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Even making a frog song her own

Sophie Milman's interpretive skills can put a personal shading on any tune. Kermit's theme? No problem.

August 26, 2007|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Blond, blue-eyed Sophie Milman poses glamorously in a strapless black gown on the cover of her new album, "Make Someone Happy." Like many of the dozens of others in the revitalized genre of jazz singing, she is young (24), attractive and eager to break out of the crowd.

She seems well on her way. "Make Someone Happy," scheduled for release in the U.S,. on Tuesday, has already hit No. 1 on iTunes' Canada jazz CD chart. Her first recording -- 2004's "Sophie Milman" -- is approaching 100,000 sales internationally, a remarkable figure for a freshman jazz collection.

The music on the new CD is directly reflective of the timeless sophistication of the album's cover art. Milman's rich and honeyed timbres, applied to such familiar songs as "People Will Say We're in Love" and "It Might as Well Be Spring," enhanced by the intimate lyricism of her interpretations, are the sound of a potential star in the making.

In addition, she has the kind of dramatic background that generates media attention. Born in the Russian industrial city of Ufa (where dancer Rudolf Nureyev also grew up), Milman moved to Israel with her parents when she was 7, then to Toronto when she was 15.

The unsettling aspects of the migrations were softened by the constant presence of music, all styles and genres.

"My dad," she says, "had a collection of LPs that he'd acquired through the underground in Russia, since North American jazz was frowned on. And wherever we moved, the LPs went with us. We'd listen to them, we'd dance and I would sing along.

"When we were in Israel, we'd take these long driving trips," she adds. "And since we couldn't afford a radio, I was the radio player. My parents could request anything from Deep Purple and Disney to jazz and Mahalia Jackson and Stevie Wonder. I'd sing it, and whatever in English I couldn't understand, I would just sort of fill in."

Milman, whose English is virtually accent-free, no longer has to "fill in." Neither as instrumentally oriented as Diana Krall nor as folk-tinged as Norah Jones, she brings imaginative phrasing to songs such as "Like Someone in Love" and the CD's title track that reveals an intuitive knack for interpretive melodic reinvention.

The most revealing song on the recording is the most unlikely -- Joe Raposo's "Sesame Street" song for Kermit the Frog, "(It's Not Easy) Bein' Green," a tune also famously covered by Van Morrison.

"This is the song that's most me," she says. "When I start to sing it, people usually laugh. But by the end, they're not laughing. Because it's not a funny song, even though it's sung by a little green puppet. It's actually very, very deep, and personally, it's the story of my life."

The sense of being different that "Bein' Green" represents to Milman is clearly a fundamental aspect of who she is, as an artist and a person.

"Growing up as an immigrant," she explains, "I found solace in jazz and the books I read. All of those things, along with what I learned from my parents, taught me to not be a conformist, but to follow my own path.

"That's what drew me to jazz. I found solace in jazz. I was mostly around adults, and jazz helped me when I was alone. When I began to sing, I found expressiveness in jazz," she says. "Now, it's helping me to find a life, and a career."

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Sophie Milman

Where: Catalina Bar & Grill, 6725 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood

When: Mon., 8:30 p.m.

Price: $15

Contact: (323) 466-2210

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