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Rod Miller, Disneyland’s Main Street Ragtime Pianist retires

RodcdRod Miller started his career as the Main Street Ragtime Pianist in 1969, the year I was born. Since that time his magical high speed tickling of the ivories have entertained, and this is no exaggeration, hundreds of millions of guests to Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom. 99.99% of those guests left happy and one of those guests was me.

I remember dancing to his Ragtime music as a child. I only knew one song then, The Entertainer. He didn’t groan when asked to play it but instead launched into a roaring version of the song like it was the only one he would play that day. As an adult who spent a lot of time listening to Rod’s music, I knew that The Entertainer was the number one request. And he still played it with a smile and with style every time (ask him to play the wrong note version!).

Rod doesn’t read sheet music, but instead plays by ear (although using his fingers is easier). He learned to play by slowing down the piano rolls and rehearsing two or three measures at
a time until he mastered the music. Practicing two to six hours a day,
it took him three months to learn his first piece, "I Can’t Give You
Anything But Love." Rod developed a unique style that was part Jo Anne Castle and part Liberace.

He has recorded LP records, including one in the 70s, a very popular CD "Rod Miller Ragtime" recorded in 1995, and an absolutely out of the world CD of "Four-Hand Piano" in 1999 (hard to find unfortunately). He also has a few songs on various Disney Theme Park Soundtracks.

Rod’s expertise extended beyond the piano as well. He was a collector and cultivator of Plumeria plants. At one time he owned over 2000 of them. When they were in bloom he’d bring a baggy of blooms in and set them on the tables. The tropical aroma filled the air and if you closed your eyes you could imagine yourself on the Hawaiian beach with a ragtime piano playing near by. He also took special requests for Lei’s and many of my friends have celebrated special occasions with Rod’s fresh flowers around their necks and heads.

What makes all this even more amazing was that Rod broke his back as a child and had his spine fused. Doctors told him he’d never walk again, but he defeated that prophecy. He shouldn’t have been able to sit and play piano either, but Rod figured out how to do that too. In the end, the 30 plus years of playing 8 hours aday, plus outside gigs and practice, took its toll on Rod’s body and tortured spine. He is retiring now, but not because he wants to, I can assure you.

There is no way for me to sum up in one post what Rod Miller means to me, to Disneyland, and to the world of Ragtime music. He has been Ragtime music’s greatest ambassador, churning out the tunes a breakneck speed to guests at Disneyland. He was always learning new songs right up until the end of his career. He tutored students of Ragtime Piano with whatever time he could spare (a few have followed in his footsteps working at Disney Theme Parks). He has been a great friend to many and could always be counted on to cheer you up when you were down, play that special song of memories for you, or just to make you laugh and feel good with a song.

So all that’s left to say is "Thank you for the beautiful music Rod. You would have made Walt proud."

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