Saxophonist-composer Joel Miller has built an award-winning career developing an individual voice that incorporates the folk and pop music of his youth with more recent explorations into Afro-Latin and contemporary classical music. The result has led him to be a perennial figure in radio charts and Best Of lists; the eminent trumpeter Dave Douglas calls Miller “one of the great pleasures of the Montreal scene.”
Miller kickstarted his career as an innovative bandleader in 1997, winning the Grand Prix of the Montreal International Jazz Festival on the heels of his début record, Find A Way (1997, Isthmus/Page Music). In the intervening two decades, his bands have included musicians of international acclaim including pianists Geoffrey Keezer (heard on his 2012 Origin album Swim) & Henry Hey; drummers Matt Wilson & Brian Blade; and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel (heard on 2005’s Mandala, on Effendi). Miller’s dedication has been recognized with a long list of honours: most recently, his project Dream Cassette with vocalist Sienna Dahlen won an East Coast Music award in 2016; Swim won a Juno for Best Contemporary Jazz Album and was named Jazz Album of the Year by both La Presse and the Ottawa Citizen.
He has fostered longstanding local partnerships, notably with like-minded bandleader Christine Jensen – who happens to be Miller’s spouse. Whether in quintets or Jensen’s Juno-winning Jazz Orchestra, Miller’s creativity has permitted him to travel across Canada and throughout the world, bringing his bands to the USA, Mexico, Peru and Japan.
A unifying feature across Miller’s discography is his penchant for vocalists. Beginning in the mid-2000s, he collaborated with Order of Canada laureate and choral icon Iwan Edwards, vocalist Amelia McMahon and Concerto Della Donna for one of his multiple festival appearances. The material subsequently transformed into Miller’s ArtistShare album, Tantramar (2008). Nearly a decade later, Miller and vocalist/lyricist Sienna Dahlen invoked their love of 1980s pop and new wave in their joint project, Dream Cassette (Origin, 2016) which reigned at the top of Canada’s jazz charts for many weeks.
Miller also has a deep passion for Afro-Latin music, which he has explored on his own album Honeycomb (Effendi, 2014) as well as in collaborations with Colombian timbalero Joé Armando and in Proyecto Iré, led by Cuban vocalist Oscar Fuentes Labrada.
After a long hiatus from formal studies, Miller has returned to his alma mater – McGill University – to pursue his Master’s in Jazz Composition. Under the supervision of contemporary composer John Rea, Miller is developing new works for a large acoustic chamber ensemble – “an orchestra without the strings,” as he calls it, relishing the opportunity to tackle a new artistic challenge.