Russell Miller
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Russell Miller

Harper Woods, Michigan, United States | INDIE

Harper Woods, Michigan, United States | INDIE
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BY JIM GALLERT

Successfully melding a choir with a jazz orchestra is tricky. There are some fine examples — Ellington's 1929 film Black and Tan Fantasy featured the Hall Johnson Choir (they also turn up in Bessie Smith's "St. Louis Blues" from the same year), and over the years Duke dabbled with larger vocal groups and hallowed themes; his series of Sacred Concerts has moments of great beauty. Russ Miller takes on this assignment with Suite Justice: A Jazz Setting of the Beatitudes for Big Band and Chorus (PKO Records #55) and, like Duke's efforts, succeeds. Miller has taken the Beatitudes and set them to music. The Beatitudes (Latin for "happy" or "blessed;" spoken by Jesus at his Sermon on the Mount) are poetry, and quite beautiful. There is real feeling behind those words, and it's captured in Russ' offering.

Suite JusticeThe overall sound is bright, the performances are clean, and the jazz soli are creative — especially Miller's boppish alto work, which is compelling and distinctive. His tone has a bite to it which adds much to the themes. Miller's arrangements are well-crafted and interesting, the marks of a consummate pro. This session prospers most when the choir is used as another section of the orchestra. The choir sounds good and the blend of instruments and voices is just right. The choir (only eight voices but it sounds larger) was well rehearsed and the individual voices on display are heartfelt and pleasing; the group sounds lively. I'm betting this was a fun session.

I haven't listened to many choir/orchestra recordings, but when I listened closely to Miller's recording I discovered that I really like it. This is a fine orchestra, and it would be nice to hear it stretch out on some instrumentals. The reed section alone, with Pete Kahn, Mark Berger, Keith Kaminski and Miller, qualifies for "all star" status, but the other sections are equally strong. Miller has obviously studied the Beatitudes in detail as the music is well-matched to the poems. I particularly dig "Hunger and Thirst," which is really catchy, and "Those Who Mourn," the latter benefitting from Keith Kaminski's always soulful tenor sound.

Overall this is a really good recording and has a lot going for it. Recommended. - Semja - Southeast Michigan Jazz Association


Discography

He can be heard on recordings with the J.C. Heard Orchestra on “Some of This, Some of That” (Hiroko Records), with jazz organ master Bill Heid on “Wet Streets” (Savant Records), with the John Cooper Jazz Orchestra on “Baecker Jazz Worship Service (Baecker Music Productions), and on Jeannine Miller’s recording “Two For The Road” (PKO Records) which in addition to featuring Russ on sax and flute, features his arrangements of classic jazz standards for big band, woodwinds, brass, strings and jazz quartet. Russ’ most recent release is a recording of a suite of original pieces arranged for jazz big band and vocal chorus entitled “Suite Justice: A Jazz Setting of the Beatitudes” (PKO Records).

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Bio

Saxophonist, flautist, clarinetist, composer and arranger Russ Miller played lead alto sax with the J.C. Heard Orchestra. During his tenure with J.C. Heard he had the opportunity to perform with jazz luminaries Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy DeFranco, Rob McConnell, Jon Faddis, Joe Williams, Milt Hinton, Rosemary Clooney and Sammy Davis Jr. among others. In addition Russ is called upon to perform with local artists, in pit orchestras and shows, and with his own quintet at the Michigan Jazz Festival and other concert venues.

Russ Miller is currently an Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan where he teaches jazz ensembles, jazz improvisation and jazz arranging and orchestration. Russ has been employed as an adjudicator and clinician at many area high school jazz festivals. He is educational director of Wayne State Universitys Jazz Week community outreach program for high school students and has directed the Jazz Week all-star ensemble at 2008, 2009 and 2010 Detroit International Jazz Festival.

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