother was not very sympathetic, to say the least. On top of that, she clearly wanted a girl but she only had me, so she dressed me in pink outfits and sent me to tap dancing and piano lessons.

“As it turns out, the piano lessons were my salvation. I would ride my bike over to my piano teacher’s house to use her good piano, and I’d stay there practicing sometimes five hours a day. It was an escape from my mother.

“I even lived at my teacher’s house when I could, in the summers or when she was away. I studied piano for 11 years, until I had to get a job and start saving for college.

“I started classes up at Wake Forest and got a job at the cafeteria in the Student Union building. But I was kind of spastic and clumsy, in addition to my speech problems. There was an incident involving a pot of boiling water and some scalded faculty. I didn’t last long.

“So I was roaming the halls of the Union, wondering how I would pay for college, and then I saw this big mahogany door that said Magnolia Room. I peeked inside and it was all the rich kids, white tablecloths, ordering off menus, the whole thing. And over in the corner was a grand piano, gathering dust.

“I went right downtown and bought sheet music for all the popular tunes. All I knew was classical music. I learned the songs, and then marched back over to the Magnolia Room and asked if I could play the piano during meal times. I offered to play for free, just to see how it went.

“Next thing you know, I’m hired and I’m playing lunches, dinners, frat parties, faculty events, President’s receptions, you name it. I got to where I could play for four hours from memory, no music. Piano-playing put me through college.”

Leonard was a good student, and eventually he became a licensed psychologist and enjoyed a long career at various institutions, including at stint as Director of Psychology at Madison State Hospital. And you’ll be happy to know he overcame his speech impediment. He’s articulate, humorous and a delight to talk with.

But having just recently retired, he finds himself searching for a creative outlet. “I dug out some of the old sheet music I haven’t played in 40 years,” Leonard said. “My fingers remember.

“I asked Bob Maile at Rembrandt’s if he could use a piano player, and he said absolutely. It feels very natural to be back in that setting. It reminds me of the old Magnolia Room. I’ve had a chaotic life, and playing gives me a feeling of continuity.

“I also like being a part of what Bob is doing at Rembrandt’s. I feel like I’m supporting something in our city we didn’t have before. Bob has a vision for Rembrandt’s, and I like being a part of it, helping him achieve it.”

You can catch Leonard Miller at the piano most Fridays and Saturdays, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Be sure to go up and say hello. You’ll be glad you did.


The Swiss Wine Festival is this weekend up in Vevay, and they have a great country show on Friday night. Just buy a festival ticket and the concert is free! The line-up is Sammy Kershaw, Collin Raye and Aaron Tippin. Here in Madison on Saturday, Jimmy Davis will be celebrating his birthday at Red Bicycle Hall, and Rembrandt’s is featuring classic French musique starting at 6:30.

Charlie Rohlfing is a stalwart of the RiverRoots Festival committee, a campfire guitar strummer, and a partner in The Red Bicycle Hall music venue. Find him out and about or at charlie@madisoncourier.com

THIS WEEK IN MUSIC - August 22, 2019

Thursday, August 22:

Off Broadway Taproom – Brothers Smith duo

Friday, August 23:

Vevay Swiss Wine Festival – Sammy Kershaw, Collin Raye, Aaron Tippin

Fourth Friday Downtown

Gallery 115 – Back Porch Band (5:30)

Saturday, August 24:

Moose – Dallas Moore

L&L Lounge – Country Bourne

Red Bicycle Hall – Jimmy Davis Birthday Show

Off Broadway Taproom – Erik Brunner

Thomas Family Winery – Mellow Soundz dancing under the starz

Rembrandts – La Petite Musique

Sunday, August 25:

Stream Cliff Herb Farm & Winery – Bobby Robbins

Mad Paddle Brewery – Broken Spokes

Off Broadway Taproom – Davy or Daryl