By Rob Thompson
Described as music that “just feels good,” Sammy Miller and the Congregation will bring their “joyful jazz” to the stage for a one night performance at the Discovery Theatre on Friday, November 8th. Wanting to present jazz in a more accessible way, this six-member ensemble draws upon a century of American feelgood songs and delivers a style that “entertains, enriches, but most of all uplifts.”
Bridging the gap between old and new jazz enthusiasts alike, Sammy Miller, front man, drummer, and band leader describes the band’s style as “joyful, postmodern camp revival.”
Joining the Grammy nominated Miller on stage, the Congregation features tenor saxophonist Ben Flocks, trombonist Sam Crittenden, trumpeter Alphonso Horne, pianist David Linard, and Corbin Jones on bass and tuba.
Both collectively and independently, members of the band have performed and recorded with notable artists including Wynton Marsalis, Lady Gaga, Queen Latifah, and Beyoncé, and performed at venues including the White House, Lincoln Center and the Hollywood Bowl.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” said Miller. “We got to bring jazz to all these different places but honestly what I’ve felt is the best is small towns, the communities that don’t get it every day.”
Miller, originally from L.A., formed his band in 2014 while completing his Master’s degree at The Juilliard School of Music in New York where he found like-minded musicians wanting to expand their sound.
“I’m always a searcher,” he said. “I’m always like, OK, I like this music, what’s the next place I can go that I don’t know about? It got me into jazz.”
While Miller found early inspiration and joy through jazz music at Julliard, his challenge as a musician was how to expand the music’s audiences. “I felt like there was not a lot of accessibility in jazz,” said Miller. “Obviously people in the building and institution loved it but it was trying to find a way to connect to people who aren’t jazz scholars — people who are just hanging out at a bar or on a street corner — like, how do you bring them in and make something that they can appreciate.”
Miller feels that he, alongside his bandmates, share a similar passion about using their time on stage to uplift communities.
“We all studied music at Julliard but I think our home has become more Americana,” said Miller. “In the sensibility of everything is fair game — humor, vaudeville, slapstick, gospel, blues, folk — I think that’s the cool thing about our music, our country, that world of pulling these different genres together and from all the things we love— joyful jazz seemed like the answer.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, and one of five siblings, Miller starting playing and performing music when he was just 5-years-old as a member in his family’s rock band. Since that time Miller has never stopped playing music – or learning. In addition to his melodic upbringing, Miller’s early musical influences included the likes of trumpeter Louis Armstrong, composer Duke Ellington, singer-songwriters Randy Newman and John Prine, and bands such as Sly and the Family Stone and the Beastie Boys. “Just people who leave everything on the table,” said Miller.
As wider audiences begin to celebrate the reemergence of jazz, Miller’s journey continues to be an evolving process in order to reach more people.
“I spend a lot of time in music and want to find other reference points just to make the soup spicier, to make what we do ‘more earthy,’” said Miller. “We are in an age of bringing folks together — Facebook, farm-to-table cooking — jazz has the same quality of community and we should lean into that.”
Presented by the Anchorage Concert Association and playing the Discovery Theatre for one night only Miller, says he “wishes we could spend more time,” while in the great AK. However, due to the demands of a heavy tour schedule with the band’s next performance scheduled in Canada at the London Music Hall before heading back to the U.S. for several east coast performances next month.
Miller previously visited Alaska back in 2009, when he accompanied American saxophonist, composer, and educator, Bobby Watson, through the Thelonious Monk Institute’s annual Jazz in American high school outreach program. “I spent a week there playing and teaching in different high schools, when I was in high school actually peer-to-peer teaching,” he said.
As the band prepares to head to Alaska, Miller is excited to be sharing his passion for jazz once again with Anchorage audiences. “We’re thrilled to get to put on a show unlike anything they’ve ever seen,” said Miller. “We want people to leave feeling a lot better than when they came.”
In addition to a busy national and international tour schedule in the year ahead the band is proud to announce the release of their first and highly anticipated album, ‘Leaving Egypt’, due to be released February 2020.
To purchase tickets for Sammy Miller and the Congregation go to CenterTix.com or anchorageconcerts.org. To learn more about the band, follow them on Instagram or visit their website at sammymillercongregation.com.