Chicago Music Guide recently featured
jazz vocalist and artist Solitaire Miles. Readers are encouraged to "listen to her sing," and that's exactly what I did. The article includes a video of Miles singing the song "I'm Beginning to See the Light " live at The Jazz Showcase in Chicago.
After watching the video, and listening to her sing, I began to see the light. For quite some time, Miles has been a Facebook friend of mine and I always enjoy reading her posts. But, I am embarrassed to admit, because I'm not a fan of jazz, I had not taken the time to listen to the music videos she would post. I am ever so glad that I saw the light and remedied my error in judgement. One does not have to be a fan of jazz to truly enjoy Miles' work.
Subsequently, I learned that Miles has released three jazz albums to date. Miles released a self-titled album in 2006 and her second album, called Born to Be Blue
, was released in 2010 and features the great Chicago musicians Willie Pickens, Art Davis and Marlene Rosenberg with vocals by Miles. A song from that album, "Baltimore Oriole," is featured in the video above. At the cdbaby site
, one can listen to previews of all of the songs on the album.
Miles' third album, Melancholy Lullaby
, was released in 2011. At the Solitaire Miles
website is where I learned more both about that album and Miles herself. Still, I wanted to learn more about Miles and jazz music so I requested an interview and she graciously agreed.
As a jazz music novice, I did not know exactly what it meant when I kept reading about Miles' performing "swing" music. Hence, my first question: Would you explain "swing"?
Miles, 45, replied:
Swing was a form of popular music that evolved as a fusion of African American jazz and white Sweet Band styles of the 1920's and 1930's. It became popular with bands like the Chick Webb Orchestra or the Benny Goodman Orchestra in the mid to late 1930's. It was considered dance music at first. Swing uses a strong rhythm section of bass and drums as the anchor for a lead section of brass instruments such as trumpets and trombones, woodwinds including saxophones and clarinets, with medium to fast tempos. The name swing came from the phrase ‘swing feel’ where the emphasis is on the off–beat or weaker pulse in the music (unlike classical music). Swing bands usually featured singers and soloists who would improvise on the melody over the arrangement. Great swing singers include Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey and Helen Forrest.
I also asked Miles to talk about her creative process, and she replied:
My creative process is influenced by my training as an artist and illustrator. I illustrate book covers and advertisements for a living, and much of it is themed work, like I have to tell a story with a composition, so that when someone looks at the book cover or the ad they get an idea about what the story is going to be, or what I'm selling. I try to pick songs that tell a story as well, and when I am putting together a set list for a gig or an song list for an album, I try to put it together with a theme in mind, so that the whole piece tells a story. I have a musical theater background as well, and there is a definite structure to the great American musical... from the opening number, to the first ballad and story set up, to the big number before the intermission and the finale... it's all set up to bring the listener up and down, in and out of the story of the show. I try to structure my song sets and albums like this, so that the listener is taken on a little trip with me, and experiences highs and lows along the way. For example, I will never put two ballads next to each other, because it might seem too heavy or too boring to the listener. I try to sprinkle a good amount of uptempo and medium tempo tunes in between the slow ones to keep the set moving. I also try to have some biographical information about the songs I sing in performance, so that the listener gets to learn who wrote the song, when it was written and who first performed it. Jazz and Swing are a big part of our American heritage, and so I try to give a little history with each song as well.
When I record a song, it takes a little while to work it out with the band. I usually pick tunes that are unusual, and not done a lot, because nobody wants to hear another version of "Embraceable You". I pay a lot of attention to melody and chord changes, and not always to lyrics, so I've recorded some silly ditties like "Midnight Blue" or "Melancholy Lullaby" which have some mundane lyrics, but very fun tempos, melodies and changes. I like a well written lyric, but my ear usually goes for the changes first, lyrics second. I like finding oddball tunes that not everyone records, and polishing them up and giving them new life. I am at my happiest when I can find a great tune that stumps my arrangers Neil Alger, Willie Pickens and Dennis Luxion.
The article in the Chicago Music Guide states that "Solitaire comes from a swinging bloodline," and provides a bit of Miles' background to back-up that statement. And, because of the album title Born to Be Blue
, I asked Miles if she was born to sing Jazz/Swing?
"I don't know if I was born to sing Jazz and Swing," said Miles, "but my Grandmother was a professional Jazz and Swing singer in the early 1940's, and I grew up from age two listening to her play piano and sing, and she started teaching me tunes as soon as I was able to speak, and encouraged me to become a singer. Her sister and her daughter, my aunts, are also professional singers and if you could put us all in a room and make us sing the same song you wouldn't know from which singer the sound was coming from, because we all have the same exact tone, pitch and phrasing. I guess it's called genetics!"
Miles told me that her Born to Be Blue
album has been the most "popular," so I asked her why Born to Be Blue
might appeal to a broader audience (those who may not have Jazz/Swing on the top of their play lists)?
I think BTBB appeals to a broader audience because mainly there is good playing on it, and it's fun to listen to. When we went into the studio, most of the players really liked the tunes I picked, and I gave them a lot of freedom to take solos and improvise so that they were having lighthearted fun while recording and that crosses over to the listener. I think the tunes are well chosen because they aren't too serious, and are very melodic and very expressive. I also made great lunch buffets for the musicians, and I stuffed them full of good home cooking during each session and nothing makes musicians happier than a good feed, and you can hear that in their playing as well! When you have fun recording music, the listener can hear the joy! Also BTBB has a lot of really well written tunes on it, featuring "Born to Be Blue" and "Baltimore Oriole" which are classics written by some great American Songwriters...Mel Torme and Hoagy Carmichael. It doesn't get any better than that. It also has a period feeling, with most of the tunes taken from the late 1930's and early 1940's, and we tried to be as authentic in representing the sound of that era as possible. Trumpeter Art Davis really sounds like the players from the late 1930's, he doesn't play with a modern pop style. I tried to keep my phrasing close to the style of the singers of that period too, and that really comes across on the recording, making it unique in today's pop influenced market.
Miles said that she is working on another album "right now, but it won't be out for another year or so." In the meantime, though, for fans new, like me, and old, Miles' recordings are available for download and sale on her website
, and she will be performing live in Chicago and New York.
Upcoming performance dates and locations in Chicago include Katerina's
on Wednesday, February 20th and at The Jazz Showcase
on Wednesday, April 3rd. The performance at Katerina's is called "Solitaire Miles Quartet: A Birthday Jazz Party" because that day is, in fact, Miles' birthday. In addition, Miles will be performing in New York City in April. The exact dates have not been set, as yet, but Miles said she will perform at "the Iridium in NYC with saxophonist Houston Person."