The perfect pitch

Having left Israel for Canada when she was 16, jazz vocalist Sophie Milman feels her concert this week at Herzliya’s Zappa Club will ‘be a real homecoming for me’

Sophie Milman (photo credit: Courtesy)
Sophie Milman
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This Saturday, a jazz singer who was born in Russia and has been living in Toronto for the past 12 years is coming home to perform. The artist in question is Sophie Milman, who made aliya with her family when she was six, and left Israel for Canada with her parents when she was in 10th grade. Milman is, to say the least, delighted to have landed the gig at the Zappa Club in Herzliya.
“It’s going to be very emotional for me in Herzliya,” she says in a telephone interview from Toronto.
“I am very emotional at the best of times.
The club is going to be packed with people that I love that I haven’t seen in almost a decade. I am not going to have a chance to connect with most of them before I get on the stage. It might make for a really great performance. I hope so.”
Milman is certainly coming back with something under her belt. Since she left Israel she has developed a highly successful globetrotting career in jazz and has released five albums to date.
The most recent recording, Take Love Easy, will account for most of her repertoire here, and there will be songs from her other CDs – one of which, “Make Someone Happy,” won the prestigious Canadian Juno Award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year in 2008 - and other “extraneous” material.
“I like taking pop songs and doing stuff with them,” she says.
“Jazz is such a wide medium and is so liberating.
As long as a tune has some decent harmonic meat to it, like a nice interesting melody, you can really fit it into a jazz thing.”
Take Love Easy, for example, includes a rendition of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and Milman has also covered the Everly Brothers 1950s classic “Bye Bye Love.”
Milman first developed an interest in jazz as a teenager living in Haifa. Considering her cultural milieu at the time it was a surprising development.
“I used to listen to my dad’s jazz LPs but there was absolutely nothing going in jazz in Haifa back then,” she recalls.
“If I spoke to any of my friends about jazz they looked at me like I was talking some foreign language. I was probably the only kid in Haifa checking this stuff out. There were no jazz clubs in Haifa and nowhere to really hear the music. Now the Israeli jazz scene has exploded.”
ALL THINGS considered it is pretty amazing that Milman has developed such a successful career or, indeed, get on a stage at all.
“I sang in [children’s musical event] Festigal when I was 10 with Gidi Gov. I love Gidi but I was painfully shy. In the photographs of the event you see all the other kids trying to get a picture with Gidi, but not me. I was the Russian kid who’d only been in the country for three years among all these sabras. I was trying to get as far away from the camera as possible. That feels like four lifetimes ago now.”
That early performing experience was quickly consigned to Milman’s memory bank and, in essence, no more progress was made on the jazz front in this country.
“It was when I moved to Canada that I started singing jazz with any sort of confidence because there was a real acceptance of it here. I remember walking in to music class at school, in Toronto, and they were rehearsing a gospel song.”
“I am 200 percent Jewish but jazz and gospel are so intertwined, and my first experience of North American musicals was through [legendary gospel singer] Mahalia Jackson. I walked into the class and straightaway felt I fit in musically. By the second class the teacher gave me a solo.”
Despite not having much in the way of formal education in jazz Milman soon found herself settling comfortably into the musical groove at school.
“I think that listening to lots and lots of jazz records, and checking out great musicians in clubs, I a form of schooling.
I went to see [vocalist] Al Jarreau and [keyboardist] George Duke at the Blue Note in New York a few weeks ago. That sounded like a master class in improvisation and performance.
“I think that maybe I would have benefited from some technique or theory, if I had studied jazz in a formal framework, but there are so many great jazz records out there that you can like, check it out, absorb it, this is how the shit is done.”
One added element to Milman’s approach to the genre is the multicultural baggage which she has picked up as she relocated to new countries. Today she performs in English, Hebrew, Russian and French.
“I love the way French sounds in songs.
Living in Israel for 10 years I learned to roll my ‘r’s, which I adapt to French. Languages are very rhythmic and have their own lyrical flow. Russian and Hebrew are very guttural and French is a combination of everything. I find English very easy to sing in. It lends itself well to music.”
“One of the advantages of immigrating as much as I have is gaining exposure to languages and cultures. I have a sort of European Jewish Russian approach to jazz, which is a little different and is maybe why my music connects with people. It differentiates me from the other good jazz musicians out there.”
More than anything, however, Milman says she expects to feel her most complete on stage this week.
“I feel I left a lot of myself in Israel. I think it’s going to be a real homecoming for me.”
Sophie Milman will perform, with pianist Paul Shrofel, bassist Kieran Overs and drummer Jim Doxas, and guest artist veteran Israeli saxophonist Peter Wertheimer, at the Zappa Club in Herzliyah on Saturday. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. and the show starts at 10 p.m.
For more info and tickets: or (03) 762-6666