U of T commerce student Sophie Milman titled her latest album Make Someone Happy. But it’s safe to say her distinctive vocal jazz recordings and live performances have made a whole lot of someones happy. After all, Milman recently won a 2008 Juno Award for Best Vocal Jazz Album. Her first CD was also nominated for a Juno, but she says winning for Make Someone Happy was particularly sweet because it is such a personal record.
“The song selection was all about my life story,” she says.“If you look at the songs collectively, that’s pretty much me. That’s Sophie Milman, with all my happiness and sadness.” Hence the sunny bossa nova version of “Undun,” the sly flirtation of “Fever” and a mournful arrangement of the Hebrew-language poem “Eli, Eli.” (All but one of the songs on Make Someone Happy are covers.) Milman immigrated with her family from Russia to Israel at age seven, then to Canada at 16, and her feelings of never quite fitting in led her to music.“I’m a Russian Jew, and twice an immigrant, so I have this melancholy in me,” she says. “I think that comes through in the record.”
Milman, 25, never formally studied music; her education was taking jazz albums out of the Toronto Public Library, memorizing them and then returning them for another stack. After singing solo at a few high school music nights, a friend suggested she perform at Real Divas, a Toronto concert series. Three gigs later, she had a recording contract. Milman now has concerts booked well into the fall – including a week at the iconic Blue Note in New York – and studio time slated to produce her third album. On top of that, she’s determined to finish her bachelor of commerce degree at U of T’s Rotman School of Management. (She has only two courses left.)
“People ask me why I keep pursuing my degree – why not just quit? I have lots of gigs coming up, and the money’s OK, but I really love learning. I really enjoy the whole process of researching economics,” says Milman.“Travelling the world singing is fun, but it’s also unbelievably taxing and exhausting. Sometimes I do think, if I could just write papers for a living….”