In a sentimental mood |

In a sentimental mood

Sophie Milman turns pop culture standards into nostalgic jazz gems

Margaret Hair

Steamboat Springs — Jazz vocalist Sophie Milman doesn't write music, but that doesn't mean each song she performs is not very much her own. — Jazz vocalist Sophie Milman doesn't write music, but that doesn't mean each song she performs is not very much her own.

— Jazz vocalist Sophie Milman doesn’t write music, but that doesn’t mean each song she performs is not very much her own.

“The songs are songs that, if I wrote music, I would write myself,” Milman said of the track listing for her latest record, which features compositions from jazz standards to Stevie Wonder and The Guess Who.

On Thursday, the Russian-born, 24-year-old international jazz sensation will return to Steamboat Springs to perform an intimate set for the Strings in the Mountains Holiday Gala Concert.

Milman’s voice is grounded in contemporary jazz, but is shaded with echoes of lighter-voiced greats. She doesn’t belt, but as a performer, Milman is unmistakably present throughout her set, crafting songs that were meant for novelty – “(It’s Not Easy) Bein’ Green” – or classic rock, such as “Undun,” into torch-worthy standards.

For her holiday concert, Milman said she is looking forward to doing a full show with only her piano player as accompaniment.

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“It’s going to be nice to explore something quieter. Everybody takes it a little easier. You can still change your energy, but it’s different energy,” Milman said. “I’d say it’s more of a challenge to do that convincingly.”

Whether she’s playing with a full band or just a piano, Milman maintains her relationship with the other musicians on stage as swing era jazz vocalists would – her voice is just another instrument, not the only star in the show.

To explain that balance, Milman refers to a review of a recent performance at Toronto’s Massey Hall.

“The review was that I don’t make it all about me, and I’m really glad that they said that, because, really, that’s the point of the show,” she said.

“Yes, I’m the singer and the show – it’s the Sophie Milman Band and it’s my record, etc., etc. – but I really foster a strong closeness with these kinds of musicians and give them a lot of solos,” she said.

Jazz is all about the interplay of the instruments on stage and the personal characteristics of the people playing them. Putting all the attention on just one performer squanders that connection, she said.

“I could stand there and just sing, but it’s not going to be as fun for me, or the musicians, or the audience,” Milman said.

As for her second record, “Make Someone Happy” – which came out in August and earned a No. 4 spot on the Billboard jazz charts – Milman said she considers it her “real debut.”

“The songs are pretty much songs that tell my life story,” she said. “Nothing is put on the record for no reason. Lyrically, I connect with every single tune on the record, and musically, these songs are nostalgic where they bring up emotion in me.”

The most personal of those songs is “(It’s Not Easy) Bein’ Green,” made famous by Kermit the Frog.

“‘Bein’ Green’ is pretty much my entire life story,” Milman said, referring to her family’s move from Russia to Israel when she was 7, and then to Canada when she

was 16.

“I was always a little bit of an outcast because of the immigrations and the personality I have,” she said. “And I said, ‘Man, this can be my anthem?'”

More than that, Milman said “Make Someone Happy” shows her development as both a musician and a person, and the title mirrors that maturation.

“‘Make Someone Happy,’ which is the title track, sort of describes the last three years of my life,” she said. “I was both a student and a singer and a daughter and a girlfriend, and I wore all these hats.

“We try to be all things to all people, and I realized that I can’t do that. I need to do what makes me happy, and the process of the record was very therapeutic.”