“Jazz Monthly Feature Interview” Sophie Milman
Smitty: Well, it is certainly my wonderful pleasure to welcome a newcomer to JazzMonthly.com. She brings a new level of sophistication, admiration, with her ultra-sonic range of voice. Case in point is her sparkling new self-titled debut release. Please give a warm welcome for the lovely and gorgeous and so talented Ms. Sophie Milman. Sophie, how are you?
Sophie Milman (SM): I’m great, great. Thank you so much for the lovely intro.
Smitty: You are so welcome.
SM: I’m blushing (laughing.)
Smitty: Oh, you’re blushing. (Laughing.) Well, it’s well deserved.
SM: Thank you.
Smitty: Yes, and you should be so proud of this CD. You know why? I love the whole layout, and before listening to one note, you know right away that you have something special in your hand.
SM: Good. I’m glad. I’m glad, really glad people are getting that vibe because that’s how we intended it.
Smitty: Yes, and you really mixed it up very well. It’s very diverse. The first song is such a great opening. Pronounce that for me, please.
SM: “Agua de Beber.”
Smitty: You do that so well. (Both laughing.)
SM: Yeah, that was a really fun one. It was the first time I’d ever sung Latin and I really enjoyed doing that and opening the record with it was special to me.
Smitty: Yes indeed. And you captured the French language so well. Now, I understand you speak, what, four different languages?
SM: Yeah, I speak Russian, Hebrew and English fluently and French is a work in progress. My French is a bit rusty at this point, but it kinda comes and goes, my French, it’s funny, depending on my mood and various other things, so Russian, Hebrew and English obviously I’m fluent and the French, if I’m in a good mood I can speak it.
Smitty: Well, I think you’ve captured it quite well in your music here with “La Vie en Rose.”
SM: Oh thank you!
Smitty: That was quite a French rendition of the song and you had me convinced that you’re fluent in French and it’s great.
SM: Well, I have a greater feel for languages and accents, and I’m a huge fan of everything French or the French culture and language and all that, the literature and everything, so I spent quite a lot of time listening to French songs of that Chanson era, that when it came time to record the album, La Vie En Rose was an obvious song to record.
Smitty: Wow. Well, what a great choice. When did you decide that this was something professionally that you wanted to do? Because, you know, trusting your range of voice and trusting yourself to come out in front of people and deliver great songs the way you do, it’s just not something that happens overnight.
SM: For sure. I mean, a professional career in music happened quite accidentally for me. I was already in the first year at university when I got my first gig, so I started going to these jam sessions and I got a gig here. I always loved singing, but for me, music and performing were ways to relax, to differentiate myself from others- a very serious hobby one may call it. It was nothing that I ever wanted to do professionally because I, frankly, I had no idea that I was good enough. So I didn’t grow up around these musicians, I had no idea what that involved., and also it took a lot of convincing and a lot of time for me to actually believe in myself, and I would say that, only toward the end of the process of recording the album, one night when we were sitting and listening to some tracks, it actually clicked with me, I connected with my own music and I realized that this is something that I was capable of doing. And, about a year after that I went on tour, an all-Canadian jazz festival tour, and it was amazing and so were the audience responses, so then I was really convinced, you know, I was just like “I can do this for a living, I love this, and this is one of the most awesome things that somebody could do with their life,” so it took a little while, but I’m there.
Smitty: Yeah, yes you are. Talk about what the experience is like going from the local club to a major festival or a larger audience. What’s that like?
******SM: Going from club gigs to theatre shows was an amazing experience. Though I didn’t have a lot of club gigs and I didn’t have a lot of shows before I went on tour, so I had very little performance experience. My performance experience was very inconsistent, meaning that I would have maybe one show a month or one show a tour, if at all, and to go from that to three weeks on the road nonstop and whatever day we had off we were flying from one gig to the next. It was very taxing and it was difficult, but the rewards were so enormous. I mean, to get to play to the size of audiences that we did and see such great responses, and there was not even one low point on the tour.
Smitty: Wow. But you handled it well.
SM: I have work to do. One time I lost my voice and I got it back and I was stressed out and I was crying because I had no voice and everything, I was tired, but it was overall an awesome experience and ultimately convinced me that I really should do this with my life and it’s just amazing.
Smitty: So you’re still a student at the university?
SM: Yeah, I am. I’m calling you off campus now.
Smitty: Very cool.
SM: I had a brief mid-term yesterday. I’m still very much a student part of the time, so I balance my life between that and music.
Smitty: So what advice would you give other musicians and singers or entertainers that are sort of juggling, you know, two different atmospheres of school and then doing the gigs? What advice would you give them to make that work?
SM: Well, depending on what they study. I mean, I think it’s not very hard for a musician to study music and then do gigs at night. I think it’s very complementary. You get your professional experience at night and your academic experience during the day. I study commerce. So it’s really different what I do during the day and what I do at night, and my mind really has to go from one complete, really, from one area to something completely different. I have to get out of the logical, I have to get out of the sensible, and go into my creative phase, which is quite the transition.
I’ve had so many instances where I’ve had exams on the day of the show. I think if people are doing what they love, I mean, you know, I really enjoy school and I’m good at it and it’s very important for me to kinda stay in that academic environment and finish my schooling. So I kind of make it happen and I think it’s….even though it’s challenging, you know, I’ll be tested by both parts of my personality and both parts of my brain which is tough. So I’m kind of actually stimulated by the stuff I study, and then I’m emotionally and, you know, spiritually and physically rewarded by the great career that I have, so I don’t really have a lot of advice. The most important thing is if you’re doing a lot of stuff at the same time is to kind of go easy on yourself and give yourself some time to take care of number one. I don’t do that enough, but I know it’s something that I should be doing more.
Smitty: Yeah. So, now, you’re what, you’re 23 years old and you’ve got your whole life in front of you. Can you see it as an entertainer for the rest of your professional life?
SM: Yeah, for sure.
Smitty: Very cool.
SM: I mean, my career in such a short time picked up a lot of momentum and I’m at a really positive phase in my life right now where I’m really discovering who I am as a performer and as a singer, and I get to really experiment with varying styles and I’m really looking forward to some of the things that I’d like to play around with in my future career, so I really enjoy it and I really love it, and I think I’ll be doing it for as long as there are people out there who want to hear me and as long as I have something to say. I don’t think it’s anything that you quit now because it’s just too involving and it’s engaging. It’s no fun really, to say to yourself at a certain point, “Okay, no more.”
Smitty: (Laughs.) Yeah, when it’s in your blood, you can’t stop, that’s for sure.
SM: For sure, that’s right.
Smitty: Yeah. You’ve been compared to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Krall…you know, how does that make you feel when you hear that?
SM: I think, you know, people exaggerate. But it makes me feel awesome, definitely. I mean, Ella is an absolute idol of mine. I think she’s one of the most important and influential singers, not only jazz, but in the world ever. And Diana is the one that really paved the way for singers like me. I mean, she started out in the 90’s, struggled for many years and now she’s reaping her awards and creating kind of opportunities and demands for other jazz singers, so I have a lot of respect for both of them. I don’t think I sound anything like either, but it’s definitely awesome when people leave a show and have the impressions that they had, let’s say when they saw Diana or when they saw Ella. Obviously they become very happy when they hear those accolades. So if they finish hearing my record or leave my show feeling the same way, it’s a great feeling.
Smitty: Yes it is. I must say that listening to your album, your new release, I feel this unique stamina and unique sophistication of your voice, and above all that, I said, “You know, this is a very confident 23-year-old.”
SM: (Laughing.) You know I can fool you?
SM: No, I’m kidding.
Smitty: Really, you have such confidence in your range and I said, “You know, she goes there with ease and it’s like she does that and says ‘Yeah, I can do this.’”
SM: Yeah, I’m very kind of a high stress, high strung person, but at the end of the day I deliver and I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well, and I think once I’m cornered and I’ve created a vibe, I can really do a lot more things than I give myself credit for. So it’s really fun to be in a studio surrounded by great musicians and just going for it. It’s really a great band, and we do that on stage as well. I think, if I’m working, my current band….and hopefully my band forever….is this wonderful group of musicians from Montreal, and they also really help me increase my confidence level and my singing because even though I’ve been on this tour, my performance experience is quite limited and I’ve only been singing really professionally for about three years, so I still have a lot of work to do, like confidence level and my range, etc., but I have a great support system around me that makes me feel like I can do it.
Smitty: Yes, this is a great band I must add, and would you deliver a message for me?
SM: Say what?
Smitty: Would you deliver a message for me?
Smitty: Would you tell Guido Basso that I said that he is one bad boy.
SM: Yeah, he is a bad boy. He’s one of Canada’s leading musicians. He’s amazing, oh yeah.
Smitty: Hey, what great work on this record with the Harmonica! Wow.
SM: The band that I’m working with right now is actually not the same band from the record. They are better, believe it or not.
SM: Yeah, yeah. We jell so well, me and these guys. They’re like beyond unbelievable musicians that add such a fresh energy to this music, it’s awesome.
Smitty: So are you coming south?
SM: Yeah, this summer we’re gonna be touring in various places in The States, more details to follow, I guess, on my Web site, but yeah, there’s gonna be an American tour. I had my roomies at Joe’s Pub in New York, which was awesome. Seriously, I couldn’t have expected such a great reaction, so whenever we can get down south, we will.
Smitty: Joe’s Pub, what a great place, huh?
SM: Yeah, it was awesome, it was totally awesome, and the crazy thing is that I had completely lost my voice and had laryngitis right before I had to come down, and I was so stressed out and I was crying backstage and everything, but as soon as I went up there and I saw those two hundred smiling faces in that little club….
SM: my adrenaline just pulled me through. It was a really an awesome response from the audience and I’m very, very grateful for that.
Smitty: Wow. Well, we certainly look forward to you coming south and doing some shows in the U.S., and it will certainly be a beautiful thing.
SM: I am too, very much so. It’s the cradle of jazz music. What can I say?
Smitty: Yeah, the cradle, yes indeed.
SM: It was really a great honor for me…. going down and making my little contribution.
Smitty: Yes. Speaking of contributions, talk about your association with Bill King and what he’s contributed to your career.
SM: Bill actually was the one that gave me my first gig, and he kind of sent me out at a time when, I knew songs but I didn’t have any charts, I had no idea as a performer how to sing or how to sound sync in, and he did all of that for me. I went over to his house and I’d sing a song and he’d write out a chart and transpose it into my key and those first few performances together, he’d count in the cues and he’d tell me when to come in and when to stop singing, and I really rely on him a lot and he was very instrumental in making this album, he produced half of it and, a lot of my career I owe to him. And the second producer is Danny Greenspoon and I left him when I was recording the album, but he was really amazing too. He was the second producer. Our stuff was a little later than the ones with Bill, and with Danny I just felt really comfortable in the studio and he really helped me find my voice, so I really owe a lot of gratitude to both those guys.
Smitty: Yeah, absolutely. Great guys.
SM: They’re great.
Smitty: Well, I love this album, the whole layout, and the street date was March 21 right?
SM: Yeah. A few days ago.
Smitty: Yeah, a couple days ago.
Smitty: Are you excited?
SM: Very excited.
SM: Smitty, I was like seriously bursting with excitement. It’s so much fun; I can’t believe that it’s being released in The States and soon in Japan as well. It’s just amazing. Seriously, I never expected such a response and I just feel so incredibly lucky.
Smitty: You’re to be congratulated because this is one fantastic project from start to finish.
SM: Oh, thank you.
Smitty: And the artwork, I love the artwork.
SM: Thank you. Well, I wish I could take credit for it, but I was really active and really involved in the entire project from start to finish on obviously, the recording and the picking of the material and the singing and, well, the artwork too. This was very important for me, that it will be a real art presentation of who I am. And I think it comes across that way. I’m very happy with it, of course. My first effort in the music business.
Smitty: Yeah. So that fans in the U.S. and around the world can catch up on what you’re doing and what you’re going to be doing in the future and some history, give me your Web site.
SM: My Web site is www.sophiemilman.com.
Smitty: All right, very cool, so your fans as well as others can log on and get the whole 411 on Sophie Milman.
SM: The 411.
Smitty: Sophie, it has been such a pleasure to talk with you.
SM: Thank you so much Smitty.
Smitty: Yeah, and to listen to this great record. I think this record fits every occasion, it has such a warm feel, and it’s got that sophisticated vibe, and it’s got that sort of breaking out vibe to it, and it’s just got so many diverse layers of music, and I just love this record.
SM: Good for you. Thank you, it means so much. And that’s how I tried to make it, because it was my first effort and I didn’t really know what I sounded like, and it was my first time in the studio. I just wanted to take my favorite songs, the favorites that they are, and to show people all my influences, and I think it was a wise choice because really a lot of people have connected to it, so I really appreciate you saying that.
Smitty: You’re so welcome. Let’s get this right, your label is Linus right.
SM: Yeah, my label in Canada here is Linus Entertainment. And in Canada we’re distributed by Universal and in the States by Koch and in Japan by JVC.
Smitty: Very cool, wow.
Smitty: So you’ve got the world captured by your great voice.
SM: (Laughing.) You know it, we’re taking over. I’m spreading my tentacles!
Smitty: (Both laughing.) Very cool. Well, Sophie, I look forward to seeing you in The States very soon and I’ll swing up to Canada and catch a show.
SM: I would love to see you.
Smitty: Yes indeed. In fact, I have a friend up there I need to visit anyway in Toronto, so I’ll get up there and I will catch a show and we’ll talk some more about this great record, huh?
SM: Yeah, I’d love that. Thank you so much, Smitty.
Smitty: You’re so welcome. We’ve been talking with the lovely and so talented Ms Sophie Milman. She has a great new project, her debut released, self-titled. I highly recommend this wonderful project. Sophie, once again, please let’s talk some more and keep making great music, my friend.
SM: Thank you so much, Smitty.
Baldwin “Smitty” Smith
For More Information Visit www.sophiemilman.com or www.linusentertainment.com
© May 2006 Jazz Monthly LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED