By M.A. Cassata
Over the course of some brilliant albums, Robert Miller’s Project Grand Slam, has re-invigorated the jazz/rock genre. Always adventurous and plainly inventive, Miller and his group has given the genre a giant leap forward. Miller’s own bass playing, clearly driving the group, is very reminiscent of Jack Bruce and is just phenomenal. If you’ve even see him perform live, you know he’s an aggressive go-to player.
In this TMW exclusive, Miller discusses his music and live performances including an upcoming NYC appearance and new album “Greetings From Serbia.”
What did it feel like when Trippin’ hit the #1 spot on Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart?
“When Trippin’ hit #1 this past August it was a wonderful moment of acceptance for me and the band. It was only in 2015 that I had re-formed the band with our current lineup. Over the next three years – through three albums and many gigs – we gradually transformed and refined our music and sound. It all came together on Trippin’, which was released in June 2018. I wanted to drive the line between jazz and rock harder than before, leaning more towards my rock roots. And I wanted to write more vocal tunes for our extraordinary singer, Ziarra Washington. The result was that Trippin’ was our most celebrated album to date.”
Tell us how The Loft at The City Winery gig came about?
“We built up our resume playing openers for some great artists, including Blues Traveler, Edgar Winter, YES, Boney James, Mindi Abair and Scott Weiland. Openers are challenging because you’re basically borrowing the headliner’s audience and you have a relatively brief period of time to impress people who didn’t come to see you. Our successes – including ovations at openers and all of our festival appearances – convinced me that we were ready to step up to headliner status. Our new agent, Stephan Gehrig of Sgent Nation, agreed and he quickly worked out a date with The Loft at City Winery in NYC, which is truly a world class venue. We’re very excited to headline there on Dec. 20.”
Tell us about the festivals you performed at over the summer?
“The summer of 2018 was a breakthrough for us. We released Trippin’ in June and then performed at 7 festivals including our first two in Europe in Norway and Serbia. The response from the crowds was fantastic. From jazz to rock and from millennials to Baby Boomers, we received ovations everywhere. Very fulfilling.”
I understand there’ll be a live album from the event in Serbia? It’ll be out in January?
“Yes we’re releasing “Greetings From Serbia” on January 18, 2019 (Cakewalk/The Orchard). It’s a live album of our performance at the Nisville Jazz Festival in Nis, Serbia in August. We played in front of 10,000+ screaming fans in a spectacular outdoor setting. I think the album truly captures the energy, drive and spirit of the band at the top of our game. By the way, the album name and cover layout is a tip of the hat to Bruce Springsteen’s Greetings From Asbury Park album”.
What covers will be on the album. Your choices thus far (with covers) have been enormously inspired.
‘Thank you! Our live set this past summer included four of our “reimagined” versions of some ‘60s Brit rock classics – “I’m So Glad” (Cream), “I Can’t Explain” (The Who), and “Fire” (Jimi Hendrix), plus “Free” (Phish). But I don’t think of them as covers. We don’t play them note-for-note. I make them our own – much like Joe Cocker transformed The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” into a new song.”
What do you look for in re-imagining a classic?
“I’m a child of the‘60s. That was my musical coming of age era. I loved all the bands from then, particularly the British Invasion groups. So part of my intention in reimagining this music is to pay my respects and to keep the music alive and reinvigorated for a new generation. I look for songs that I love that lend themselves to my way of doing them.”
Is there any other PGS news for us?
“Yes. I’ve written the next PGS album worth of songs, and we will be recording them in mid-January with a tentative release date of May/June 2019. I love the new songs. They’re a bit bolder and brassier and they’ve got balls! So I’m excited to record them with the band
We’re also looking forward to a big festival season in 2019, both in the U.S. and abroad.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention “Tree Of Life (Dedicated To The Victims)”, the song I recently wrote and we released in response to the mass shooting at the PA synagogue and all of the other horrible mass shootings. It’s a spare, mournful, affecting plea for peace, sanity and gun control. All of the proceeds will be donated to the families of the victims.”