Milton Suggs and his vocals are renowned on the national jazz scene, and we’re excited to share his music in the JAZZ ROOM this month. His rich evocative sound reflects a variety of jazz subgenres from swing to R&B. Suggs’ background began with an interest in writing poetry as a child. He began playing bass like his father, moved to piano lessons in high school, and eventually settled on voice as his main instrument. But his approach clearly incorporates both a love for words, his depth of musical knowledge, and his incredible voice.
We caught up to Milton recently to find out more about what is at the heart of his music.
When did you decide being a jazz vocalist was your direction?
In second grade, I remember writing on a school assignment that I was going to grow up to be a musician playing the bass. But that really came from a pride in my family, wanting to emulate my father, who was a bassist who passed away when I was an infant. I was always involved in some way with music, in elementary school orchestra and high school marching band. As a college student, I initially studied journalism. Really, I loved the idea of that radio announcer voice.
As I was searching for my direction, the catalyst that put my focus firmly on music was when I read the Quincy Jones autobiography.
I can see how poetry, journalism and music lyrics connect together.
Yes, they are really the same. Poetry is just a way of making music through the written and spoken word. It’s all about conveying emotion. When reading poetry, the cadence, pace, and rhythm are all there, carefully constructed by the author. That’s where the music lies. A melody just adds on another mode of expression.
You have four albums under your belt now. How has your music evolved?
Artistically, how I write has been consistent. I like the jazz standards. All the elements of the music I listened to growing up – Stevie Wonder, MoTown, Bob Marley – are very much present. How I approach singing has changed. I try to be more and more authentic, as I discover my own sound. I think that’s typical for a lot of artists: you first emulate what you like. Over time, you figure out what you sound like and the music that goes along with it. Each album I write is me incorporating that in a different way.
With the ups and downs of today’s world, from politics to ethnic struggles, to the pandemic, how do you bring that into your music?
In general, music can’t help but be a part of what is happening currently. The choice for the artis is whether this is a conscious or unconscious decision. For me, I seek to talk about my own experience and perspective through music. I might write a song about how I’m feeling and what is happening in my life as a father. It then correlates with what is happening in society around me.
What is your vision for this month’s JAZZ ROOM evening?
This is going to be my first live performance for an audience since the pandemic. My last show was almost two years to the date, February 24 2020 in Chicago. In a sense, it’s gonna be me reacclimating myself.
I’m going to bring a representation of my values as a musician and as a person. My content as a musician incorporates elements from a range of the Black American experience. I look forward to singing some standards as well as my vocalese from popular jazz composers I’ve written lyrics to. I’ll do one or two originals as well.
MORE ABOUT MILTON SUGGS
Join us at the JAZZ ROOM this month, February 18 and 19th, and hear him for yourself.
For a little more about Milton, enjoy this 2019 interview from Chicago Jazz Magazine.
For an introduction to his music, enjoy this Spotify playlist, courtesy of our own musical genius MC Curtis Davenport, pairing Milton’s versions of his songs with the originals.