Sophie Milman is tired of talking about Russia. That's where the 24-year-old knockout singer is from, originally...hat is, before...

Share story

Sophie Milman is tired of talking about Russia.

That’s where the 24-year-old knockout singer is from, originally — that is, before she was from Israel and before she was from Canada.

The twice-uprooted immigrant doesn’t want to talk about her first album, either, the one that earned her a 2006 (Canadian) Juno Award nomination and a cross-country tour in top U.S. clubs, including Seattle’s Jazz Alley, where she performs at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday ($18.50; 206-441-9729 or

“On the first album, I was very, very, green,” Milman said by telephone from New York, speaking in a slight accent that is not quite Russian and not quite Israeli. (She speaks four languages: English, French, Hebrew and Russian). “I had never heard my voice on tape at that point, I had three gigs under my belt and took the opportunity not so much because I was brave, but because I was curious. You know — ‘Vye not?’ “

Why not, indeed?

Born to Russian parents who fled the Soviet Union for Israel and then, when she was 15, reluctantly left Israel for Canada — “because of the security situation,” she said — Milman played her first professional gig the summer after graduating from high school. The third night, a record executive offered her a contract.

The next few years were a whirlwind.

Her CD sat in the top five Canadian jazz albums for weeks, and she played all the major Canadian festivals, including a primo slot with Aaron Neville at last year’s Montreal Jazz Festival. Having just returned from showcases in Paris, Berlin and London, and with a new album, “Make Someone Happy,” poised for June release, Milman is ready to take on the U.S.

“I’m still trying to finish my commerce degree at UT [the University of Toronto],” said Milman, whose fantastic career has in many ways been shaped by her immigrant experience.

“I was very alone for a lot my growing up,” she said. “Pretty much what saved me was that I was really into music. In Israel, we couldn’t afford a CD player, but we had dad’s old record collection.”

Those old records included Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Louis Armstrong, among others.

In Toronto, Milman retreated further, setting her alarm clock to the opening clarinet cadenza of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and diving into CDs by Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughan.

“I was socially ostracized, and I pushed back,” she said. “I spent every lunch break at the library. I really am the quintessential nerd. I took ‘The Idiot,’ by Dostoevsky, on my vacation to a beach in Thailand.”

On her first, self-titled album, Milman sings in a throaty, emotional alto with just a touch of vibrato that swings, soars, seduces and sighs with conversational phrasing, a natural flow and excellent pitch. Her command of languages is a huge plus. But it’s not just the pronunciation that’s right — she has the knack for sounding like she stepped right out of the culture, whether it’s Jobim in Portuguese, Piaf in French, Gershwin in English or “Dark Eyes,” in Russian.

Milman’s second album, which you can preview at her Web site (, is a more personal affair. She gives Stevie Wonder’s “Rocket Love” a Joni Mitchell flourish, does a bossa nova version of “It Might As Well Be Spring,” a swinging “People Will Say We’re in Love” and sings one of her favorite songs — for obvious reasons, given her “outsider” adolescence — “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”

Back when she started out, Milman said she thought of music as a “release,” but never dreamed it could be a career.

“I didn’t think I was good enough,” she said.

She needn’t worry about that, anymore.

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or