Playin’ Around With Playbook : Founder + CEO Sammy Miller
Throughout my journey as a musician and educator, I’ve had many sources of inspiration. I’ve been lucky enough to meet many of them. However, there have always been moments where I wished I could find out more; find out what kept them going, and why they did what they did.
For this reason, Sammy and I decided to create the Playin’ Around With Playbook IGTV Series, in which we interview educators, performers, and artists on their life experiences and knowledge. Sammy and I decided to connect the Playbook community to their mentors.
To start us off, we decided to interview the man himself, CEO and Founder of Playbook: Sammy Miller. A native of Los Angeles, Juilliard trained-Grammy® nominated drummer Sammy Miller has been hailed as “the perfect player scholar” (The Wall Street Journal). He has spent the last decade touring with his joyful-jazz band, The Congregation, working with over 60,000 students in 350 schools. Miller has developed and consulted to build music curriculum for institutions including Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Whitney Museum, Los Angeles Unified School District, JazzED (Seattle), FirstWorks (Rhode Island), and The Juilliard School.
After a decade of innovative work, Miller founded PLAYBOOK to bring conservatory music education into K-12 schools. He currently lives in New York City, where PLAYBOOK is headquartered.
Below is an excerpt from our conversation on October 8th, 2021.
TRISTA FORD: When and why did you create Playbook?
SAMMY MILLER: I’ll take you back to August 2020. We were gearing up for a year where we would normally go on tour, play concerts and work in schools. Us not touring was a bummer. Much worse, students in schools wouldn’t be able to make music together. Those are powerful years when music first lights a fire your soul. For years I had been talking to other musicians about building out a platform to support school band learning. Even the greatest of teachers need some support. A music room may have 30, 40, maybe even 50 musicians to a single teacher. So again, back to August 2020, we weren’t touring so we had time to work on building the platform.
TF: How did you come up with the name Playbook?
SM: In many things I am very indecisive. But on the first day of the first email I wrote, it was the first one we thought of it. It had to be Playbook. What do you think of the name, Trista?
TF: I like it. I think it’s a great name. It’s your Playbook, your set of rules.
TF: Who did you design Playbook for?
SM: The initial design was for high school and college bands. But now we’ve expanded to middle school students and for folks at home who don’t even have a school association. The next step would be for kids that have never picked up an instrument.
TF: I noticed that on the platform, there’s a section called the Teacher’s lounge. Can you talk a little bit about that?
It’s a series of articles, lesson plans, and interviews designed to benefit music teachers. Some of the topics we get into include: What are some ways to effectively teach improvisation? How can you use NAfME standards in class? How do you build cultural learning into band class? I’m also very proud of the fascinating interviews with some of my favorite educators. They can share what methods work well in their classroom. Educators like The Greene School Grammy® Award Winner Mickey Smith Jr., Tony White of The LA All City Band, Dan Emerson of Wausau West and more. These educators come from different schools of thought, but all are tremendous educators.