Now in the midst of a six-month residency at Greenwich Village venue The Groove, Project Grand Slam is a New York City-based jazz fusion band with a revolving lineup. Although Project Grand Slam was founded in 2007, leader, composer and bassist Robert Miller has helmed his craft for decades. The group caught a big break when five of its songs were featured on the soundtrack to the NBC series Lipstick Jungle, which starred Brooke Shields, Kim Raver and Lindsay Price.
Robert caught up with Downtown to talk about the residency and what else is coming up for Project Grand Slam. Surprisingly, as I learned, the name of the act — which released a new album last month, The Queen’s Carnival — has nothing to do with baseball. However, that does not mean that Robert does not have plenty of pride for some New York sports teams.
A lot of your songs were used on Lipstick Jungle. How did that come about?
Robert Miller: Our former manager was friendly with one of the show’s producers. They needed a band for an episode and we were chosen. They wound up using five of our songs on the soundtrack, and I had a small speaking part as well — scariest thing I’ve ever done professionally!
Your band is doing a residency in Greenwich Village. How do the shows compare to one another?
RM: Our monthly residency is at The Groove. It’s a neat little club with a cool ambiance and a great sound. Some of the shows I do completely instrumental, and others I add our singer Ziarra. I like variety! The band’s lineup also changes from show to show depending upon who is available and which combinations I want. Our set includes the tunes on our new album, The Queen’s Carnival. Despite the lineup differences, the band is always totally rehearsed and on!
Had you performed at The Groove before starting this residency?
Who’s in the current Project Grand Slam lineup?
RM: The guys on the album are Joel E. Mateo on drums and percussion, Marcello Casagrandi on keyboards, Mario Castro on sax, and Yasser Tejeda on guitar. After the album was recorded, I added a full-time percussionist, Guillermo Barron Rios, who gives the music so many colors and flavors. Ziarra Washington is my go-to incredible singer. My other key players from time to time are Willy Rodriguez on drums, Flavio Silva on guitar, and Gabriel Chakarji, Baden Goyo and Takahiro Izumikawa on keys. Everyone is from another country. I call them my “international cartel!”
What’s coming up for you after your residency wraps?
RM: Our residency currently runs thru 2016 and we hope that it will continue into 2017. But we play many other concerts too. Coming up we are opening — again — for Boney James on Oct. 19 at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Conneticut, opening for Reign of Kindo on Nov. 2 at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, and performing at the Highland Lakes Concert Series on Dec. 3 in New Jersey.
Robert Miller of Project Grand Slam
When not busy with music, how do you like to spend your free time?
RM: My family is the most important thing to me. I have a 15 month old granddaughter who is the light of my life. In fact, I wrote a song for her on the new album, called “Lullaby For Julesy,” which closes the record. I also play a lot of tennis, and I’m a mad fan — and season ticket holder — of the New York Giants!
Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?
RM: My wife and I love diners! We’ve got one in our neighborhood that we adore.
Favorite music artists?
RM: I rely on my wife to tell me who’ happening! My personal tastes run to jazz fusion — no surprise — and ’60s rock and roll. In fact, I’ve played with a ’60s band on the side for the last six years!
Per your band’s name, are you a big baseball fan? Go to any games at Citi Field this year?
RM: A lot of people think that the name Project Grand Slam has something to do with baseball or tennis. Actually, I got the name from the James Bond film Goldfinger, where the plot to steal the gold from Fort Knox was called “Project Grand Slam” — except it wasn’t! I learned belatedly that in the movie it was called “Operation Grand Slam.” As far as baseball goes, I’ve always been a big fan. I grew up as a Yankees fan, but recently I’ve added in the Mets because my family loves them.
Finally, Robert, any last words for the kids?
RM: It’s taken me 30 years of playing and writing to get to where I am now. But I couldn’t be happier. I’m playing my music, as I want it played, with fantastic musicians. Take the long view!