LITTLE LADY WITH A BIG, BEAUTIFUL VOICE

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

January 25, 2018

There are many descriptions of the voice that pours out of this 5’ 3” little lady. For me, her voice is sweet as honey and spicy as cayenne. It soothes you, while caressing the lyrics with tender, emotional touches. But it can bite deep and inspire you to move and dance. Andrea Miller is unique in both style and presentation. She doesn’t sound like anyone in particular, except herself, and that’s a good thing. Ms. Miller has developed her own sound, which is the sign of a great artist. I recently had the opportunity to interview Andrea about her life, her music and her history. While young in the business, she has garnered a string of very impressive accomplishments.

Andrea Miller: “I was born and raised in Salem, Oregon and my parents still live there in the house where I grew up. It’s probably a population of 160,000-plus people. It has a real small- town feel.

“I come from a very musical family, especially on my dad’s side of the family. Both of his parents were music teachers. His dad (George Miller) taught band and his mom, my grandma, (Vona Miller) was a choir teacher. My dad majored in music and he taught high school band at Prineville High school in Oregon for probably the first five years of my life. My brother and I were both little kids and dad was only making about $6 an hour. My mom was a stay-at-home wife and wasn’t working. I remember we ate our cereal breakfast with orange juice, because we couldn’t afford milk. He (dad) got offered a job to move from Prineville to Salem to be an Equitable Life Insurance salesman. Dad took the job and worked his way up to management and stayed with them for the next thirty-five years. But he never stopped playing music. He was a clarinet player and a saxophone player. The clarinet was his main instrument. He played first chair clarinet in the Salem Concert Band and he did that for years.

“My brother is also a musician. He’s a wonderful piano player. He makes his living doing that, teaching music at two different schools in Oregon. He lives there with his wife. He currently has 57 students. Most of them are little kids.”

I asked Andrea what kind of music she listened to as a youth in Oregon.

“On the weekends we had chores and we’d clean the house and vacuum; do the work we were assigned to do. My dad would blast the record player and he would play Benny Goodman, Erroll Garner’s “Concert by the Sea” album and “Rhapsody in Blue.” I heard those albums being played pretty much every weekend. So, I grew up listening to jazz. My dad also made sure he exposed me, at a very early age, to Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones. Yes, I got a lot of really good musical tastes from my dad. He tells this story about when I was maybe five-years-old and it was Christmas time. I was sitting on the couch in the family room with him and I was singing “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”, perfectly in tune and with vibrato. The story goes, he turned to my mom and says, ‘honey – I think we have a singer on our hands.’

“Mom said, ‘Oh all kids sing.’ But my dad recognized my talent that early.

“When I was twelve, I got cast in the Children’s Theater and I was singing in my grade school choir. At twelve-years-old, I got cast as Annie in a big production that was in a neighboring town. I starred in that musical and it ran for two weeks. In the audience, one night, was my future voice teacher. OMG – she’s an angel and she’s still around. Her name is Dr. Myra Brand. She came up to me after the show and offered to be my mentor. She said, if this is something you’d like to do, I’d like to help cultivate your voice and teach you how to sing properly and breathe correctly. I teach opera. My mom asked me, do you want to do it? I said yep. So, every Saturday morning, around eleven-o-clock, we’d drive over to Dr. Brand’s house and I would get my one-hour lesson. I studied opera from age twelve to seventeen with Dr. Myra Brand. I learned how to sing properly, how to breathe. She was just a wonderful teacher, a beautiful spirit and a kind person. She taught me a lot about music but also about being a good person.

“But with opera, it’s all about hitting the mark and there’s not room for a lot of improvisation. I later became really interested in pursuing jazz.”

However, it took time for Andrea Miller to become a jazz vocalist. In the 90’s, she graduated her Oregon high school, winning a grant and a scholarship to attend USC. She had to audition, as well as having a good GPA score. It’s noteworthy that Andrea is not only talented, she’s smart too! For the next four years, she applied those ‘smarts’ as part of the Bachelor of Fine Arts Program in Theater at the prestigious University of Southern California. Her scholarship only lasted two years, but Andrea is resourceful. She knew how to pinch pennies. It took her fifteen years to pay her college debt off, but she told me proudly, I finally did it.

Andrea Miller: “I always wanted to pursue the arts. I quickly realized, within about a year after graduating from college, that it wasn’t acting that was in my heart and soul. My passion was singing. I said to myself, you know what? I’m going to be a singer. I’m going to drop the head shots and the audition calls to pursue my music.

“When I first started singing it was definitely more pop music. I was writing my own songs and collaborating with writers. I was kind of doing the singer/songwriter, coffee house scene. I had my little demo of original songs. Next, I really got into R&B and I was doing a lot of session work. After a while, I got bored. I reminded myself of my days singing opera and the really challenging singing that I used to do. I just kind of got tired of “Ooo baby baby” type songs. That was in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. At that time, I loved Mary J. Blige, Lauren Hill and Erykah Badu. I think Erykah Badu was the closest thing to what I was trying to do. I just got a little frustrated and I kind of plateaued.

“It was Drama-Logue magazine that brought about a change. I had a subscription to it. I was really bored one night and I looked at the back of the magazine at a little blurb advertising ‘Open Mic’ night at The Money Tree.” (a local Los Angeles County restaurant and bar). “Everything changed in 2001 when I walked into The Money Tree. That was my changing moment. That night I met Eddie Olivieri on piano, drummer, Frank Wilson and bassist, Clarence Robinson.

“When I was fourteen, my mom and dad got me the 3-tape cassette package of Linda Ronstadt with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. There were maybe 30 songs that she sang. I learned all of them. I listened to those tapes over and over. I still have those cassettes. So, from learning those standard jazz songs, I knew (the Thelonius Monk composition), ‘Round Midnight. When I walked into The Money Tree, I signed my name on the sign-up sheet and when they called me to the bandstand, they asked me what song I was going to sing. I said, ‘Round Midnight. They said, are you sure? I said yes. After that, I started going in there every Tuesday.

“I was practicing and recording my songs at home with these pre-recorded back-up tapes. I was sharing my practice tapes with Frank Wilson (the drummer) and he kind of took me under his wing. He taught me how to ‘trade fours’ and how to sing a line and how people come back in after the musician’s solo. He just guided me. He suggested songs I should learn and the little practice tapes I was giving him, he passed on to a guy named Stephen Boyd, who’s a producer and a pianist. So, Stephen offered to invest and musically produce an album called ‘Perfect Day.’ They played three cuts of it on KJZZ. (KJAZZ is the local Los Angeles 24-hour jazz station).
“One thing led to another and I got my first chance to record a jazz album. We had the late bassist, Bob Maize, on that session. We did that record in 2003 or 2004. Next, I had to figure out how to quit my day job. I was a secretary full time. So, I ended up getting a roommate and sleeping on my living room floor and giving the roommate my bedroom. Consequently, I was able to save up, over a nine-month period, four-thousand dollars. Then I quit my job as a secretary and started doing three nights a week in Korea Town for forty-dollars a show.”
(laughter).

“But I knew I had to start somewhere. Everything has kind of been growing from that moment when I walked into the Money Tree and knew I wanted to be a jazz singer. There’s never any ending point to artistry. You just keep growing. That’s why I love it so much.”

Andrea Miller’s love for music and jazz has opened many doors for her. She shared an amazing experience with me about working with the famous songwriting team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman and singing an Ennio Morricone composition.

Ennio Morricone is a famous Italian composer, orchestrator, trumpet player and an iconic conductor. He is heralded as one of the most experimental, influential and versatile composers of our time. From 1946 to present, he’s composed over 500 scores for both cinema and television. Mr. Morricone also composes classical works. His music has been part of the soundtracks of over 70 award-winning films. In 2006, Ennio Morricone was working on a tribute album featuring many of his favorite compositions written for film. He had one song that needed lyrics, so he asked Alan and Marilyn Bergman if they would write lyrics for his song. It was titled, “I Knew I Loved You.”

At one point, (as a ‘day job’), Andrea Miller was assisting a concert promoter who was booking celebrity artists all over the world. One of his artists was popular singer, Celine Dion. That promoter travelled to China during a promotional tour with Celine Dion. It just so happened that Ennio Morricone wanted Celine Dion to sing his song for which Alan and Marilyn Bergman had just penned the lyrics. They needed a demo of that song and Andrea’s employer said he knew the perfect person. The next thing the talented, young singer knew, her phone rang and Alan and Marilyn Bergman were on the other end of the line.

The Bergman’s came to Stephen Boyd’s studio in California’s Valley area of Los Angeles county. There, they met Andrea Miller for the first time. That beginning demo session led to her meeting the great arranger/producer, David Foster, who contributed to finishing the project. Finally, it was ready for Celine Dion to hear. The result was that Celine recorded Mr. Morricone’s beautiful song, using Andrea’s vocal demo as a melodic guide.

The icing on the cake was when Ms. Miller’s boss got her tickets to Celine Dion’s Las Vegas show. Full of excitement about a trip to Las Vegas, seeing the show and meeting Celine Dion in-person, Andrea never expected she would also meet the great producer/arranger, Quincy Jones. You never know who you’ll meet in the entertainment business. But everything doesn’t always fall into perfect place.

For example, one of her first recording experiences was a job called “Betsy Bunny”.

Andrea Miller: “I think it was one of the first sessions I did and I didn’t have a lot of experience. I was only paid $100 and they wanted me to sing some lines from the Bunny Hop. You know, put your right foot in, put your right foot out, put your right foot in and you shake it all about …,” she sang and we laughed out loud.

Andrea was told the session was for a key chain line of bunny’s, but later she discovered that her voice became the vocals inside a stuffed bunny that was marketed widely in America.

Another studio experience she remembers with joy was the “Look to the Sky” session. It happened in 2016. Producer/artist, Eric Wyatt, was a fan of her voice and invited her to perform with him at the Brooklyn Academy of Music after she told him she would be visiting New York. He was recording a new album and asked her if she would perform “My Favorite Things” with him. Of course, she said yes!

Another unusual session was for the Samsung company. She’s recorded three different ‘ring tones’ for that phone corporation. This session proceeded in an unusual way. The Korean producers produced it via Skype. Andrea remembers they demanded of her, “More energy! More energy!” while she was singing the hook, “If you’re gonna make your move, just do it.” She laughed telling me it was the first time she had been produced long-distance, from another country, via Skype.

I asked her what tips she could offer hopeful singers who want to break into studio session work.

Andrea Miller: “Well, I suppose you probably want to have a demo of some sort that you can show or share with perspective clients. I used to travel around with my demo’s and my bio package. I kind of got my session work word of mouth. Someone gave me references. But I would say, in order to keep the job, if you get that kind of opportunity, if your session starts at 1pm, get there at 12:45 and be completely warmed up by one. Bring a bottle of water. Be familiar with the song and be prepared. Be prompt. Be flexible and have a good attitude. Be willing to take direction. When you’re hired to sing something, that person has a special vision of what they want to hear. Be open to taking their direction.”

This writer might add that most studio session singers can read music. The ones who make the most money and get the most calls are those who can read charts. Remember that Ms. Miller has a degree in music and theater.

Other outstanding experiences Andrea Miller has had include her performance with the Salt Lake City Orchestra.

“That was very rewarding,” she told me. “When you sing with specific orchestrated charts, you experience a different kind of nervousness. Unlike working with a trio or quartet, there’s little room for improvisational freedom. That means there’s no room for screwing up!”

Her other great achievement was becoming the opening act for the late, great Al Jarreau in 2016. His manager and his band were so supportive of her talent that they immediately signed her up to become Al’s opening act for an upcoming international tour planned for 2018. Al Jarreau himself spoke about his initial introduction to the little lady with the big, beautiful voice.

“As my countdown to the stage got smaller and smaller, I started to hear some marvelous music coming from the stage, floating through my dressing room window. Our opening act was a brilliant, young singer named Andrea Miller. The whole band was impressed with her song selection, with her bandmates, arrangements and her jazz sensibilities. I enjoyed listening to the little bit I got to hear and the band enjoyed their even closer look,” Al recalled their initial meeting.

Andrea, along with all of us in the jazz world and beyond, became stunned when the great singer/songwriter, Al Jarreau, passed away on February 12, 2017.

This year is starting out fresh and flush with possibilities. Andrea Miller has an engagement in Miami, Florida where she is one of the top finalists in the Conquer Entertainment Talent Contest on February 2, 2018. On the seventeeth of February, she will headline with her jazz group at the Newport Beach Jazz Party in California. On May 25th she’ll be a featured LACMA entertainer and in late Spring, she’ll be recording in Chicago, Illinois for the second time with Michael Cunningham.

Wherever you see her name on the marquee, I invite you to treat yourself to an evening of amazing vocal jazz.

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