Allison Miller Shines in Live Performance

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Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Lincoln Center was a great venue to see Allison Miller‘s Boom Tic Boom in all its glory. It was dusk when the band started to play, and they opened with “Lullaby For Cookie,” a tender serenade to Miller’s daughter—whom Miller mentioned she’d really been missing while out on this tour—that segued into a ferocious drum solo at the end. Many jazz giants have graced the stage at Dizzy’s, and it was apt to see the talented Miller confidently joining their ranks on the hallowed stage.

The band, who battled four hours of traffic to reach the venue, next played “High T,” a song with many moods that moves seamlessly through swing, orchestral, bop, Latin, funk, and  hip-hop-inspired sections. Miller was like a conductor behind the drum kit, keeping the band tight, and conjured Buddy Rich during her drum solos. Cornet player Kirk Knuffke blew sweet bell-like tones from his horn, really shining. But perhaps the secret weapon of this tune is pianist Myra Melford, who ripped the song open during her solo over the Latin section.

On the next song, “Fuster,” Jenny Scheinman evoked 4th-dimension spirits through her eery, piercing violin. With each passing song, it became clear how Miller allows each member of her band to shine and get their time in the spotlight. As a result, the band feels like a true organic unit.

At this point, the sun had set, and the New York City skyline silhouetted the band. They appropriately played the down tempo “Slow Jam,” where bassist Todd Sickafoose grooves tightly with Miller. Everyone was digging deep on this tune, seemingly asking the question, “What can you say with less?” As this band often proves, it’s not how many notes you play, but how you play them.

“Speak Eddie” was the only tune of the set that isn’t from the group’s latest album, Otis Was a Polar Bear. It’s Miller’s tribute to Eddie Marshall, who was a jazz drummer from the west coast. Marshall loved playing five-note patterns and subdivisions, and Miller said she could watch him for hours doing so. The song begins with Miller playing softly on brushes before it crescendos with her on sticks, mixing in half time and double time feels. At one point, Miller was playing with a brush in one hand, and a stick in another, all while incorporating five-note phrases (in honor of Marshall) that start, sputter, and stop on a dime.

The second to last song of the set was “Shimmer.” Miller shared that the song was inspired by her time on tour in the Philippines, where she would take breaks scuba diving and once found herself surrounded by tiny silver fish. Again, Melford soloed brilliantly on piano, her notes shining and glistening much like the composer Bela Bartok’s. The song moved seamlessly from 6/8 to 4/4 time signatures.

Miller and company ended the set with my favorite tune of their new album: “The Listener.” This song was dedicated to Miller’s late neighbor, Josh Cantor, who was a huge music lover. At their first introduction, Cantor was wearing a 1985 Visionfest (jazz festival) T-shirt, and Miller knew instantly they were going to get along. Cantor’s passing struck Miller on a deep level, and she shared that the song is broken up into three parts: processional, meditation, and confusion/anger that he was taken away too soon. The band gave an extremely moving, heartfelt performance, leaving you wanting more.


—Lisa Liu

Lisa Liu is a jazz guitarist based in Brooklyn, NY. She plays gypsy jazz, swing & bebop, and also performs as a solo fingerstyle guitarist. Find out more about LL at:

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