The Mac Wire Interview: Robert Miller’s ‘Project Grand Slam’

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The Mac Wire Interview: Robert Miller’s ‘Project Grand Slam’

Robert Miller and his Project  Grand Slam (PGS) outfit has been carefully carving out his niche in the rock/jazz music world. Last year’s release The Queen’s Carnival was a immediately compelling assortment of originals (which garnered worldwide attention) plus an inspired re-working of The Kink’s “You Really got Me.”

His new album, his 5th, The PGS Experience, is out on June 30 and displays him and his band at their best, with two more stellar re-workings as well as jazz-darling Mindi Abair on two tracks. We met with Robert in midtown- Manhattan to discuss the album in advance of its release:  

Q: This is your 5th PGS album (out June 30th); what do you want your audience to know about it? 

A: I think this album is our best work to date. Between the new original songs and the new PGS style covers, the instrumentals and the vocals, and the studio tracks and live cuts, this CD really captures all aspects of our music and performance. So the album nameThe PGS Experience fits perfectly.

I take great pride in the variety of my music. The new album continues this. It runs the gamut from laid back Island vibe, to jazz rock fusion, to powerhouse rock.  

Q: You have guest saxophonist Mindi Abair on two tracks (“Fishin’” and “Metro Shuffle”); tell us how you both met and where.

A: We had the pleasure of opening for Mindi and her band The Boneshakers this past February at BB King’s in NYC.  She’s an awesome musician and performer, and she was incredibly complimentary about our performance that night. Musically we have a lot in common – both of us straddle the line between jazz and rock. And she does the coolest cover of Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” while we do Jimi’s “Fire!”

I thought that she would be a perfect guest artist for a couple of my songs on the new album and I asked her if she would consider playing sax on them. She immediately agreed. Her playing on the tracks is extraordinary!

Q: On the last album (The Queen’s Carnival) you had a terrific re-imagined version of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”; and, on this new one, you have “I’m So Glad” from the Cream catalog and “Free” from Phish. Tell us how you arrived at both choices?

A: I grew up on 60’s Classic Rock. I love taking one of these classics and updating it, making it my own, but still retaining the essence of the original.

Cream was one of my favorite bands of all time. And Jack Bruce has been an inspiration to me on the bass. I felt it was time to take one of their songs and give it the PGS treatment. And it so happens that 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the U.S. release of Cream’s first album which contained their cover of Skip James’s “I’m So Glad”. So I thought it would be timely and appropriate to do a PGS style cover of Cream’s cover! I changed the feel and added a female singer. We rock out on that one!

Our cover of Phish’s “Free” varied my MO a bit. Phish is perhaps the world’s best jam band, and a lot of people feel that PGS is basically a jazz rock fusion jam band. I’ve been a fan of Trey Anastasio and the band for some time. So I thought it would be cool to take one of their better known songs and give it the PGS treatment!

Q: There’s also Hendrix’s “Fire” live. Tell us how that song has worked for you.

A: “Fire” was a song that I initially played in my 60’s rock and roll band back in the day, and the song then became my first Classic Rock cover. I recorded a kind of psychedelic version of it in 1994 on a Robert Miller Group album. Al Foster – who was Miles Davis’s drummer – played drums on that track, which was a bit strange for him but he pulled it off great!

Fast forward to 2015 when PGS was recording our 3rd CD, Made In New York. I came up with a totally different version of “Fire.” The track instantly resonated with fans, critics and everyone else.

We’ve been playing “Fire” in our live act ever since. It’s our closer in concert. The audience reaction is always incredible. I knew we had to close the new album with it! 

Q: I was at the launch release for your last album and you and the band were terrifically engaging onstage; your vocalist Ziarra was onstage for a few tracks and the crowd loved her. Tell us about her.

A: Ziarra Washington is an incredible singer and performer. She brings joy, enthusiasm and great talent to every song.

At this time we have five vocal tunes in our set – four covers and one of my originals called “New York City Groove.”  I intersperse the vocals throughout our live set. I need a singer that not only can sing the heck out of those songs but who also helps to elevate the band’s performance. Ziarra is that kind of singer.

Q: You’re obviously fan of jazz/fusion music, and artists like Weather Report and Chick Corea’s Return To Forever; How do you feel PGS lines up with them?

A: I would never compare PGS to those iconic artists except to say that we, like them, drive the line between jazz and rock. One big difference, however, is that those bands were jazz guys who incorporated rock elements into their music. On the other hand, I’m basically a rock guy – I played only rock and roll until I was 20 – who has incorporated jazz into my music. It’s a subtle but significant difference.

The great jazz fusion groups resonated with the public. In fact, the artists you mention played sold out concerts around the world and introduced jazz to a generation. So I’m very pleased to be continuing and expanding upon this type of music.

Q: You and the band have a two-pronged approach; the jazz/fusion aspect and classic-rock … was that always intended or did it just evolve?

A: Jazz Rock Fusion and Classic Rock are the two musical genres that turn me on. It was only natural that I would incorporate them together. I just hope that people dig the combo as much as I do!

Q: I understand there are some international shows coming up.

A: Yes. I’m pleased to say that this summer we’ve broken into the Festival circuit and we’re playing at four of them. The two international festivals are the Jamaica Ocho Rios International Jazz Festival on June 4th, and the St. Kitts Music Festival on June 25th. The other two are the Highland Lakes Concert Series in NJ on June 23rd and Magic City Smooth Jazz’s “Jazz In The Park” Festival in Alabama on Oct. 1st.

Q: We also loved the retro-look on the cover for the new album; how’d that come to be?

A: A few years ago I commissioned a very talented artist named Ron Stattner, who does fabulous wire sculptures, to do one of me playing my bass. I thought that turning his sculpture into an album cover would be very cool. It’s very distinctive, and yes, has a great retro feel.



Bass Player Robert Miller’s Project Grand Slam

So far the year 2017 has been a musical home run for Project Grand Slam. The brainchild of bassist/composer Robert Miller, PGS is a fusion of Rock and Jazz with a twist of Classic Rock and Latin.

The band has earned over 1 million video views while defying genres, language and geographic boundaries. PGS has developed a fervent international fan base, in large measure due to the Latin-infused title track from their recent 4th album, “The Queen’s Carnival”.

On February 1st the band had the pleasure of opening for 2x Grammy Award nominee Mindi Abair and the BoneShakers at B.B. King’s Blues Club in New York City.

The capacity crowd excitedly responded to Project Grand Slam’s original fusion music and their special reimaginings of several Classic Rock songs. The band performed songs from their most recent hit CD, ‘The Queen’s Carnival’, and their upcoming new EP release. Following their performance Mindi Abair and her band members enthusiastically praised Project Grand Slam on stage. Here are two Live Videos from PGS’s performance. PGS “Free” (Phish Cover) PGS “Fire” (Jimi Hendrix cover)

Downbeat Magazine is widely regarded as one of the premier Jazz magazines in the world. The March 2017 issue features a two-page profile of Robert discussing his musical roots, influences, the music industry past and present, and the journey to forming and performing with Project Grand Slam. Downbeat Profile

In January 2017 Robert and the band recorded a new as yet untitled EP consisting of five new songs. Project Grand Slam’s live show is always red hot and Robert likes to keep the shows fresh with new material. Over the holidays he wrote three new original instrumentals and reimagined two cover songs – Cream’s classic rock tune ‘I’m So Glad’ and ‘Free’ by the beloved jam band Phish.

Robert and the band previously released reimagined covers of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” (feat. Kat Robichaud of The Voice) and The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” (feat. Lucy Woodward), both to rave reviews). Their Kinks cover was praised by Dave Davies of The Kinks, and their video of “You Really Got Me” has been viewed on YouTube over a quarter million times. PGS “You Really Got Me” In total, PGS videos have been viewed over 1 million times worldwide on YouTube and Facebook.

Covering Cream for Robert was a natural extension of his love for 1960s Classic Rock. Cream was one of his favorite bands back then, and Jack Bruce was a special inspiration to Robert’s bass playing. The new version of “I’m So Glad” is a startling departure from Cream’s version, yet maintains links to this classic song.

Covering a more modern band like Phish is a new direction for Robert. As he tells it: “My two sons in law are Phish fanatics and turned me on to the band. They recommended a few songs to me to consider covering including “Free”. I spent a year thinking about “Free” until my version of the song came to me. I love the way that the recording turned out and I hope that Phish and Trey and their fans will too! I so admire what that band has accomplished. I felt that any cover of one of their songs had to be really special because of the band’s huge and very devoted following.”

As for the EP’s original songs, Robert drew on a variety of influences. “Metro Shuffle” was written while he was taking a walk in his hometown of Manhattan, resulting in a gritty New York kind of feel. “Hollywood” was written in California during a vacation and reflects the frenetic pace of that town. And “Fishin” has a totally laid back Island/Jimmy Buffet kind of vibe which Robert says came out of nowhere but has turned into a band and fan favorite.

As 2017 moves forward Robert Miller’s Project Grand Slam looks forward to releasing new music, performing at festivals around the United States and wowing audiences with their own brand of inventive, original music.

The Mac Wire Interview: Project Grand Slam At Cafe Wha?

It’s been quite a year from Robert Miller’s Project Grand Slam. We followed the release of their album The Queen’s Carnival (CEN), and all the success they’ve enjoyed. And, next week Miller is hosting a charity-event at the famous Café Wha? in Greenwich Village here in NYC. We managed to speak to Miller during his preparations for the event:

Q: Tell us about next week’s event:

A: We’re giving a free concert next Thursday, Dec. 8th, at 6:30pm, at the historic Café Wha? in Greenwich Village, the place where Dylan and Hendrix first played. I wanted to do a holiday benefit concert as a way of giving back, in appreciation for all the good things that have happened to PGS this past year.

We started our current run the day before Thanksgiving 2015 when we opened for Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots) at the Gramercy Theater. During 2016 we performed several dozen times at performing arts centers in NJ, PA and CT, and at various clubs throughout the Tri-state area, including providing support for Boney James (twice) and for Yes.

Q: Tell us about the reception to your current album:

A: In August we released our newest CD, The Queen’s Carnival, which I’m pleased to say has received incredible reviews. Our official and live videos of songs from the album have been viewed over 1 million times worldwide. Along the way we’ve developed a dedicated international fan base in a number of Spanish speaking countries in large part due to the Caribbean-fiesta infused title tune from the album. I’m also very pleased to say that the CD currently is under consideration for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Jazz Instrumental Album.

Q: Tell us about CityMeals:

A: Citymeals is a charity that I’ve long supported. I’ve sent out their holiday greeting cards for over 25 years, which includes a voucher telling the recipient that a donation has been made on their behalf to feed the homebound elderly in NYC. So it was a natural to make Citymeals the beneficiary of the concert.

I also wanted to make it a free concert in order to encourage the biggest turnout. Café Wha? allowed us to do this. And to spice it up even more we decided to give all attendees a free drink and a free copy of “The Queen’s Carnival”. How could anyone refuse?

We’re hoping for a big crowd at the concert, and that they will open up their pocketbooks and make a donation to Citymeals in lieu of an admission charge. We will also be auctioning off a number of very neat items – boxed CD sets, gold records and the like – with the proceeds going to the charity.

Q: How does it feel to have one of the best-selling jazz albums of the year for 2016?

A: The support that we’ve received for The Queen’s Carnival from all quarters – reviewers, fans, purchasers – has been awesome and humbling at the same time. It’s extremely rewarding to an artist when the fruit of their creative endeavors is appreciated. It makes up for all the many unpleasantries that one has to endure along the way!

Q: What are your upcoming shows? Plans for 2017? Europe?

A: The Café Wha? benefit will be our last show in 2016. I’m taking off the rest of December to recharge my batteries and to work on some new compositions. My music team is in the process of lining up our performance schedule for next year.  We have January dates scheduled at Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar (1/8) and at the Groove (1/21), and a May date at the Highland Lakes Concert Series (5/13). We’ll start filling in more dates very soon I’m sure.

I would love to take PGS to Europe, South America and other places. We’ve shown that our music works with every audience – from jazz to rock, from Baby Boomers to Millenials.  I’m sure it will work outside the U. S. too.

Eponymous Review

Project Grand Slam’s Robert Miller chats music, muses and Citymeals

Project Grand Slam is one of those wonderfully undefinable bands. The type of group that effortlessly merges genres to create fun, interesting arrangements of classic tunes and original compositions. Besides being talented musicians, they are also wonderful people who are using the platform of a live concert – taking place at Café Wha? on Dec. 8 – to raise money for the New York non-profit, Citymeals On Wheels.

EpRe got a chance to pick the brain of Project Grand Slam’s composer/leader/bassist, Robert Miller, about his biggest influences, favorite collaborations and what fans can expect from the Dec. 8 show.

Laurie Fanelli: Congratulations on Project Grand Slam‘s The Queen’s Carnival. When you recorded the album, did you ever imagine that it would be such a crossover success?

Robert Miller: Thank you! I set out to write and record an album that was a true combination of my two musical loves – rock and jazz. I grew up playing rock and roll and only discovered jazz when I was about 19. With this album I was hoping to combine the power and groove of rock with the improvisation of jazz. I’m pleased to say that our music – both on record and live – has worked really well with every audience that we’ve played before – from hard rock to smooth jazz, from Millennials to Boomers. So maybe we’re doing something right.

LF: The title track is an intriguing blend of genres. What goes into creating your unique sound?

RM: I always loved artists and recordings that had great diversity. It started for me with the Beatles. An album like The White Album is a masterpiece of different styles. So when I wrote the tunes for The Queen’s Carnival I consciously tried to vary the songs. I didn’t have a checklist of styles, they all just emerged as I was writing.

The creative process is so mysterious to me. I never set out to write a particular song. I simply noodle around and if I’m lucky something just comes to me. If I like it I do a quick little iPhone recording just to preserve it. Then I come back to it later on and see if it still grabs me. If it does I try and finish it off.

When I present a new song to the band I only give them a lead sheet with the melody, basic chords and structure. I rarely tell them what to play. I would much rather see what they come up with. Sometimes it totally surprises me!

For example, with “New Folk Song,” when we started playing it at rehearsal my drummer came up with a figure on the snare drum that sounded almost like a march. But it totally worked. In fact, it gave the song a kind of Celtic feel that I had not anticipated. I loved it and we kept it. And my sax player plays with all these pedals and effects, which I love. It gives him such a distinct sound. I told him to use all the effects and I went so far to say (a bit tongue in cheek) that I would be upset if anyone listening to the record knew that he was playing the sax.

When I wrote the title tune “The Queen’s Carnival,” I was channeling my father, who played trumpet and loved Latin music. He only tuned in to the Spanish stations on the radio. So Latin music was infused into my soul from early on. And it doesn’t hurt that all the guys in my band are Latin. I call them my International Cartel.

LF: I love your cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” What struck you about the original tune?

RM: Like I said, I was a rock and roller initially. I grew up during the British Invasion era of pop music. I loved all the British bands – Beatles, Stones, The Who, etc. – and their U.S. counterparts.

On our prior album, Made In New York, I took a song by Jimi Hendrix that I’ve always loved called “Fire,” and decided to reimagine it. People like covers because the songs are familiar. But I personally don’t like covers where the song sounds just like the original. What’s the point of that? So I set out to take the Hendrix tune and make it my own – not to show him up (I couldn’t do that anyway) but as a kind of tribute. I wanted to keep enough of the original so that people could recognize it, but I wanted to change it around to make it mine and to update it. I used a female singer on the track just to flip the boy/girl thing around – a terrific singer named Kat Robichaud. I think the result was fantastic. And the reviews were spectacular.

So when I was preparing for The Queen’s Carnival, I decided to continue the idea of taking a classic rock song and reimagining it. I always loved The Kinks and “You Really Got Me” was one of their biggest, earliest hits. I always considered it a forerunner to grunge, with that amazing guitar riff and that nasty attitude.



The first time we played my initial vision of it at rehearsal, though, it was awful! It sounded like Sade singing The Kinks at a Bar Mitzvah! Ugh! Totally bland. I knew that I had to toughen it up. So I went back, fiddled with it, and then presented it again to the band with a newer, tougher, edgier concept. And it just worked. Then, having a great singer like Lucy Woodward record it with us again flipped the boy/girl thing around, and it came out wonderful. To then get a lovely endorsement of our version of the song from the great Dave Davies – guitarist and co-founder of The Kinks – was truly icing on the cake. When we play “Fire” and “You Really Got Me” live they get an amazing response!

LF: Who are some of your other musical influences?

RM: Well, musically I came of age so to speak in the jazz fusion era of the 1970s. I adored bands like Weather Report, Chick Corea’s Return To Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Miles Davis’ and Gary Burton’s bands at that time. I’m still not sure why fusion got a bad rap back then because to me it was inspiring and uplifting.

The difference may be that those guys were jazz guys grafting rock into their music, while I’m a rock guy at heart bringing jazz into my music. And sometimes in life what’s old becomes new and is considered differently in a different era. I don’t know anyone else that’s doing exactly what I’m doing (maybe I’m nuts), so we have a fresh sound. We’re the new kids on the block now.

LF: Just by listening to the recordings of Project Grand Slam, it’s obvious that you guys are a live band. How does your music evolve in front of an audience?

RM: Yes, the album was basically recorded live in the studio (the old fashioned way), and playing live is what I enjoy the most. When we resonate with an audience – particularly one that hasn’t heard us before like when we opened for artists like Boney James and Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots) – it’s so satisfying and thrilling.

And because we’re not a pop band the music comes out different every time. It’s like a living organism. We respond to the audience, the room, and the makeup of the band for that performance. Each time we play with a different combination of players the songs come out differently. I love that variety. And I try to tailor our presentation to the audience. So for example when we opened for Scott Weiland, or when we opened recently for The Reign Of Kindo – both hard rock oriented and so was their crowd – I told the band to rock out. And rock out we did!

LF: Can you tell me a little bit about the musicians that make up Project Grand Slam and what everyone brings to the table?

RM: I use a kind of rotating cast of musicians in the band, both because they’re in demand and sometimes have conflicts, and also to vary the sound. But they’re all great, young, music school graduates. They bring a level of professionalism, experimentation, passion and energy to the music that is just wonderful. I stand up there as the “mature adult” and sort of direct them while I’m playing with them and grooving to the music. It’s a great experience for me, and I think the audiences appreciate their youthful exuberance.

LF: What can fans expect from your Dec. 8 performance at Cafe Wha?

RM: The Dec. 8th show is special. We’re doing this performance as a benefit for Citymeals on Wheels, a fabulous charity that feeds the homebound elderly in NYC. I’ve supported this charity for years and sent out their holiday cards.

We moved the event to the Café Wha? so that we could do it as a free event. Most of the other venues in town wanted us to charge $25 or so as an admission fee. I wanted the event to be free so that more people would come and hopefully donate more money to Citymeals. We’re doing an auction as part of the event – some neat boxed CD sets, gold records and the like – with all the proceeds going to the charity. Everyone who attends will also get a free drink and a free copy ofThe Queen’s Carnival. Not too bad, huh?

So we’re hoping for a big crowd and to raise a lot of money for Citymeals. The show starts at 6:30 p.m.

LF: Is there anything else you’d like to share with EpRe readers?

RM: We would love to have your readers sign up for our monthly newsletter. Just go to our web site,, to do so. Our site has music, videos, photos, reviews, calendar, etc. Going there is like a mini-vacation.

And we’re looking to find our Super Fans, people who really love our music and the band. We’ve got a neat package of goodies for those folks that are listed on our web site. And these days you have to be active on social media, so people can access us on Facebook and on Twitter.

INTERVIEW: Robert Miller

Interview with Robert Miller

Can you tell us more about your latest single “The Queen’s Carnival”?

“The Queen’s Carnival” is a fun, upbeat, Latin/Caribbean fiesta. A feel good song. My wife always encourages me to write upbeat, fun songs that people can groove to. Every time we play it live the place goes wild – dancing in the aisles. So I knew that this one should be the focal point of the album.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

My father played the trumpet and was a big lover of Latin music. Whenever we were together in the car for example he would have one of the NYC Latin stations on the radio. And that music – particularly the rhythms – just got into my soul. And the guys in my band are all Latin. I call them my International Cartel. So when I was composing the songs for the new album this all came together one evening. “The Queen’s Carnival” came to me in a rush – the rhythm, melody and feel. I literally pictured a carnival as I was writing it, with all the colors and fun that go along with that image. I was originally going to call it “The Queens Carnival” because I grew up in Queens, NY, but I decided that the royal “Queen’s” sounded better and created a wonderful image!

How was the filming experience of the official video?

The official video for the song is a combination of some stock carnival footage together with footage of the band playing the song live. I think that the director did a wonderful job of merging the two. Initially the video ran into some problems on Facebook – they thought it was too racy! How crazy is that? But we worked it out with Facebook and now the video has been viewed over 500,000 times around the world.

Why did you choose to name the album after this track in particular?

Coming up with an album name is always a challenge to me. And because the album has such diversity of material there was no one theme that dominated. In the end my team and I just thought that “The Queen’s Carnival” was a cool, distinctive name for the album – and we were able to come up with a great visual for the album cover.

Can you tell us about the recording and writing process of the album?

I write in a very idiosyncratic manner. Since I play the bass, I’m always thinking about the feel and the groove of a song. So most of the time I come up first with a bass figure which kinds of guides the rest of the creative process. Once I have something that I like I sing a melody to that figure. If I like what I’ve done I then “record” a short demo by recording a snippet to my iPhone! I usually let the idea germinate for a few days and then I go back and listen. If I like what I hear I try and finish off the song.

I pride myself on the diversity of my material. I’ve never been a fan of albums where all the tunes basically sound alike. I’ve always admired artists like the Beatles who made albums with great variety. That’s what I tried for on the new album. So the songs run the gamut from near-hard rock to punk to funk to Latin to Celtic to fusion, with a gentle lullaby thrown in at the end.

When we record an album we do it the old fashioned way – we play the song live in the studio as opposed to recording track-by-track as in pop music. I’m trying to capture the perfect feel. We then do some overdubs where needed, but mostly it’s a live in the studio sound.

On the new album, after we recorded the basics of the title track, I felt that something was missing. It was supposed to be a carnival, a fiesta, but it didn’t quite have a carnival feel. So I got the idea to have my guys – all Latin – go back in the studio, stand around a mic, and overdub fiesta sounds. Whooping and hollering and yelling in Spanish. As if they were at a carnival. That’s what you hear on the final version. It was the cherry on the cake.

You cover a few classic singles (by Jimi Hendrix, The Kinks) – How did you choose which songs to reinvent with your own renditions?

I’m a child of the ‘60s. I grew up with the British Invasion bands and all the great music of that era. In fact, I only played rock music until I was about 19 years old. People like covers because the music is familiar. But I’m not interested in doing a cover that sounds exactly like the original. So I got the notion to “reimagine” a song. To keep enough of it so that the listener can identify it and relate to it, but otherwise to make it my own. I’m not trying to show up the original artist, it’s really a form of homage.

I’ve always loved Hendrix. Who doesn’t? 20 years ago I recorded a version of “Fire” on one of my albums by The Robert Miller Group. It was kind of a psychedelic version. Interestingly, I had Al Foster playing drums for that session. Al played with Miles Davis. He had never played the style that we played for that session. But he nailed it.

When we were getting ready to record the last album, “Made In New York”, I thought about that version of “Fire” and decided to redo my own version. (How’s that for chutzpah?) So I changed it around completely from my older version, and gave it a completely new feel. Kat Robichaud sang the vocal, and I think that the final version is out of sight! And the critics all agreed, as we got incredibly good reviews for that song.

When it came time for the new album I decided to continue the concept of taking a classic rock song and reimagining it. I always loved The Kinks. And “You Really Got Me” is one of my favs. I always considered it to be a forerunner of grunge. It had that great guitar lick and a nasty attitude. I felt like I could take it to another level. Ironically, when we first practiced it, it sounded way too blah for me – like Sade singing it at a Bar Mitzvah. It needed to be toughened up. So I came back the next go round with a new, improved and tougher version – and this one worked right from the get go!

You also get to blur styles/genres on this album – how did your ‘post-fusion’ jazz/rock sound evolve?

Like I said, I was raised on rock. Then I evolved into jazz when I studied for a bit with Jimmy Garrison, John Coltrane’s bassist. But the rock/jazz dichotomy has always been a part of me. I knew when I was writing the songs for the new album that I wanted to have a mix that walked that fine line between rock and jazz. I wanted the power and feel of rock and the improvisation of jazz. I wanted to take fusion to a new level. I may be the only guy out there playing this kind of stuff but this is me. This is my artistic vision. I can only hope that people get it and dig it.

What role does Latin culture play on this album, and why do you think the title track has become so popular among Spanish speaking nations?

Like I said, all my guys are Latin, and I was raised in part on Latin music. The title track embodies all of this. When we put the track out there on the Internet and on Facebook, it immediately resonated in various Latin countries – Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Dominican Republic. Even Italy. But it works
with all audiences because it’s fun and upbeat. When we play live this is the song that gets the loudest and best response.

Where do you find the inspiration for your original songs and lyrics?

Ha! I have no idea! I just do my thing. I try to stay true to my two loves – rock and jazz. When I write something I never fully orchestrate it. I write a lead sheet with the melody and basic chords. I bring it to rehearsal and I let the music evolve. I rarely tell any of the guys what to play. I let them figure it out for themselves. After all, they’re all supremely talented pros. Sometimes I get surprised. So, for example, when I wrote “The Rescue” for the new album, I had in mind “Crossroads” by Cream as the feel that I wanted. But when we played it like that at rehearsal it was totally flat. My guitarist then started playing a James Brown kind of lick, and we all jumped in. And voila – the song was born. I really love when that kind of thing happens.

Any plans to hit the road?

We are concentrating on building a strong following in the tri-state area. We play frequently in NY but also in NJ, CT and PA. And we like to open for people in the bigger venues. So this past year we opened twice for Boney James in two performing arts centers in NJ and PA, we opened for Scott Weiland at the Gramercy Theater in NYC, we opened for The Reign Of Kindo at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, and we were the featured performer at the F.M. Kirby Center in PA.

Our upcoming dates include a special Thanksgiving benefit concert for Citymeals on Wheels at the Iridium in Times Square on Nov. 21st, and a featured performance at the Highland Lakes Concert Series in NJ on Dec. 3rd. Plus we have a monthly residency at a neat club in the Village called The Groove.

What else is happening next in Robert Miller’s world?

Isn’t this enough? But seriously, outside of music I like to spend time with my family – I’ve been married to my college sweetheart for over 40 years, we have two grown, married daughters, and a 16 month old granddaughter who I passionately adore. I wrote and recorded two songs for her – “The Gift (Juliet’s Song)” on the last album, and “Lullaby For Julesy” on the new album. I’m also a big tennis player and a mad fan of the NY Giants!  Visit –


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?

RM: No.

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!

Master Musician Robert Miller Make Project Grand Slam His Mission

With his dark shades and black/white garb on stage, master bassist Robert Miller seems like a cool cat out of a 1950s Hollywood casting of a jazz musician. But he’s much more than that. The 60-ish player is leader of Robert Miller’s Project Grand Slam, a band formed nearly 10 years ago to perform a fusion of rock and jazz that’s both familiar and fresh.

“I am as much a product of rock as I am of jazz,” Miller acknowledged in a recent conversation in midtown Manhattan. “I love them both equally.”

Over a salad lunch, the New York born and bred Miller outlined his valiant effort not only to keep a sound initially made popular in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, but advance it using a young generation of musicians not necessarily schooled in the same influences as he was. He draws on a pool of talented, mostly foreign born musicians, what he calls, “my international cartel.”

To that, the plucky player with an energy beyond his years added, “All my guys are trained musicians who have gone to schools like Berklee in Boston. If I need someone  — a great saxophonist say — for a certain date I contact them and they give me recommendations. It always works out fine.”

The band currently plays an ongoing monthly residency at a Greenwich Village music den called The Groove NYC. There he works out new tracks, or unique arrangements for covers of rock classics done with a unique twist.

One such cover performed during their July date was the second single off The Queen’s Carnival, theirlatest album: a cover of The Kinks’ great rock hit “You Really Got Me,” with guest vocalist Lucy Woodward. It’s getting attention; Kinks‘ co founder Dave Davies even gave his endorsement.

Miller’s PGS continues to play many other venues as well. In May 2016 the band opened for four-time Grammy Award nominee Boney James at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in New Jersey. In July, the band was the featured performer at the Kirby Center For The Performing Arts in Pennsylvania. In August the band performed at the Tin Angel in Philadelphia and was the after-show for YES at Garcia’s at The Capitol Theater in NY.

Miller further noted, “We’ve played before a rock audience. We played a gig in November at the Gramercy Theater in NYC — we opened for Scott Weiland formerly of Stone Temple Pilots a week before he passed. We were one of three other acts — all hard rock bands like Weiland’s. We played before a completely rock audience and it went great. I knew then that we could play before any audience.”

While bandleader Miller is a high-minded jazz aficionado possessed of chops equal to any living jazz great — having been trained by the likes of Jimmy Garrison — his influences range beyond the usual that the jazz genre reflects today. That’s because, like it did with so many young people of his generation, the ‘60s British Invasion had a pivotal impact on his musical education.

And, it provided much of the spark that pushed Miller into playing bass guitar rather than a horn or keyboards. Project Grand Slam has, to quote one critic referring to their latest single, “The Rescue” — “a timeless, youthful passion.”

He laughs, “I became a bass player when I was 13, playing in a rock band formed with friends. We all had acoustic guitars that we were learning to play that we made into electric guitars by taping a microphone from a small reel-to-reel tape recorder onto the guitar.

“We bought Beatles sheet music and we noticed that there was a line on the bottom for the bass clef. I already played the trumpet so I knew the treble clef while my buddies were struggling to learn it. So I volunteered to learn the bass clef. And my entire musical career evolved from that!”

In those days, from high school during the ’60s until the early ’70s, Miller played in or fronted rock and roll bands. Four bassists — Paul McCartney, Cream’s Jack Bruce, BS&T’s Jim Fielder, andVanilla Fudge’s Tim Bogert — were crucial inspirations at that time. In the ‘70s he became a fixture in the Boston music scene as a founding member of a jazz fusion band, playing with acclaimed musicians such as Sonny Stitt, Jaki Byard, and Anton Fig.

In the 1990s, The Robert Miller Group was formed. The band’s first CD, Child’s Play (1994), featured several self-penned compositions and included guest musicians Fig, Randy Brecker, Jon Lucien, Al Foster, Tim Reis and Tony “Thunder” Smith. The band played the Telluride Jazz Festival, the San Bernadino Jazz Festival, the NYC Downtown Jazz Festival and many well known clubs including The Blue Note and Birdland.

Along the way, he learned the music business, both the legal and label managing aspects, as well as musically, which lent him the confidence to soldier on releasing four other albums on his own terms before this latest one. PGS also had a featured role in the hit NBC-TV series Lipstick Jungle starring Brooke Shields, with five of Millerʼs tunes on the soundtrack.

As Miller noted, “The core group of musicians that I work with are he ones who did the new album — and all but one will be there on August 16th when the band officially celebrates the release of The Queenʼs Carnival“, distributed by Sony/RED. The new album — which is officially out on the 19th — features nine original tunes written by Miller including the premiere single “The Rescue.” Mostly instrumental, it is textured and diverse, applying influences from Latin to Celtic and everything in between, while staying true to the PGS sound.

The record is more rock oriented than his previous works. “My main sax player plays with effects and pedals. I love the sounds that he gets — they work great with the band.”

He added, “On the record I have three songs that I call my arena songs because when I wrote them I visualized that they could be perfect for a big arena: “Gorilla”, “Lucky Seven” and “Beyond Forever”. The latter is really a tribute to one of my favorite groups, Return To Forever and [its leader] Chick Corea, a major influence. I love all these guys [identified with fusion such as Miles Davis] but I do not set out to reproduce what they do. I combine influences.

As outlined in Wikipedia, “Jazz fusion — also known as jazz-rock — is a musical genre that developed in the late 1960s when musicians combined aspects of jazz harmony and improvisation with styles such as funk, rock, rhythm and blues and Latin jazz. During this time many jazz musicians began experimenting with electric instruments and amplified sound for the first time, as well as electronic effects and synthesizers. Many of the developments during the late 1960s and early 1970s have since become established elements of jazz fusion musical practice.”


And that pretty well sums up what one gets either listening to the recorded band or seeing them live in one of their permutations. The only question is, “How much of an audience is there for jazz fusion?” There’s alway been a serious jazz audience, but that’s been for classic straight ahead jazz.

Says Miller, “I know that straight ahead jazz has an audience but it’s not my niche. I didn’t want to go down that path. For a number years, I’ve been considered a contemporary jazz artist but that’s a very open designation. So many things go into that [label]. Nor is smooth jazz my thing.”

“And these forms don’t reflect the other aspect of my career — the rock n roll which I played for 20 years like the British Invasion stuff. I’ve taken classic rock and tried to reimagine what I grew up with. I looked for a way and went down the middle between rock and jazz. Some have called it fusion; there’s no other name I have for it. It has the power and beat of rock but the improvisational complexity of jazz. I’ve looked for the middle ground and in my search for it I’ve come up with Project Grand Slam.”

The MW Interview With Bassist Robert Miller


by G.H. Harding

MILLER’S CROSSING — We’ve tub thumped bassist Robert Miller and his group,Project Grand Slam in this column. Now, with their new album (their 4th) The Queen’s Carnival being properly released next month (via CEN/RED), we went for an in-depth behind-the-scenes conversation with Mr. Miller: 

Tell us about the new album The Queen’s Carnival? How does it progress from the previous one?

This album was much more faithful to my two musical loves – rock and jazz, and I feel like I was able to combine them as never before. This is the album that I’ve been building towards my entire professional career.

You played the F. M. Kirby Center in Wilkes Barre (PA) last week and we heard it was terrific … and, you streamed it! Tell us about it and what made it such a memorable performance?

First of all the venue is historic, dating from the early 1900’s when F.M. Kirby founded it (as well as the town of Wilkes-Barre!). Second, the band was really hot! We played like our lives were on the line! Third, we were able to live stream the event over our Facebook page all around the world. How cool is that? As of this writing the concert has been viewed by over 13,000 people, just a few more than were in attendance at the Kirby Center!

We read about your bass-guitarist influences recently; what do you love most about the instrument?

The way that I play bass I’m dictating and controlling the vibe and feel of every song. It’s like a conductor waving his baton at a full orchestra. I guide the emotional and musical feel of the music – which is an awesome joy!

Tell us about working with The Voice’s Kat Robichaud? And, about Lucy Woodward?

I guess I’ve got a thing for beautiful, talented female singers! And the songs that I picked for them to sing (“Fire” and “You Really Got Me”) are quintessential guy songs. So in addition to reimagining the song and making it my own, I’m flipping the entire feel by having it sung by a woman instead of a man. And these two ladies just owned the songs!

How did you come to choose the song by The Kinks? (“You Really Got Me”) Does the audience get it right away?

I’m a baby boomer and a child of the 60’s. I grew up on the Beatles, Stones and the British Invasion bands. I played only rock and roll until I was 19. This music is in my DNA. “You Really Got Me”is one of the hardest, edgiest songs ever recorded. The Kinks were the forerunner of grunge. I loved that song. What better tribute to the Kinks and Ray Davies then to take his song of 50 years ago and give it a new set of clothes! So far the audiences have loved it!

The album is out August 19 and I know you’re holding an event at Rockwood Music Hall in NYC for it. Will you and the band be performing at it as well?

Is the Pope Catholic? Of course we’ll perform! We’re looking forward to playing for about 30 minutes – about 5 or 6 songs from the new album. Enough to get the audience ready for the free drinks afterwards!

The music business today seems to be evolving everyday; first from a singles-market, then to an album one, and then back to a singles-one. I know that the first single from the new album (“The Rescue”) made a lot of noise and the next one is The Kinks re-worked one. Did you have a cover in mind when you began this album?

Yup. I knew that I wanted to try “You Really Got Me”. But I went through a few iterations with it before I got the feel that I wanted. The first time we played it it sounded like Sade singing at a Bar Mitzvah – totally bland! I knew I had to toughen it up. So I told my sax and guitar players to rock out. And voila!

Tell us about the players in your group.

I play with a rotating cast of young, supremely talented, music school educated, mainly foreign born musicians. I call them my International Cartel. And their leader is a guy who grew up in Queens, NY!

Social Media – how much of it is a plus for you and PGS?

I’m still trying to figure out the whole social media thing. My biggest problem is that it’s a very “cool” medium – it takes no effort and no commitment to “Like” something on Facebook or any of the other sites. Translating “Likes” into actual fans that come out to see you perform and buy your albums and songs is a big hurdle. And the other thing that’s daunting is the world has really gone from CDs to downloads and now to streaming – and the artists get paid next to nothing for a stream. So music has sadly evolved into a nearly-free calling card.

I know you’ve played Lucille’s at B. B. King’s and The Cutting Room in NYC and you have a monthly a residency at The Groove in Greenwich Village. Where else would you like to play in the city?

Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall and the Ed Sullivan Show!

The Improper: Robert Miller Swings for the Fences With Project Grand Slam

Blends Rock, Jazz, Fusion for Unique Sound

Robert Miller played piano and trumpet growing up, but his first love was the bass. He studied under Jimmy Garrison, who played for John Coltrane and now leads Project Grand Slam, a rock, jazz and fusion band.The six-member combo has a unique sound that has won praise from music critics.

Its third album, Made in New Yorkwas released last year.

It features Miller penned hit singles “New York City Groove” and “The Winner,” four other original songs and two tracks recorded live at the world famous New York City jazz club, Blue Note. A re-imagined version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” is also included.

The band’s fourth and newest album, The Queen’s Carnival, is due next month. The lead single “The Rescue” is already out.

Kat Robichaud, a semi-finalist on NBC’s “The Voice,” guest sings with the band and appears in videos for “Groove” and “Fire.” They have been viewed more than 150,000 times to date on YouTube.

Other band members includeMarcello Casagrandi on keyboards, Mario Castro on sax,Yasser Tejeda on guitar, Joel E. Mateo on drums, and Guillermo Barron Rios on percussion.

The band’s music was featured on the NBC-TV series “Lipstick Jungle,” starring Brooke Shieldsand Kim Raver. Five tunes were included on the soundtrack.

IM caught up with Robert fresh from a rehearsal to gain some insights into Project Grand Slam’s unique sound.

TheImproper: Tell us about the formation of Project Grand Slam.

Miller: I formed PGS in 2007. I wanted a different and cool name for the band so I chose the name of the scheme to steal the gold from Ft. Knox from the James Bond movie ‘Goldfinger.’ Only, I got it wrong! In the movie it was called ‘Operation Grand Slam,’ but I had already named us Project Grand Slam!

IM: How did you come to play the bass; and what players did you admire?

Miller: I took up the bass at 14 because I knew one of the Beatles (Paul McCartney) played bass and I already knew the treble cleff from playing trumpet, so I volunteered to learn the bass cleff. My early favs were Jack Bruce (Cream), Jim Fielder (BS&T) andTim Bogert (Vanilla Fudge). My later favs were Jaco Pastorius (Weather Report),Stanley Clarke (Return To Forever) and Victor Wooten (Bela Fleck).


The band’s latest album, The Queen’s Carnival, will be released next month. (Photo: Robert Miller)

IM: Tell us about recording with Kat Robichaud, (The Voice semi-finalist 2013) How did you both hook up for the recording?

Miller: Kat works with my music team and they introduced us. In addition to being a great singer, she’s very theatrical, which I think is on full display in the two videos she did with us for ‘Fire’ and ‘NYC Groove.’

IM: Your new album, The Queen’s Carnival comes out in August; tell us about the album, which features the first single ‘The Rescue’ and how the SONY/RED connection came to be.

Miller: I wanted to do an album that truly reflected my love of rock and jazz and that would push the boundaries of each. I also wanted diversity. So the album runs the gamut from funk to Carribean jazz rock to Celtic rock to Arena rock.

I think that’s pretty cool! I was introduced to the two guys who run Creative Entertainment Network (CEN), which is part of SONY/RED. They are my ‘Music Quarterbacks.’

IM: I noticed that the word fusion comes up several times in your bio; I remember the term jazz-fusion being used a lot back in the day; what does fusion mean now?

Miller: Fusion got a bad rap in the ’70s for some reason. But I always loved it. To me it’s the combination of the power and beat of rock with the complexity and improvisation of jazz. When you get it right it’s heavenly!

IM: The accompanying video to ‘The Rescue’ is out too; it has a terrific feel. Tell us how that was put together?

Miller: “The Rescue” was literally the last song that I wrote for the new album. I needed another song and this one came to me one day – it rescued me! I initially was thinking about “Crossroads” by Cream, but the song quickly morphed into James Brown-meets-jazz rock fusion funk. The video was put together by my management team at CEN. It’s upbeat and dazzling – just like the track!

IM: Tell us about the others players in PGS?

Miller: I use a rotating cast of young, terrific musicians mainly out of Berklee Music in Boston. The group on the recording is sort of my A Team. Fabulous, creative, enthusiastic – great fun and joy to play with.

IM: I really love the re-worked Kinks song, ‘You Really Got Me’ featuring Lucy Woodward. We’re big fans of hers; tell us how that song came together?

Miller: People like covers because the songs are familiar. But I have no interest in doing a song just like the original. Instead I try to totally reimagine the song and I lean toward covers of classic rock songs from my era. On the last album, I completely reworked ‘Fire’ byJimi Hendrix and it came out great. The reception was superb.

This time around I just had an inkling that I could totally reimagine ‘You Really Got Me,’ one of my all-time faves by a great band. I was so fortunate to have the great Lucy Woodward sing it with us. I told her to think about the lyrics as she sang it. The song is about someone totally under the spell of their lover; completely obsessed. She nailed it in one take.

IM: Any other possible remakes down the line?

Miller: There are a million more songs from the ’60s left for me to mess with, so I’m probably going to continue the trend.

IM: What other music are you listening to right now?

Miller: I just got into Snarky Puppy because Lucy plays with them.