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November 29, 2010
How We Live
Tasha Singing

Vocalist Finds Her Range
By Yuxing Zheng

 

She slinks toward the stage in a dazzling black lace, floor-length, mermaid-style dress.
 
A clip holds in place the dark brown tresses cascading to the middle of her back.
 
Five-inch black heels accentuate her enviably lean, 5-foot-11 frame.
 
Local jazz singer Tasha Miller pulled off a remarkable transformation for her superb performance last Tuesday night at Jimmy Mak's.
 
Just two hours earlier at her home in the West Hills of Portland, the singer was comfortably dressed in her usual outfit of pajamas: a long-sleeved pink top with martini glass prints and black pajama pants with pink and red lip prints.
 
It's not the usual way most musicians greet visitors. But then again, the 36-year-old Miller didn't exactly set about intensely pursuing an ambitious career in the music industry. Life and its plentiful meanderings -- motherhood, volleyball coach, photographer, piano teacher and other pursuits -- had to be lived.
 
Inspired by the birth of her niece, Miller decided about a year ago to record her first album. Like most aspects of Miller's life, the album arrived because the time finally felt right.

"I'm comfortable now," Miller said. "I'm feeling just lucky to be here. Why not make a record?"
 
Miller released "Tasha" this month at two, back-to-back, sold-out shows at Wilfs, where she has performed once a month for the past two years. The eclectic, 15-track collection of mostly covers shows off Miller's incredible sultry, booming alto voice.
 
The album also highlights Miller's incredible range. Often billed as a jazz singer, Miller also exhibits R & B and other musical tendencies. Songs include a cover of "Me and Bobby McGee," made famous by Janis Joplin, as well as a Russian traditional song, a lullaby, a Gordon Lightfoot song and a Mariah Carey song.

Finding her way
 
Miller earned degrees in nutrition science and Russian at the University of California at Davis, where she also played varsity volleyball and rowed for the crew team. She met her husband and fellow rower, Scott, in a biology class.
 
All she ever wanted to do, Miller says, was to have babies. Today, the sounds of her three children, Billy, 8, Francesca, 7, and Walter, 4, fill the Millers' Mediterranean-style home.
 
If you go

What: Tasha Miller's next performance
Where: Wilfs, 800 N.W. Sixth Ave.
When: 7:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m., Jan. 6
Cost: $8

But after her third child was born, Miller's struggles with post-partum depression and obsessive compulsive disorder -- she pulls out her eyelashes and dons fake ones for her performances -- took their toll.
 
"The good got better, and the bad got worse," said Miller, who eventually pulled herself out with the help of prescription antidepressants. "In my 20s, I did not know who I was or what I wanted to do."
 
After taking a year to become a registered dietitian, she quit her first job after a week. In the years juggling early motherhood, Miller also taught physical education at the Cathedral School, coached varsity volleyball at Lincoln High School, and helped the Multnomah Athletic Club start the Junior Olympic Volleyball Program.
 
Around the time she started having children, Miller realized that after years of growing up in a musical family (sister Anna Jablonski is an opera singer) and singing in numerous choirs, she "just wanted to have my own space vocally."
 
"When I started having my babies nine years ago, that's when I became most comfortable with myself," she said. "That's when I started to sing as a soloist."
 
She began booking private gigs about six years ago before moving on to clubs about three years later.

An album is born
 
Neighbor Dan Balmer, a respected jazz guitarist, was weeding in his yard about 10 months ago when Miller approached him about the album she wanted to record.
 
Interested, Balmer went on to spend four months this year working with Miller on the album.

While recording at Crossroads Productions in Vancouver and at the home recording studio of Dean Baskerville in West Linn, Miller would show up occasionally with sandwiches, salads and treats for the musicians and support staff, Balmer said.
 
"When you're making the record and spending the money, what you're thinking of usually is yourself and your comfort level," Balmer said. "Instead, she was like, 'I want to make sure everybody else is comfortable and nobody's hungry.'"
 
Promoting her album has been a grassroots effort with a lot of face-to-face conversations. Unlike some musicians overexposing themselves on social media, Miller has no website, no MySpace, no Facebook. No cell phone even.
 
To listen to her music, fans must either -- gasp -- buy a CD or hear her live.
 
Miller isn't enamored of the sound of an artist's song on a computer.
 
 "You're better off experiencing music live, off a record, or a well-engineered CD," she said.
 
At her 90-minute show last week at Jimmy Mak's, Miller's commanding voice filled the room.
 
"I remember the night and the Tennessee waltz," she bellowed in a voice dripping with sadness and emotion.
 
Mike Horsfall, a Milwaukie pianist who has known Miller for more than two decades, said audiences like Miller because they can tell she is completely involved in what she is doing.
 
"Even though she's a relative beginner in the club scene, when she just started getting into it, she immediately had success because of her ability to connect with people," Horsfall said. "People feel when she's singing to them, people feel that they have her attention."

link to article on Oregon Live website

 

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