Operatic training from ages 12-17 gave her the platform to sing correctly without damaging her voice, and now Andrea Miller is singing sultry torch songs at clubs and festivals all around the country. Her newest CD, Maybe Today, is musical alchemy, artfully blending her talents with those of pianist and songwriter Michael Cunningham.
You always wanted to sing, or be an instrumentalist?
Sing, from day one. My dad tells the story of when I was five years old and already singing perfectly in tune with vibrato on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” I then went onto singing in school choirs, talent shows and studying opera.
At one point in my 20’s I played guitar for a couple years, and I also took 4 years of piano lessons as a kid, but nothing stuck like singing.
What gave you the push to decide on this career?
A wonderful bassist and friend, Ryan Cross, was talking to me at a great jazz club in LA called Charlie O’s. At the time, I had a day job and was juggling singing at night.
I envied that he was playing jazz bass for a living and he respectfully challenged me and said “Well, what’s stopping you from doing the same? Figure it out!”
I always love a challenge, and had honestly not thought of it that way. So I got a roommate who shared the cost of rent for nine months. I slept on my living room floor and gave them my bedroom for those nine months. When that time was up I had saved up $4,000 (which was the total of their rent), and I quit my day job. It gave me some breathing room financially until I got steady gigs going.
Was your family always supportive?
From day one, yes! My parents and my brother are all my best friends. I earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from USC in Theater, but my parents always encouraged me to follow my dream.
Within one year out of college, I quickly learned I had no desire to be an actor or to be part of Hollywood. I was very grateful I could sing and pursued that only, and never looked back.
Come from a musical family?
Yes! My dad played both clarinet and saxophone non-professionally until his late 60’s. My older brother is a marvelous pianist and bassist. He also plays guitar and saxophone, but piano is his real gift. He was brilliant very early on as a child on piano. My Mom has rhythm! She supports us all and loves music.
How do you take care of your voice?
I don’t smoke and drink very minimal alcohol. Also, I avoid dairy products and soda prior to singing or especially recording. I pretty much only drink water.
One thing I’ve learned is to never sing with a bad throat. You can do damage to your voice and also prolong the time it takes to get better. It’s often frustrating to turn down gigs, but protecting my voice is more important.
AXS said you did “Cry Me A River” with just the right amount of everything. How does a singer keep from overdoing a torch song like that?
Experience…I find singing heartfelt ballads (which I think are my specialty) you have to have lived some actual heartache to know how it feels. You can’t just sing the words and not interpret their meaning. When you utilize your own sense of melodic phrasing and style, you make that song your own.
I’ve found the older I get the more simply I sing the song…no need for excessive vocal gymnastics. Just sing from my heart and whatever comes out is the most natural.
Your favorite venue?
I love singing at The Elsinore Theater in Salem, Oregon. It’s a beautiful historical theater in my hometown. I grew up there watching movies on the big screen. In 2010 and 2012, I had the honor of singing there with the Salem Pops Orchestra, a 64-piece ensemble. It just feels so good to sing on that very special stage out to the audience (which includes two balconies).
Do you have the same personnel in your band as you tour?
I sometimes travel with musicians that I know and have worked with, but usually I work with players who live in the city that the concert is in. For example, I just headlined the Salt Lake City Jazz Festival and sang with the 17-piece big band there.
When I used to open for the legendary Al Jarreau, I played with his band.
I just did a private gig in Miami last month and worked with a wonderful pianist there, Jim Gasior. I work most closely on a local level in California with Ron Kobayashi, Paul Kreibich, Ron Eschete, Mike Levan, Bradley Young, Mark Lebrun, Luther Hughes, Kris Berry, David Enos, Mike Peak and many others.
Who are some of the artists you’ve enjoyed working with?
I certainly enjoyed working with Al Jarreau. He was both a talent and teacher and simply a bright light of joy to be around.
I also enjoyed opening for Vincent Ingala in Florida last year. Llew Matthews is a pianist who truly taught me the most about phrasing and musicality and the beauty of it all. He was Nancy Wilson’s musical director for 30 years. I also had the pleasure of performing in New York with saxophonist Eric Wyatt, and I will be appearing on his upcoming album releasing later this year on Whaling Sound Records.
Where will you tour for the rest of 2017?
I just returned from headlining the Utah Arts Festival and the Salt Lake City Jazz Festival in Utah. I also did a great private concert in Miami last month. I will be headlining with the Peak Experience Jazz Ensemble on December 5th at the Barclay Theater in Irvine, CA. I also headlined with this group earlier this year at the Newport Beach Jazz Party Concert Series.
What’s the inspiration behind the CD “Maybe Today”?
The album is a collection of original songs and some arrangements of standards all done by songwriter and pianist Michael Cunningham. Michael found me on Facebook a few years ago and hired me to record a couple of his songs. We really hit it off musically so we decided to do an entire album.
It was recorded over two years in both Los Angeles and Chicago.
The name is actually one of the title tracks from the album. It’s one of Michael’s original pieces, and is a song about longing and the possibility of love between two people.
Your favorite track on it and why?
By far my favorite track is “I’m Afraid the Masquerade is Over.” It’s a haunting ballad filled with very emotional lyrics that I have actually lived through. The melody is one of the best ever.
This particular arrangement features an orchestral string section and wonderful musicians from Chicago. It’s currently receiving national airplay. Originally it was recorded by Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley.
Places you have always wanted to perform that you have not yet?
London and Paris!!!
How would you characterize your voice?
Soulful, sensual, sassy and emotional. The words I hear the most when people describe my voice are “beautiful” and “angelic” and “like a bird.”
I’m a natural soprano, but enjoy using my mezzo and alto ranges. I have a lot of top-range notes that I don’t really utilize too much.
I just know that I sing from the heart and soul.
What is the jazz scene like where you live?
Unfortunately, very sparse. I live in Orange Country, CA about an hour south of Los Angeles. We used to have two to three jazz clubs here, but now we honestly have one.
I am fortunate enough to sing three to four nights a week at a very upscale restaurant when I’m not touring, but for a “jazz scene” we currently don’t have one where I live.
I just finished recording a new 6-song EP with Ron Kobayashi, David Enos and Kris Berry which we will release in October. This month I’m flying to Utah to record a 5-song EP with the Salt Lake City Jazz Orchestra of standards arranged by Henry Wolking.
Lastly, I’m going into the studio next month to record a duo album with the legendary guitarist Ron Eschete. Lots of exciting projects!
I hope to get a record deal, an agent and a manager. So far, I have done everything by myself.
For more information, visit www.andreamillersings.com.
Photo courtesy of and with permission from the artist, and is ©JFC.
© Debbie Burke 2017