Nominated for best vocal jazz album of the year, Sophie Milman opens up about finding the perfect balance between music and life

Nominated for best vocal jazz album of the year, Sophie Milman opens up about finding the perfect balance between music and life

Sophie Milman

Sophie Milman

Describe the perfect Friday night.
I’m not much of a cook, but I’m learning. So, I like to look up cool, albeit easy, recipes and make dinner. You get tired of restaurant food after being on the road. And then, it’s a movie, or a night of awesome conversation with friends, or a great concert. Every night is good if it involves my boyfriend, family and/or friends.

What does jazz signify to you?
It’s so much more than just a genre of music for me. Jazz is family, closeness, cool, gorgeous, melodious, clever, freeing, sassy and most importantly, it’s very real. The music permeated every single aspect of my life growing up—I soaked up the sounds and just couldn’t get enough. I am so lucky that I can make a career singing jazz. If I couldn’t be a jazz artist, if for the sake of being commercially successful, I would probably retire.

Where is your favourite place in the world to listen to jazz music?
I love listening to records at home. I listen very intently because I’m always trying to learn. I listen to music a lot in my car, but I have to be careful because I get into it so deeply that sometimes it’s hard to concentrate on the road. I also listen to music very loud because I need to feel it in every fiber of my being. I was like this even before I became a singer. I think that first and foremost, I’m simply a huge music fan. As far as live shows are concerned—nothing beats a great jazz club in New York, whether it’s the Blue Note or Jazz at the Lincoln Centre. There’s nothing quite like experiencing great jazz along with other enthusiastic fans. I’ve played in many great clubs and have attended many concerts as a fan and have to say, there’s nothing quite like watching a musician interacting with the crowd and everyone at the venue feeding off each other’s energy. That’s when magic happens.


Sophie Milman

I read that your album Make Someone Happy came from a time where you felt the need to please everyone. How did you overcome this?
I’m still working on putting myself somewhere close to the top of the list. It’s hard. As a woman, as an immigrant, as the daughter of immigrants I’ve always observed selfless behavior and had been forced to grow up quite quickly. It has been a real struggle for me to try and alter my Type A-overachiever personality. The perfectionism extended across all aspects of my life—music, school, relationships, self image. But, with time, I realized that I have to work on being happy, otherwise nothing will ever be good enough. Making the record and focusing on songs that reflect my often contradictory emotions has been helpful. On record and every time I go on stage, I get to tell my story. So, it’s a form of therapy in essence. I’m still working on myself and will probably be working for the rest of my life. But one thing is clear to me: if I don’t learn to be genuinely happy, I won’t be able to make anyone I care about happy. So I try to take it one day at a time, relax and celebrate successes. Some days I am better at it and others, not so much. But, I’m constantly aware of the ultimate goal—inner peace as well as genuine happiness and contentment.

Who is your greatest muse?
My family, my boyfriend, my musicians—they all inspire me. Jazz and non-jazz greats: Stevie Wonder, Carmen McRae, Ella, Sarah Vaughan, Shirley Horn, Nancy Wilson, Beatles, Springsteen, Ray Charles, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock, Louis Armstrong, K.D. Lang, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Jaco Pastorius, Oscar Peterson, Rachmaninoff, Leonard Cohen, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Amy Winehouse—there’s so much great music in the world, it’s hard to narrow things down to just one thing or person.

Favourite jazz recording of all time
That’s like asking a parent to pick his or her favourite child! My favourite recording of all time has to be Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions” or maybe, “Music of My Mind”. In the realm of jazz, I love everything Carmen has ever done. It would be impossible to choose one record.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hopefully, still touring (but maybe staying in better hotels) [laughs]…and recording. I love what I do and hope to have a long career. I always say that I don’t believe in giant peaks and then steady decline. I believe in gradual growth and improvement, because that’s how you learn. But, along with professional success, I want personal peace/contentment as well. I would like to have a family, and want my career to be part of a healthy domestic life. It’s very easy to lose yourself in what you do, if you’re an artist. It’s a trap many fall into and sometimes the effects are dire. It’s a very precarious balance, but I believe it’s very important

Do you consider yourself wise beyond your years? Why?
Not sure. I’ve been told that I am wise, but I can still be quite childish and immature at times. But, the immigrations and early struggles definitely forced me to mature faster. Also, I am very analytical and really like to understand things, people, and the world. I go deep into things; I don’t like superficiality. If that makes me wise, then maybe I am. But, sometimes people mistake a dark, brooding personality for wisdom. I believe that wisdom is something you learn with real age, gradual maturation and a variety of different experiences. I’m definitely intelligent, but I’m not sure I’m wise. Only time will tell.

Zdenka Turecek