Natasha Miller
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Natasha Miller


Band Jazz Pop


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"Two lives, reclaimed Fate dealt harshly with Bobby Sharp and Natasha Miller. His songs are helping to save them both."

The smile never left veteran songwriter Bobby Sharp's face Thursday night at the Vic in Santa Monica.
Leaning forward in his chair, he listened intently to singer Natasha Miller, following every twist and turn of the music, rocking gently with the rhythms. Occasionally, he silently mouthed the words, nodded approvingly at a particularly poignant phrase, and greeted the conclusion of each number with warm, enthusiastic applause.
The songs were familiar to Sharp and Miller, but not to the audience. With the exceptions of a Miller original and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "My Favorite Things," every number on the program was written by Sharp at least 30 years ago. And with the further exception of a single Sharp tune, each was being heard live by a Southland audience for the first time. That exception was the Sharp song that became a Ray Charles hit in the early '60s, "Unchain My Heart."
Miller sang the engaging material with sensitivity and insight, her cool musicality and clear articulation illuminating the unfamiliar pieces. In her renderings, songs ranging from the whimsical "A Real Swingin' Affair" and "Things Are Breakin' Like Rocks" to the touching "At Midnight" and "My Magic Tower" became instantly memorable.
What was even more remarkable was the story behind the music. Before the set, Sharp and Miller, both residents of the Bay Area city Alameda, outlined the unlikely circumstances surrounding their collaborative friendship.
It began nearly two years ago when Sharp, now 79, heard Miller interviewed on San Francisco jazz radio station KCSM-FM. Liking what he heard, he looked up her number and called.
"He said, 'I'm a songwriter and I'd like to know if you're interested in looking at some of my songs,' " Miller, who is in her early 30s, recalled at the Vic. "I said, 'Sure,' skeptically. I've had offers like this before and people hand me really strange songs."
And when he added during the phone conversation that Miller might know one of his songs, she thought, "Yeah, right, buddy."
But her response shifted gears quickly when he said, "It's called 'Unchain My Heart.' "
"My heart stopped for a moment," Miller said, "and I just thought, 'Oh, my goodness. I'd better check this out.' "
A few days later, when Miller received a package of lead sheets and cassettes from Sharp, she realized that she had been presented with musical lightning in a bottle. Although she was in the late stages of pregnancy, she was determined to find an appropriate showcase for the material.
In the first week of March 2003, her pregnancy ended tragically, with the death of her son, Aidan, and a near-fatal illness for Miller.
"When I got home," she said, "I tried to sing and nothing would come out. And I just thought I'd never sing again, and I didn't care. How could I, after what had happened to me? But I was also thinking, 'How can I let Bobby down? He's just handed me these lovely texts and melodies and chord voicings.'
"So I started working on 'My Magic Tower' and finally performed it in a concert, with Bobby in the audience. And that was really what helped to bring me back."
The songs' role as an impetus to help restore Miller's health was mirrored by the manner in which they revived Sharp's career as a songwriter and singer ? a career Sharp had thought was irrevocably in his past.
Halfway through her set Thursday, Miller invited Sharp up to the Vic's intimate performing space to offer his own interpretation of an original titled "Monica." Singing with a sweet, youthful voice, he told the tale of unrequited love with intimate tenderness. Then, responding to unrelenting shouts of approval from the audience, he moved to the piano to sing and play the witty and sardonic "Daddy Romeo."
The setting and the performance were light years removed from the circumstances of Sharp's life at the time when most of the songs were written. "Unchain My Heart," for example, was knocked out in an hour and sold for $50 to get a quick hit of the drugs that were then the center of his life. It wasn't until the original copyright ran out in 1988 that he regained ownership of the song.
"I had changed my life around," Sharp said, "became a drug counselor, came out to San Francisco and wasn't really thinking about music until I found out that I could renew the copyright. And it really changed my life. I'd worked as a postal worker, a factory worker, but I'd never built up my Social Security. But I'm in good shape now, luckily."
With the exception of "Unchain My Heart," none of the Sharp songs has ever been sung by anyone other than Miller. Her latest recording on Poignant Records, "I Had a Feelin'," is completely devoted to his works. But even this fascinating collection represents only a small percentage of his still unheard music.
Sharp has offered to share some of the royalties from the now opened treasure chest of material with Miller, should the songs - LA Times : Don Heckman

"Bobby Sharp's forsaken catalog of songs became 'Unchained' by twist of fate"

Bobby Sharp says the song "Unchain My Heart" saved his life.
He wrote the 1961 Ray Charles hit while junk-sick in his parents' Harlem apartment on a Sunday afternoon while they watched television in the next room. He sold the song the next day for $50 and bought drugs.
Sharp, now 79, spent longer working as a drug counselor than he did in the music business and hasn't written songs seriously in more than 35 years. But in March of last year, he heard local jazz vocalist Natasha Miller being interviewed on KCSM, and when she said that she also lived in Alameda, Sharp found her number in the phone book.
"Unchain My Heart," in a way, saved Natasha Miller's life, too. When she did that radio interview she was nine months pregnant with her second child. She grew ill, was hospitalized and lost the baby. Sick and exhausted back home, she was too weak to sing. But she had this stack of lead sheets and cassettes that Sharp gave her at a meeting in an Alameda coffee shop. She transposed his 1968 song "My Magic Tower" into her key and started singing again.
Miller, 33, will celebrate the release of "I Had a Feelin': The Bobby Sharp Songbook" on Tuesday night at Yoshi's, with Sharp in the audience, as he was for every recording session. With the Charles biopic starring Jamie Foxx due in October titled "Unchain My Heart," Bobby Sharp's unlikely star is on the rise after a life out of the spotlight.
He has lived in the tiny cottage off the street a couple of blocks from downtown Alameda since he first landed in the Bay Area in 1980. He left the music business around 1968, when he went to work at Metropolitan Hospital in New York City counseling addicts. ("I went in the hospital a patient," he said, "and I came out a staff member.")
"I couldn't write the doo-wop stuff," he said. "I was trying to write stuff that wasn't my bag. Plus trying to save my life, I had to stay away from drugs. I got sick of the business. My life was worth more than my songs."
Sharp attended the Manhattan School of Music after serving in World War II. He sang for a week with jazz great Benny Carter and for another week with the Jimmie Lunceford big band. "That's when I started running up and down Broadway trying to get my songs published," he said.
He wrote some songs with Charles Singleton, who wrote the 1953 rhythm and blues hit "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean." He worked with Dan Fisher, who had a piece of the Billie Holiday hit "Good Morning Heartache," and his brother Marvin Fisher, who wrote "When Sunny Gets Blue" (their father, Fred Fisher, was an old Tin Pan Alley hand who wrote "Peg O' My Heart"). He hung with the bebop players, nursed drinks at Smalls Paradise in Harlem and developed a drug habit. He was one of a hundred hustlers trying to get a foot in the door of the music business.
He wrote "Unchain My Heart" looking for a quick score. "I was strung out, " he said. "I needed to write something catchy."
He made the rounds of music publishers at 1650 Broadway and stopped by the office of Teddy Powell, an old-time band leader who co-wrote the Gene Autry hit "Take Me Back to My Boots and Saddles" back in the '30s. Powell offered Sharp $50 for the publishing rights, provided that Sharp cut him in for half the writing credit. Sharp took the deal and, to avoid problems with some existing contractual obligations, published the songs under his cousin's name, Agnes Jones.
Charles was at the peak of his career when he recorded "Unchain My Heart" in late 1961, coming straight off the No. 1 hit "Hit the Road Jack," less than a year after his first No. 1, "Georgia on My Mind."
Sharp started bouncing in and out of drug rehabilitation about the same time, checking himself out to write another, lesser song for Charles, "Don't Let Me Go" ("It was kind of an opposite," Sharp said). He also sold Powell his remaining writer's share of "Unchain My Heart" for $1,000 in 1963. The following year -- after learning that Powell paid him with royalties he already owed Sharp -- Sharp sued to regain his rights. Powell settled the suit seven years later, by which time Sharp was long out of the music business and working with drug addicts.
When the original copyright expired in 1987, Sharp himself renewed it for his own publishing company, B. Sharp Music, about the same time he retired from Westside Community Mental Health Center, where he'd worked since he moved to the Bay Area. He now shares the writer's royalties with Powell's heirs and keeps all the publishing revenue. "I got the rights back," he said, "and I get all the royalties, me and Uncle Sam."
No sooner did Sharp reclaim his copyright than Joe Cocker, the noted Ray Charles impersonator, brought his career back to life in 1987 with a pumped-up cover of Sharp's song. Powell, who still owned a piece of the song, called with the news. "He didn't even know his name," Sharp said. "He told me, 'Joe Crocker's recorded your song.' "
Sharp never met Charles. "We were in the same lawyer's office at - San Francisco Chronicle : Joel Selvin


SpinVintage (releasing March 2, 2009)

The Season (Holiday Music) 2007

Don't Move 2006

I Had a Feelin'-the Bobby Sharp Songbook 2005

Talk to Me Nice (jazz standards) 2002

Her Life (original pop/rock) 2001



Ms. Miller has had the honor of performing at many fine venues such as the Monterey Jazz Festival, Yoshi’s in Oakland, The Plush Room in San Francisco, Catalina Jazz Club in L.A., Blues Alley in D.C., and the Jazz Standard in NYC as well as with the Oakland East Bay Symphony.

She teaches a class to San Francisco Bay Area musicians "Sold Out- How to Fill the Room at your Next Event" and employs all the methods of that class to her own promotion, resulting in amazing attendance at her concerts.