Matthew Mills will be remembered in Whanganui as a consummate musician who didn't walk the usual path.

He died in Whanganui Hospital on May 28, aged 55, after a short battle with brain cancer.

He learned trumpet and flugelhorn as a young person and during his adult years was in too many bands to mention. Some of them are Straight Lines, Zig Zag, Clazz, River Reign, The House of Shem, The Conrays, The River City Big Band and the New Zealand Army Band.

He loved to play music and would get up on stage and accompany anyone. In later years he was especially keen to improvise.

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He got the chance to play with some world-class musicians, fellow musician Arahi Hagger says, including virtuoso pianist Mike Bignell.

Matthew Mills was brought up in Whanganui's Paterson St. His father, Allan, was a police photographer and he had 10 brothers and sisters. He went to St Augustine's College.

Like many Whanganui youngsters of the time, he was taught to play brass instruments by Jock Coleman and Kevin Jarrett, and played in the National Youth Brass Band, and later New Zealand's national brass band.

He was also very good at rugby, but stopped short of representing Whanganui after an ankle injury became infected and took a long time to heal.

In the mid-1980s he joined other adults in New Zealand's first PEP (Project Employment Progamme) scheme, with Annette Main as a tutor. It was a full-time arts and drama course and he joined Andre Meihana, Mana Rauhina, the Paranihi brothers, Phil Ponga, Arahi Hagger, Chris Dann and others in a band called Straight Lines.

He travelled to Denmark with a Danish partner, and was involved there in the Christiania Anarchist community.

Returning to New Zealand he and partner Pania had two children, and lived at the Ahu Ahu Ohu on the Whanganui River for a while.

The partner of his later life was Tina Thompson, and he also formed a close friendship with jazz musician Ken Chernoff.

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All this time Mills was playing whenever he could, but could never make a full income from music while living in Whanganui.

He was a memorable character - friends say he could be sweet natured, generous and gregarious but also difficult and obnoxious when drunk, and was known to hold a grudge.

His most recent bands were the River City Big Band, Clazz and The Conrays.

Whanganui Musicians' Club co-president John Keating said Mills would be sadly missed.

"He was a very good musician, who never reached his full potential. He could have gone a lot further."