Take Five With Milton Suggs

AAJ Staff BY

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Meet Milton Suggs:

The remarks of those who hear him for the first time often go something like this: "I didn't know he could talk, let alone sing!" or "That voice does not belong to that body!" That's because Milton prefers to let his talent speak for itself.

Music has been an integral part of Milton's life from an early age. While in elementary and middle school, he played various instruments including the bass, the alto saxophone, and the drums. From these experiences Milton developed a love of, and discovered an intuition for, music that has aided in his growth and development as a musician.

In 2001 Milton began learning to play the piano under the tutelage of his godfather, renowned jazz pianist Willie Pickens. In 2003 he enrolled at Columbia College Chicago, where his passion for performance and arranging began to take shape. It was here where he first began to develop his skills as a vocalist and pianist, as well as a composer/arranger. Shortly after receiving his B.A. from Columbia he chose to attend DePaul University, where he received a Masters degree in Jazz Studies. It was while attending DePaul that he received a Downbeat Magazine Student Music Award for outstanding vocal performance.

Thus far, Milton has had the pleasure of sharing the stage, performing for, and recording with such notable musicians as Wycliffe Gordon, Phil Woods, Sean Jones, Vincent Gardner, Winard Harper and Wynton Marsalis—all of whom have expressed high opinions of his ability.

He has had the honor of being selected to participate in Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead residency program in 2010. This opportunity enabled him to work side-by-side with legends such as Dr. Billy Taylor, Curtis Fuller, and Dr. Nathan Davis, as well as iconic vocalist Carmen Lundy. With the drive, dedication, and talent he has exhibited thus far, Milton is poised to become a powerful force within the world of music.


Voice, piano.

Teachers and/or influences? Willie Pickens, Bobby Broom, Lyndia Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Joe Williams, Oscar Brown Jr., Nat King Cole, Johnny Hartman, Billy Eckstine, Red Garland, Erroll Garner, every ancestor that has had a positive impact musically and/or spiritually.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I was in second grade, when I first wanted to become a musician. However, it faded as I got older. The desire resurfaced permanently when I was a senior in high school.

Your sound and approach to music: Ease, energy, and enjoyment; the same way I try to approach life. It's difficult, but it's all about the journey.

Your teaching approach: Be honest to yourself about what it is you like. Listen to anything and everything and figure out what it is that truly speaks to you. When you find it, pursue it with others and especially within yourself. And practice!

Your dream band:

Nearly impossible, but I'll try. A mixture of those living and departed Rhythm Section: pianist Kenny Kirkland; bassist Ben Williams; and drummers Chris Dave and Jeff "Tain" Watts.

Horns would fluctuate between: alto saxophonists Kenny Garrett and Wessell Anderson; trombonist Vincent Gardner; trumpeters Blue Mitchell, Roy Hargrove and Wynton Marsalis; and tenor saxophonists Dexter Gordon, Branford Marsalis and Marcus Strickland.

Favorite venue:

The Jazz Showcase in Chicago, IL is a great room.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why? "Lush Life," from the album Just Like Me. That has been my favorite song since I first heard it, and to finally be able to record it with pianist Willie Pickens was something I had been waiting on for a long time.

The first Jazz album I bought was: A compilation of Duke Ellington compositions.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? The most important thing any artist can contribute is a true representation of him/herself and an honest interpretation of what she/he experiences in the world. That ideal defines my goal as a musician and what I seek to contribute at all times.

Did you know...

The bass was my first instrument (and my father's instrument). I started when I was eight and I am currently reacclimatizing myself to it, so watch out!

CDs you are listening to now: Janelle Monae, The ArchAndroid (Bad Boy/Wondaland);

Terence Blanchard, Choices;

Stefon Harris, Urbanus; John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman;

All the Oscar Brown Jr. I can find.

Desert Island picks:

Errol Garner, Concert By The Sea;

Outkast, ATLiens
Wynton Marsalis, Black Codes from the Underground

Kenny Garrett, Songbook;

Oscar Brown, Jr., Sin and Soul.

How would you describe the state of jazz today? Jazz is growing and evolving. There are a lot of great musicians coming with a lot of great ideas. It's exciting to see all of the many different compositions that people are emerging with, as well as different stylistic influences.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Bring the dance back to the music!

What is in the near future? My album, Just Like Me: The Music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, will be released May 11, 2010. In July, a second album will be released entitled Things To Come. While Just Like Me is a piano/vocal album of all standards, Things To Come will feature all-original compositions and arrangements played by a larger combination of instruments, ranging from quartet to septet.

By Day:

I teach general music at an elementary school part time.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a: Psychologist. All of my friends love bringing their problems to me.

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