Philadelphia-Based Vocalist Maci Miller Brings Together a Host of the City’s Finest Musicians for Her Stunning New Album
Album Release ~ August 25, 2023
This press release was provided to Vivascene by DL Media
In the field of numerology, the number nine is connected to wisdom and experience. As Philadelphia-based vocalist Maci Miller writes in the liner notes for her new album, Nine, “The number nine is significant because it’s closely associated with the spirit, with spiritual growth, inner awakening and self-realization. It symbolizes a lifetime of learning and is the universal number for love and for hope. It represents patience, harmony, friendship, strength and unity.”
Whether you believe in the mystical properties of numbers or not, there’s no mistaking the relevance of those qualities to Miller’s stunning new album. Nineis the singer’s second release following a nearly decade-long hiatus to focus on adopting and raising her daughter, Ruby, a period that certainly resulted in a wealth of personal growth and realization. The album also arrives on the heels of a period of near-universal turmoil on the planet, making Miller’s message of universal love a vivid spiritual antidote.
Already a compelling song stylist who combines wide-ranging influences into a entrancing and unique voice all her own, Miller emerged from this period of reflection with a rejuvenated passion for songwriting and a mission to explore the theme of universal love in all its vibrant and complicated forms. She’s a beguiling storyteller with a singular ability to embody a lyric, whether the emotion calls for tenderness or sensuality, heartbreak or joy.
Perhaps most importantly, Nine is the number of musicians that Miller and producer/ pianist/writing partner Aaron Graves have assembled for this project. The stellar ensemble represents a who’s who of the thriving Philly jazz scene – the pair are joined by bassist Mike Boone, tenor sax living legend Larry McKenna, Victor North on soprano sax, and drummers Byron Landham, Leon Jordan Sr., and Josh Orlando. The number is rounded out by special guest trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, who is granted honorary Philadelphian status for his appearance on “The Nearness of You.”
“The jazz scene in Philadelphia has such a high caliber of players,” Miller says. “But what I really love is that it’s such a warm community. I felt embraced and supported right from the beginning.”
Originally from Harrisburg, PA, Miller was born into a musical family. Her great-grandfather was a Russian Jewish violinist who immigrated to the United States to perform with the Ziegfeld Follies (family lore has it that he also worked as Eddie Cantor’s musical director in the 20s, though that has yet to be confirmed). Growing up she was drawn to the soulful divas of the day – Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner – whose influence remains in Miller’s gift for imbuing a lyric with soul and drama.
Her inspiration of the great jazz singers, in particular Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington, shines through – Holiday’s rhythmic phrasing, Fitzgerald’s brassy brightness. But Miller absorbs those legendary voices with the pop subtlety of Norah Jones and the soul storytelling of her childhood favorites to arrive at a mesmerizingly personal style, rapturously framed by her wide-ranging songcraft.
Miller’s early career was nomadic, leading her across the U.S. and Asia and to extended residencies in Las Vegas and Thailand. Her frequent trips to perform at the famed Bamboo Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok proved particularly fateful: Miller and her husband adopted Ruby from Thailand, and her new role as a Mom led Miller to put her singing career on hold indefinitely.
The only music Miller released during that period was Butterfly Moon, a collection of lullabies featuring the late George Mesterhazy on piano. Originally intended just as a gift for Ruby, Miller decided to release the album as a benefit for The Mercy Center in Bangkok, which provides aid for children living with HIV.
Butterfly Moon had been preceded by a pair of more traditional jazz albums: the all original big band session A Very Good Night and Take a Closer Look,a collection of jazz standards and pop covers that also included one of her own original songs. At first, Miller assumed those albums, along with her endeavors as a print model and actress in film (The Sixth Sense) and TV (Law and Order), would constitute her legacy.
“For years I had no desire to do anything but be Ruby’s mom,” she recalls. “But as she grew up, I realized the music never left my heart.” In 2019 she made her long-overdue return to recording with the gorgeous Round Midnight, a set of standards on which she partnered with NYC-based guitarist David O’Rourke.
While the events of the next few years put another temporary hold on Miller’s activities, she determined to celebrate the superb musicians that surrounded her in Philly on Nine. During the pandemic, bassist Mike Boone invited her to join him for several of his weekly livestream concerts; it was there that she met pianist Aaron Graves. “We clicked immediately,” she remembers. “Aaron is a musical genius and a very sensitive player who pays attention to every little nuance. We think very much alike, and I’ve loved writing with him.”
Playing into the theme of the album, Graves turns out to be the ninth writing partner that Miller has worked with during her career. She and Graves collaborated on six of the album’s nine (of course) tracks, the pianist providing striking and lush arrangements for Miller’s captivating lyrics and memorable melodies. “Little Bird” grew out of a few lines that Miller sang to coax her pet birds out of their cage, becoming a metaphor for leaving the nest and finding one’s own way in life. “Complicated,” featuring a witty call and response with Larry McKenna, the tense “I Can’t Wait,” and the sultry “Love Me For Who I Am” all contend with the often messy realities of romance.
Strange is the Night” sets an ominous noir tone to address the societal issues confronting the world, with modern-day echoes of Billie Holiday’s immortal “Strange Fruit.” The album ends with the buoyant “Feel the Music,” serving as a mission statement for the deeply felt album. In addition to the original songs, the album includes a rendition of Chick Corea’s inspirational “High Wire,” the aforementioned standard “The Nearness of You,” and Miller’s new lyric for Cedar Walton’s “Firm Roots,” the title song of the pianist’s 1976 album.