Allison Miller: Breaking Ground

Franz A. Matzner By

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Strong Women

AAJ: I'd like to turn to your new album, Boom Tic Boom. In the press release for its debut you explained that it was inspired by important women in your life. Can you elaborate a little more about that?

AM: I am blessed to have some really, really great friends. I mean, I have great female and male friends. But at the time I wrote the music for the record I didn't say, "I'm gonna write a record for all the inspirational, radical, powerful women in my life." I just started writing the music and it turned out that it was all the women I was hanging out with during that time period that were inspiring me.

For example, "Big and Lovely." I wrote that song for my great friend Toshi Reagon, who is from DC. She is a great singer/songwriter and probably one of the most powerful performers you'll ever see. We hang out a lot when we're in town. She's a touring musician too, so we both have a lot of free time when we are home and we like to eat really good food, so we go out a lot and eat. We were hanging out one night and we had this amazing feast at this little French bistro down the street from where we live. The next morning I woke up and that song just came out. And it was because I was thinking of Toshi. It directly related to her because we had just had this great night.

The song "Cheyenne," the first song on the record, I wrote for my really good friend, the great drummer Jen Gilleran, from Colorado. We had been hanging out in Cheyenne and that song came out. It wasn't intentional or planned. I didn't even realize that all these women had inspired me until after I wrote the music. I thought, "Oh my gosh, this song is totally because of her. This one is because o f my mom, because she is amazing. This is because of my sisters." It just came out that way.

I also have a lot of really radical, feminist powerful, political friends of mine. So we are always getting into these huge debates [laughs].

AAJ: Let's talk about that a bit—after all I'm writing from a political town. One thing I noticed at the show is that there were a lot of lesbian couples in the crowd. It was really refreshing to see that in a DC venue, especially since there were also a lot of people there who were coming to see a night of jazz. It made for an interesting mix of folks, and an unusual one. I'm wondering what your reaction is to a scene like?

AM: I love the fact that lesbians come out to hear me play jazz. Jazz is sophisticated music. It's not always easy to listen to so the masses aren't drawn to it. Unfortunately, neither is the media these days. I feel like it is a dying art form. Maybe not dying, but it doesn't get the kudos it deserves. So if I can be a transport or a vessel to turn people who wouldn't normally find jazz in their life onto it, then I'm doing my job.

I feel like these people come because I am out and I am in the media. I've played for iconic feminist singers like Ani Difranco and famous out singers like Brandi Carlile now. I'm in this community that is very homocentric and I have fans. Those people are hard core fans. And they are just fans of me. Whatever music I am playing they are into. I love that.

And actually at that gig in particular there were a lot of women there. More than a lot of shows we did that week. And a lot of those women bought CDs. I didn't think they would. I thought they would say, "This music is too weird for me." But everybody was super into it. I loved it. I love it.

AAJ: It was very inspiring to see that different blend of people. For the usual jazz fans too, who were looking around and thinking, "There's something different about this crowd." I think that is a positive as well.

AM: Yeah. And there were a lot of young people as well. There was a handful of really young guys there as well, which I thought was fun. I've done so much teaching down in that area that I also have these high school-aged boys who are into it as well, which is fun.

AAJ: In the past you have commented on the challenges of being a female drummer. You must get this question all the time, but do you think the challenge of being an out, woman drummer in the jazz world, do you think that continues to be a challenge for people or are things changing?

AM: I do think it is changing, but it is still a challenge. I like to say that until the bandstand looks like a typical block in New York City we still have a long way to go. Where you can go hear a band that is every color and gender on stage. I think it is way easier for let's say a twenty year-old female drummer now than it was for me when I was twenty. And it was way easier for me when I was twenty than it was for Terri Lyn Carrington, or Cindy Blackman, or Geri Allen, or any of these great masters.

But we have a long way to go. The way to change it is to reach out. To make sure that women like myself who are out there making a living playing music reach out to kids—female and male—to show them that yes, women fit in on the drums. To make it a regular image. Because it is all about image. Once the younger generation that doesn't know the difference thinks it's normal to see a woman on drums than it will become normal.

To me it's totally normal. I never even thought about it until I was like twenty-one and people started saying 'It's odd that you are a female drummer' And I would say, "Really? Why? It's all I can ever imagine doing."

Selected Discography

Allison Miller, Boom Tic Boom (Foxhaven Records, 2010)

Todd Sickafoose, Tiny Resistors (Cryptogramphone, 2008)

Agrazing Maze, At the End of the Day (Foxhaven Records, 2005)

Allison Miller, 5am Stroll (Foxhaven Records, 2004)

Photo Credit

Pages 1: Smith Banfield

Page 2-3: Joanne Weisner

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