Playin’ Around With Playbook: Playbook Mentor Molly Miller
Growing up as “the woman” in my school band, I did not feel encouraged to pursue music as a career. It was the female figures of jazz that inspired me to keep going. Today, we have more amazing female role models and inspirations in jazz, such as Dr. Molly Miller.
This week, we had the pleasure of talking to Molly on Playin’ Around With Playbook, an IGTV series where Sammy and I interview educators, performers, and artists on their life experiences and knowledge.
Since Dr. Molly Miller picked up a guitar at age seven, she’s been captivating audiences with her sophisticated and raw style. She’s one of Los Angeles’s most sought-after musicians, recording and touring with artists such as Jason Mraz, Black Eyed Peas, Donna Missal, and Morgxn, at venues such as the Hollywood Bowl, Royal Albert Hall, Coachella, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and Walt Disney Concert Hall. In her feature in the renowned magazine, Guitar, Michael James Adam notes, “she slings the guitar like a wordsmith, wry and sarcastic with a playful slant and flows from hushed whisper to bursts of elation with aplomb”. She is in the house-band on The Bachelor’s newest ABC primetime show, Listen To Your Heart. Soon after earning her Doctorate in Musical Arts from the University of Southern California in 2016, she became the chair of the Guitar Department at Los Angeles College of Music, a position she still holds. When Miller’s not on tour, running a guitar department, or in the studio, she heads her own trio, Molly Miller Trio, showcased on NPR’s Fresh Air.
We are so thankful to have Molly as a mentor here at Playbook! Get started learning from Molly today with a free trial.
Below is an excerpt from our conversation on November 4th, 2021. Click here to watch the full interview.
SAMMY MILLER: So Molly is my sister, obviously. We grew up playing music together, playing rock and roll. What jazz guitarist was the gateway between being like “I like rock and roll” to “Oh, I guess I like jazz”?
MOLLY MILLER: Yeah, I had this wonderful guitar teacher, starting when I was like fifteen named Steve Cotter, he’s an LA jazz guitar player. And he used to burn CDs and bring them to our parents house every week when we had a lesson. And it was like Pat Martino, Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, but the first person he showed me that sort of opened my eyes and it was sort of like my grant gateway drug to jazz was: Grant Greene. Something about the way he soloed… it was tangible, it was kind of a little bit simple, but deep. It was really melodic and his phrases to me felt like they were talking, where he was like “Hey, what’s going on?” It was very talkative, and talking to me. He was my gateway drug.
TRISTA FORD: How do you balance being a performer and an educator?
MM: I think I’ve been pretty lucky with timing stuff and being in academic settings. Where I;ve been able to like… You know, next quarter, I won’t be teaching here, because I’m going to be out with the Allman brothers. It is, I’m not going to lie, it’s tiring some days, you know. I’m used to being busy, I’m used to balancing. Before I was teaching, I was at a college and I was a student, and I kind of had to figure out that balance, because I was a performer. I had to figure out how to balance that, you know, a while ago.
SM: Trista, you know, she’s a bit younger. She’s at NYU right now studying music and she’s an educator. She’s an awesome saxophonist. What’s something you would have liked to have told yourself when you were nineteen, twenty?
MM: It doesn’t feel like a lot of work to me, because I love what I do. And in a genuine way. It’s a long day, you know. I love what I do. I love my students, and I love performing. You have to hustle, and it’s hard. I think so much of it is attitude. I could be like “Oh, today’s a long day!” or I could be like “this is awesome!” I’m getting paid to teach the thing I love. So much of what life is is the story you tell yourself. Either today can be a hard day or a day of exciting opportunity.
TF: Why do you think programs like Playbook are so important in today’s classroom?
MM: So many people are like we don’t always get the opportunity to play with people in the classroom, and playbook is about as close as you have to that. You can be at home and play with other human beings, and in the classroom, you can utilize it. Sammy and the Congregation boys are not only some of the strongest players, but some of the most amazing educators. I’ve worked with so many people and they, I think it’s because they love it so much. They know so much about it; the history, the players. They know how to do this thing. The access to educators, the passions, and on a basic level, it’s a great platform.