By Jennifer Sadler
As the most comprehensive online events guide and resource for arts and culture in central Ohio, ColumbusArts.com offers a virtual guide through the Columbus art world with a searchable database of events, concerts, performances and more. ColumbusArts.com is an engaging place for artists and arts organizations to share what they do, with an average of 30,000 users per month. The ColumbusArts.com Artist Directory allows visual, performing and literary artists to create a profile and portfolio to showcase their work—for free—and enables art enthusiasts to easily search for and connect with them. Our monthly ColumbusArts.com artist profile series features interviews with a few of the many talented individuals who make up central Ohio’s thriving creative community. In honor of Jazz Appreciation Month this April, GCAC recently interviewed jazz singer, Jen Miller to learn more about her respective work as an artist in Columbus.
From Miller's artist statement - "In the story of Jazz, we can still find wisdom about our problems today whether it is about a recent heartbreak or the fight for social justice. I dream of keeping that story of jazz alive and these old songs relevant."
GCAC: Tell us a bit about yourself. Are you from Columbus? If not what brought you here?
Jen Miller: I am from Shelby, Ohio. I first came to Columbus to study classical music at Capital University. I never left, because it is such an incredible city, rich with diverse cultures, a vibrant, independent arts scene—and incredible places to eat!
GCAC: When did you realize you had a gift for singing and for jazz in particular? Is there anybody in particular who encouraged you to follow your dreams?
JM: My family, church and school first helped me understand that I had a gift for singing, but I came from a small community that had limited opportunities for arts education. Entering Capital's Conservatory was definitely a challenge, because I didn't have the extensive music theory, music history or performance experiences of my fellow students. At Capital, I focused on learning the best vocal techniques and really began to love all forms of American music—especially jazz. I already knew many of the old standards and loved how jazzers reinvented them. Students in the jazz department and professors like Vaughn Weister, Ray Eubanks, Stan Smith and Joe Hunter encouraged me to sing jazz.
In terms of following my dreams to be a singer, my greatest inspiration is my daughter. I want her to believe that she can do anything, and the best way to teach her that is to lead by example.
GCAC: Do you remember your first professional performance?
JM: I started performing in church and school as a kid. By middle school, I was often paid to sing solos at weddings. To date myself a little, I think Wind Beneath My Wings and The Rose were the most requested songs. In college, I supported myself by directing a church choir and by being a back-up singer for an Elvis impersonator. Both were incredibly fun and instructive. Today, making money is not my primary goal when I sing, because I have a full time job working in the environmental movement. I just like to have the opportunity to perform, and my goal is to pay my band well, who are full-time musicians.
GCAC: You’ve worked with several musicians/performers over the years. Who are your favorite people to work with and why?
JM: I am blessed to live in a place with so many incredible jazz musicians! I love them all. My best friend, Megan Palmer, is by far my favorite - mostly because I am one of her biggest fans. I love singing harmonies together because our voices blend so well, and she is an incredible songwriter. I also love it when she sits in with my band; the crowd loves her femme fiddler style. My other favorite soloist is vibraphonist Nathan Anders who teaches percussion at Capital. I think he is one of the most innovative and musical soloists in Columbus.
GCAC: What is it about Columbus that has fostered such a rich history of creating and performing jazz music?
JM: Columbus' African American community has been vibrant since before the Civil War, which fostered famous musicians like Nancy Wilson, Hank Marr, and Ron Kirk. When jazz was in its height, clubs on Mount Vernon and Parsons Avenues were regular stops for artists of national acclaim, in which local artists played alongside them. Today, Columbus is home to some of the best music educators in the country and organizations like the Jazz Arts Group. The city's history and continuing commitment to create great jazz talent and programming has made a strong jazz scene. I do worry that Columbus has more jazz talent than opportunities. To truly have a vibrant scene, Columbus needs more jazz clubs and more outlets for younger performers.
GCAC: So what's up next for you?
JM: I love my full piece jazz band, and I look forward to performing this summer with them at Dick's Den and hopefully at Comfest. I'm also really excited about two new projects. Together with my dear friend Stan Smith (guitar), I will be introducing a new jazz duo project in April at the Global Gallery Coffee Shop in Clintonville. Also stay tuned for my new country band - 2 Drink Jenny & the Moonshiners, which will pay tribute to country music's most classic divas like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Kitty Wells!
Check out Jen Miller's profile at ColumbusArts.com. To listen to some of her music and find out about upcoming events and performances, visit her website at www.JenMillerSings.net. Image courtesy of Jen Miller.