Aziza Miller is a marvelous, striking individual. And not just because she looks 40, she’s actually a couple of moons older, but because she’s the original Renaissance woman. She is a teacher, composer, pianist, vocalist–and a single mother.
With a brand new album, “Jazzsoetry,” available online, the busy lady is gigging around the city trying to satisfy her audience.
“I am a composer. It’s the poetry of jazz and soul. The Russians have called it this,” said Miller, who has just returned from a show in Moscow. “When I woke up this morning, I had the feeling that I’ve got to write. I’ve got to touch the keys. This morning, I had the blues on my mind. Blues is energy for me. It is not a sad thing. Sometimes I want to get in touch with that blues feeling.”
Atmospheric and mood setting can describe Miller in performance and certainly her offerings on the album. She says of her work though, “I try and tap into what people are feeling. I can flow with the ambiance when I’m at events. I look at myself as accompanying conversation, not overpowering it.”
With a master’s degree in music education, Miller has been a licensed music teacher for approximately 16 years. Proudly she states that Alicia Keys was her vocal jazz improvisation and theory student for three years at the Professional Performing Arts School in NYC. In June 1997, Aziza received the Presidential Scholar Distinguished Teacher Award from President Bill Clinton. Her popular track “La Costa” was recorded by Natalie Cole during the time when Aziza (who was then known as Linda Williams) was her music director and pianist. Many other artists have recorded “La Costa,” including Ahmad Jamal, Jorge Dalto, Phil Upchurch and Franciso Aguabella.
Not new to the scene though, Miller recorded an album for Arista records in 1979 entitled “City Living” under the name Linda Williams. The track “Elevate Our Minds” is considered a classic in the U.K. and Japan.
Miller was Shelton Becton’s designated keyboard sub in Oprah Winfrey’s Broadway hit musical “The Color Purple,” which ran for two and a half years at the Broadway Theater. She has worked with other artists such as James Brown, Whoopi Goldberg, Rodney Dangerfield and Dan Aykroyd. Her music has been sampled by artists in the U.K. and Japan.
She taught in schools like Esther Clarke Hunter JHS in Brownsville, the West Angeles Christian Academy in Los Angeles, and the Henry Street Music Settlement in New York.
Miller told the AmNews, “When I’m teaching, it is a different kind of feeling. I want to find out about what my students ‘musical experiences’ are, what they listen to, why they are listening to it, and historically what can they tell me about vocalists and instrumentalists. Then I can see where they are musically and see where I need to go to broaden their horizons. I like to make comparisons to their generation and mine. As a music educator, I have a lot of things to do.”
Currently, she is also the minister of music at Macedonia AME Church in Flushing and one of the musicians at Mt. Zion AME church in Harlem.
The Harlem-born, Bronx-raised, Brooklyn-residing Miller has a completely soft and lyrical tone, blessed with poetic wordology that is ever present in song and regular conversation. She laughs with modesty at the observation.
Deftly, she plays mellow jazz on her piano and her vocals compliment everything about her style.
“When I play at my shows, I am not background. People come to see a leader. They want to know who you are and what your art is about. If you’re going to an art exhibition, the artist does not hold back. They want you to know what they are feeling and what they are about. In my shows, I am in the foreground and people come to see what I’m about, especially when you are playing original music. I want people to know the woman behind ‘Jazzsoetry.’”
She does shows literally all over the world and her feet have just touched down from Russia, where she said she had a beautiful experience.
“To quote Anna Pankova, the promoter of Jazz for the Union of Composer’s Club in Moscow, ‘”Jazzsoetry” is the poetry of soul and jazz,’” Miller said. “I had a wonderful band. Anna’s husband, Oleg, played electric keyboards and tenor sax. I found out by going to Russia that they really have an appreciation, respect and understanding for the art, and they show it. I know what it is to be appreciated and not be treated like I’m young and dumb and 12. They understood my music. They appreciated my art. It was not about my color, my age or my sex.”
As a single parent, Miller proudly, but protectively, will only publicly say, “I raised my boy in Brooklyn. He is a family man.”
Is she waiting to be a grandma?
The hearty belly laugh says not so much. She has pumps and grown-n-sexy clothes to sport. “No, not yet. When I become a grandmother, I want to do it properly,” she smiles.
So you can purchase “Jazzsoetry: Volume1” online on sites like www.cdbaby.com or through Apple’s iTunes.
As for new music, Miller said, “I’m starting a new style. I put elements together that are a true backdrop to my life–the good, the bad, the ugly. I’m independent and I love what I do.”
On Saturday, July 18, the Aziza Miller Quartet will be performing at Parlor Jazz (119 Van-
derbilt Avenue, Brooklyn). Visit www.parlorjazz.com or call (718) 855-1981 for more information.
Other shows include the fifth annual Songwriters Beat Festival on Tuesday July 21. For more info, go to www.songwritersbeat.com.
The Abrons Arts Center (Henry Street Music Summer Arts Camp) Musical Tribute to Michael Jackson is on Friday, July 31. For further info, call (212) 598-0400.
Miller’s music websites include: