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Project Grand Slam

In the late ’60s and early ’70s jazz experienced a renaissance as Miles Davis led jazz into a period that came to be known as “Fusion” – one that melded jazz sensitivities and improvisation with the beat and power of rock music. Groups like Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Return To Forever blazed an exciting and dynamic path in Fusion, captivating the public in the process and enlarging jazz’s traditional audience exponentially.

But musical styles sometimes go in and out of favor, and this happened with Fusion. Starting in the ’80s jazz took a step back, as Fusion began to morph into Smooth Jazz, which is very tame and safe in comparison. However, some musicians kept Fusion alive.

One such musician is Robert Miller, leader, bassist and composer for Project Grand Slam (PGS). Born into a musical family, Miller had no choice but to start playing music while in grade school. Piano lessons gave way to the trumpet, and by the time The Beatles rocked the world on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 rock and roll had become the young musician’s obsession. It was in 1970, at the age of 19, however, that Miller’s fate as a jazz performer was sealed when he was fortunate enough to be assigned, though a school music program, to private studies with Jimmy Garrison, John Coltrane’s bassist.

“Jimmy opened my eyes to jazz. He taught me how to “walk” on the bass among so many other things. He was a great gentleman too”, says Miller.

In the early ’70s Miller moved to Boston where he was front and center in the Fusion movement. His band, called Sagov, had several all-star musicians including Anton Fig, and played all the major clubs in the area including Lennie’s On the Turnpike, Paul’s Mall and Debbie’s, sharing the stage with greats such as Sonny Stitt, Jaki Byard, and Gary Burton. “It was a time of spectacular evolution and creativity in jazz, and I was very lucky to be involved in it,” says Miller.

In the early ’90s Miller moved back to NYC and put together The Robert Miller Group. The band continued the Fusion vein that Miller loved and Robert began his composing career. Their first release, Child’s Play (1994), featured incredible guest musicians including Randy Brecker, Jon Lucien, Al Foster, Tony “Thunder” Smith, and Miller’s old band mate Anton Fig; 1996 saw a follow up release, Prisoners of Love. The band played widely, including the Telluride Jazz Festival, the San Bernadino Jazz Festival, NYC jazz festival and clubs like The Blue Note and Birdland in NYC.

In the mid-’90s Miller also formed 32 Records, an independent jazz label. 32 purchased the Muse Records catalog and reissued about 100 CDs over the next five years. In 1999 32 had a major hit with Jazz For A Rainy Afternoon, a compilation CD that sold over 1 million records (which is practically unheard of in jazz), and which in turn spawned an entire “Jazz For…” catalogue. These records became so popular that during one week in April of that year 32 Records had the top four records on the Billboard Jazz Chart, a feat that no other record label had ever accomplished.

In 2007 Miller formed Project Grand Slam, naming the band based upon the James Bond film, “Goldfinger” because he wanted a name that was different and cool. Except that he got the name wrong. Miller learned after naming PGS that in the film the evil Goldfinger’s plot to rob Fort Knox was called Operation Grand Slam, not Project Grand Slam, but he thought still, PGS is a cool name so he kept it.

PGS has been described by Acid Jazz Magazine as “a spectacular mix of jazz, fusion and rock that combines melody, groove and great improvisation.”

With PGS Miller’s writing skills and output increased considerably, and the band continued to play Fusion with an updated feel. PGS’s debut album, Play (Cakewalk Records 2008), was produced by Frank Filipetti (Grammy winner for Record Of The Year for James Taylor’s “Hourglass” CD) and featured the top radio hit “The Captain Of Her Heart”, a cover of the Double song, with internationally renowned guest vocalist Judie Tzuke. In addition, PGS and five of Miller’s tunes from Play were featured in an episode of the hit NBC-TV series, “Lipstick Jungle”, starring Brooke Shields (and Miller had a speaking part). Play received rave reviews.

In 2012 PGS released its follow up album, Spring Dance (Cakewalk Records). The album featured five of Miller’s new compositions, including the title track, which was another top radio hit. This CD also received rave reviews.

In 2014 Miller released Twenty (Cakewalk Records), a compilation CD featuring 16 of Miller’s best compositions recorded over the last twenty years by Project Grand Slam and The Robert Miller Group. He also re-formed Project Grand Slam with four terrific new musicians. The new PGS played its debut show in July 2014 in NYC and has been performing steadily ever since.

As 2015 unfolds Miller and PGS have exciting plans in the works. The band recently recorded four new Miller tunes, including a vocal called “New York City Groove”. This song was created by Miller as a kind of love letter to his NYC home, with iconic images of NYC and a true NYC vibe. Kind of like “MTV meets I LOVE NY”. The track features the robust pipes of 2013 The Voice semi-finalist Kat Robichaud. PGS has also entered into a distribution agreement with CEN/RED Distribution. Summer 2015 will see the release of “Groove” along with Miller’s other new compositions, and the band is organizing a full performance schedule.

PGS consists of the following young, talented musicians in addition to Robert on bass:

Joel E. Mateo – drums

Nathan Cepelinski – saxophones

Ben Sher – guitar

Marcello Casagrandi – keyboards