By Philip Booth
Some jazz-rooted singers, like Norah Jones, seem to yearn for pop stardom. And then they get there.
Sophie Milman, the Toronto-based singer who's a rising star in the jazz world, mixes an alternately floating and grooving version of Bruce Springsteen's I'm On Fire and a Latin-tinged take on Paul Simon's 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover with jazz standards for her third CD, last year's Take Love Easy.
But Milman, 27, would like to make one thing perfectly clear: She doesn't view those covers as springboards to the pop charts.
"I didn't want to make a crossover record," Milman said by phone from her home, her slightly accented voice giving away her origins. The Russian native was 7 when she moved with her family to Israel, followed nine years later by relocation to Canada.
"I wanted to record standards and swing as hard as I possibly could and make it as authentic as possible. But I also wanted to do new standards," she said. "Springsteen's music is something any artist from any genre can draw from. The purpose of this record was really to make something very textured. I wanted to create a layered sound."
That sound, built on sophisticated jazz instrumental work and smart arrangements, gets its kick from Milman's husky, assured vocals, sometimes breathy and sometimes deep. They are particularly well matched with such pieces as the sweet and breezy Duke Ellington-penned title tune, Cole Porter's I Concentrate On You and Love For Sale, and Antonio Carlos Jobim's Triste.
Milman also has her way with a laid-back version of Joni Mitchell's Be Cool that sounds as if it should be her signature, and a sensitive reading of the Bonnie Raitt chartbuster I Can't Make You Love Me that, frankly, has "radio hit" written all over it.
The lyrics of Take Love Easy ring true with the recently married singer, who, in addition to touring internationally at such major venues as the Blue Note in New York and the Hollywood Bowl, has studied commerce at the University of Toronto.
"My life has been a constant struggle to balance my brain and my heart and not to overthink. I think that that's what drives me to be a singer," she said.
Although having listened intently to Mahalia Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald and Stevie Wonder, Milman was largely a novice as a performer when she was discovered at age 19 by Canadian jazz impresario and pianist Bill King.
As an adult, Milman's jazz education has partly been rooted in serious continuing study of Sarah Vaughan, Nat "King" Cole, Oscar Peterson and, particularly, the late Carmen McRae.
"It's not just her voice," she said. "She doesn't have as beautiful a voice as Ella or as rich a voice as Sarah, but Carmen knows how to interpret a lyric like nobody I've ever heard. She makes you feel it. She makes you hurt."
Tampa writer and musician Philip Booth blogs at www.betweenthegrooves.wordpress.com.