Primary Instrument: Vocalist
Sophie Milman was born twenty years ago in the Ural Mountains in the heart of Russia. Her family suffered through many personal hardships, lack of freedoms and repression. When the Berlin wall fell making it possible for them to leave, the family emigrated, were stripped of their Russian citizenship, and settled in Israel with a few dollars in their pockets, some Russian paintings, boxes of Russian books and some old jazz vinyl records. Although very young, memories of Russia, especially of her grandfather who was cantor at the their local synagogue, and Russian folk songs would have a profound influence on her.
Sophie Milman’s formative years were spent growing up in Israel. Her first musical stage experience was participating in a very children’s show called “Festigal” • young singers were featured covering many of the pop tunes popular at the time. Thousands of kids were auditioned all over the country and ten were chosen. She was part of the ten and toured with the show all over Israel. “Israel has affected me greatly. Life there gave me a totally different spin on the world. Once I managed to master the language and stopped feeling like an outsider, I made some wonderful friends. The endless security problem in that part of the world makes people very close, strong and intense. A big part of my personality, values and social sensibilities were formed there.”
Israel is where Sophie started listening to Jazz intensively. Mahelia Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, the Platters, Stevie Wonder, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles; American music and especially the voices and sounds of African American musicians were her favourites. “The last few years of our stay there were amazing. Finally, I was content and felt that I have found my place in the world, so to speak. Then, at the age of 15, I found out that I had to be uprooted once again.”
“The move to Canada was a huge culture shock once again. I had already gotten accustomed to Middle Eastern temperaments and the Canadian social dynamic was very hard to get used to. For the second time in my life I had to start over: learn the language (I started in English as a Second Language Class) and find a social niche. However, it was after my move here, in grade 10 that I could finally express my love and appreciation for jazz. Linda Kreiner, my music teacher, gave me a solo on the music night about a month after the move. From that point on, for the rest of high school, I had lived from one music night to the other. Music gave me a sense of achievement, comfort and turned Canada from a foreign place into home. I love Toronto. I love the fact that you can find every type of music in this city: Funk, blues, latin, klezmer, swing, avant-garde jazz, cabaret and classical music, which I also love very much. We have awesome jazz musicians, a killer symphonic orchestra and a lovely opera company. I love Toronto’s openness to new styles and ideas. It creates such an eclectic and rich musical and cultural palette.”
Although Sophie always loved to sing, her professional career as a singer came about quite accidentally.
“Someone had told me that a man named Bill King was hosting a program called Real Divas at a local club, and that I should go in and sing a song. I went, sang a couple of songs, and got a great response from the crowd. Bill was very nice and asked me to come back the following week. A few days later, he called me and told me he wanted to book me for a gig. The week following my first gig, Bill took me to perform on City TV’s Breakfast Television and got me to sing at the release of the real Diva CD that same night, which was fabulous. It snowballed from there. TVO did a piece on me. Two gigs later Geoff Kulawick from Linus Entertainment came down to hear me sing, liked what he heard and offered me a recording contract.”
Plans for recording were started, with Bill King producing eight songs, and Danny Greenspoon four.
“We had just picked out the songs and I had a rehearsal with Bill King at his house a few days before the first recording session. When I walked into Inception Sound Studio, Bill was already there. So were Pat Labarbera, Rig Schwagger, Davide DiRenzo. All these fabulous players and I wasn’t sure if I was going to measure up. But everyone really put me at ease. Bill's arrangements were beautiful, the guys played their hearts out. It was wonderful working with Bill. Not only is he a monster player and producer, but he’s also extremely supportive and encouraging of young artists. Over the past few years, he has become my musical parent: he was the one who discovered me and gave me my first break.....musically, he probably knows me better than anyone else, and it was an honour to have him produce this album.”
“Danny Greenspoon was fabulous. We decided to take a different, funkier approach on the songs that he produced. It was on these sessions that I started realizing what it is I want as a singer. My voice control improved immensely, as well as my ability to use a variety of colours and textures in my singing. Danny came up with some beautiful arrangements, and also used amazing players , including John Sheard, Artie Roth, Guido Basso, Rob Pilch, Phil Dwyer, Marc Rogers , Alan Hetherington, and Steve McDade. At this point, I was no longer intimidated, but was eager to learn anything I could from these incredible musicians. Working with such fantastic producers and musicians was inspiring, and I feel I've grown both as an artist and as a person.
The songs on the album include popular standards, undiscovered jazz gems, and original contemporary compositions that were selected by Sophie and the Executive Producer for the Linus label, Geoff Kulawick, along with the album producers.
“I recorded Agua De Beber because I love the sound and feel of the Brazilian samba. The simple sounds, the beautiful melodies and the rhythm totally appealed to me. Guilty, originally recorded by Billie Holiday, is a timeless song about unrequited love. You can hear the heartbreak and the hurt in the chord changes and the lyrics. La Vie en Rose is the quintessential love song. One really does see life through rose coloured spectacles when in love. I recorded this song out of respect for this innocent concept of “love”, out of my love for Edith Piaf and everything she represents and out of my lifelong passion for anything French. Back Home to Me is a new original song by two UK based songwriters that my Executive Producer presented to me. Danny arranged the song beautifully. I was always fascinated by how you can get a glimpse of the vulnerability and sensitivity of a relationship through a song. Gershwin’s The Man I Love is one of my favourite songs of all time. It represents the waiting, searching and yearning for that one relationship. Can’t beat a Gershwin. In its original and standard interpretation I never liked I Feel Pretty, because it seemed to me very presumptuous. Then I heard Sarah Vaughan and the song made sense to me. For me, it represents the high of infatuation and my happiness at being able to sing. I recorded Ochi Chernye, as homage to my birthplace.”
Sophie has spent the past few months performing in Toronto, Ontario at the Beaches Jazz Festival, fundraisers for Covenant House, Hart House, and the National Ballet, and packing them in every second Tuesday Night at the Diva Series at the Potato Blues Supper Club, building a devout following. In her third year of studying Commerce at the University of Toronto, Sophie will be performing in clubs and festivals across Canada next summer. Her debut self-titled album is released through Linus Entertainment in Canada, and is in stores now.