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My 2010 in Review

I think this has been the best year of my life so far, or at the very least the most traveled. So thanks to everyone who was a part of it and made it so great! I just want to touch on some of the many highlights both musical and otherwise, because when you put them all together its pretty overwhelming! I’ve linked to posts on specific subjects if you want to read deeper.

Catskills on the way up to Utica

I kicked off the new year borrowing my friend Ike’s Buick Crown Royal and driving up to Utica, NY to see a good friend of mine. After a year and a half in New York with no car, the freedom felt incredible. It was a really wintery weekend and we spent it appropriately – first night skiing (downhill) on amazing fresh powder, then ice fishing the next day! Ice fishing was a new one for me and it was as ridiculous as it was freezing. But fun.

Music-wise I’m going to try to pick one or two of the most memorable concerts for each month, which is hard because I saw around 225 live concerts in 2010! A Punch Brothers P-Bingo night followed by Winter Jazz Fest was an incredible way to musically kick off the year. Highlights of the two day festival included my first time seeing Jeremy Udden’s Plainville, an always stellar Matt Wilson Quartet, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Lionel Loueke.

My birthday month included a trip to one of my favorite places in the world, the mountains of North Carolina, with two of my favorite people. The weekend had a really dreamy feeling like I would wake up at any moment. There was 5 feet of snow on the ground and we had to park and walk 100 yards up the driveway to my family’s house. Also went to three Punch Brothers shows in 3 days, putting 1,100 miles on my friend’s car round trip from Washington DC! But the highlights were the times spent in the car more than the concerts.

Another great musical moment happened at the very beginning of the month with Afinidad at Jazz Standard. The supergroup featured David Binney, Gretchen Parlato, Rogerio Boccato and others playing beautiful Brazilian influenced music but sounding like a real cohesive band!

Gabrial Kahane Allen Room – arguably the most beautiful listening room in New York, and one of my favorite artists with a full chamber orchestra! Need I say more?

Califone – this band was a total surprise to me, combining really simple layering of acoustic instruments with a powerful rhythm section that had a huge influence on their Chicago colleagues Wilco.

The last half of the month involved taking a much needed two week hiatus from school and road tripping to Austin, Texas! I went with two strangers who ended up being really compatible travel companions and fellow BBQ lovers! We took back roads most of the way, and people welcomed us into their homes everywhere we went. The feeling was elating. Ended up in Austin at the SXSW clusterfuck of a festival, and had a great time and a great gig!

Scarcely three days after I was back in NYC it was spring break! So I hopped aboard a bus to Portland, Maine with my good friend Russ. It was a weekend of firsts – my first trip to Maine, and Boston for that matter, and my first time hearing Chris Thile’s Mandolin Concerto performed. I even got to go to the rehearsal and sit in the second row looking at a score of the piece! Its a pretty incredible way to hear a piece of music for the first time, especially when its that complex.

But wait! There’s more! I got to play with Marco Benevento, one of my highschool heros! He was playing a little bar gig in his neighborhood and invited me up. We played – of all things – Tequilla, because some drunk asshole yelled it out in the audience and Marco couldn’t resist the irony. Playing that tune with a true hero of mine felt surreal to say the least. I got to play with him two more times in April, so my admiration was preserved.

Cherry Blossoms in Bloom at Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

April was busy with finishing up school, which meant my graduate recital. My parents came up (their first real visit to NYC) and we had a great weekend. As for my recital, I had a lot of fun playing a collection of songs that I picked purely because I love them, and I’m really proud of how it came out.

The same week, I got to see my mentor and one of the greatest living musicians – Bunky Green, play a rare club date in New York. Seeing him anywhere always fills me with inspiration and warmth, and seeing him perform for my first time in New York only elevated the feeling.

Farm in Southern Pennsylvania

May was my first month as a citizen of the free unacademic world and it felt more amazing than I could have ever imagined.
I took a pure vacation to my friend Max’s family farm in Southern Pennsylvania, where we spent the weekend taking care of their three horses, cleaning stables, and cooking – and doing nothing else! Its a really beautiful part of the world.

I also had the privilege of playing with another one of my hero’s – Doug Wamble on his CD Release at Joe’s Pub. It was definitely a milestone for me.

Another milestone was leading my very own quartet dubbed “Chris Miller Explosion” at a jazz club in Brooklyn, where we played my original compositions exclusively. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of peers for the occasion.

Two amazing shows that I got to enjoy in May were the Matt Wilson Quartet w/ Strings at Iridium (most incredible use of hand bells by a jazz band in history) and Crooked Still at 92Y Tribeca (CD release? can’t remember, but it was my first time hearing the songs). Both were shared with my friend Carly, who I had just met and since has become one of my closest friends here in the city.

Leah Siegel was definitely laced through my whole year, as one of my favorite singers I barely missed any chance to hear her play with her own project, or the soulful Brooklyn Boogaloo Blowout. Her show in June at Bowery Electric was especially intimate and marked the end of a chapter and the beginning of her new project – Firehorse which is also incredible.

Rope Bridge at Ashokan

June was also my first time at Ashokan – a fiddle and dance camp in the Catskills. The week’s theme was Western/Swing with some trad. jazz, fiddle tunes, country, western, and cajun. The week truly changed my life, being in an incredibly nurturing and naturally beautiful environment with some of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

Three other concerts I have to mention – Kristen Andreassen, Chas Justus, and Eric Frey played a songwriters-round type show that was mind blowing (I went twice!); Gretchen Parlato had a featured full band show that was as good as jazz gets, as far as I’m concerned; Roy Hargrove played a marathon of a show with both his big band and a rare appearance by the RH Factor – his jazz/hiphop project that was a huge deal for me in college and my first time getting to see the band live.

In July, I was working and teaching 20 hour days and riding my bike 20 miles a day between them, which was possibly the only thing that maintained my sanity. But of course I still managed to sneak off for a bluegrass festival for a long weekend – Grey Fox, in upstate New York. Tim O’Brien played an incredible set and I got to jam with some of my current heros – Bryan Sutton, Alex Hargreaves, and Sarah Jarosz! I still haven’t lived that jam down.

I went for a trip up to Syracuse to play and record with Andrew and Noah VanNostrand, who I had met at Ashokan and again at Grey Fox. Meeting these guys has been a huge part of my year, since I ended up joining their band and traveling with them, but this first trip up was really special because I’d been waiting to meet musicians like them for years and we really just clicked.

I returned to Ashokan for another week – Southern themed (old-time fiddle music and cajun) and it was just as incredible as the first, though in different ways. I took up learning claw-hammer banjo and was overwhelmed by the immersive challenge, but there’s no more supportive environment in the world for jumping into something new.

I also got to catch Chris Thile do a rare solo show in New York. That was completely mind-blowing.

The Grand Canyon

September was filled. Too much too summarize, but I took advantage of Jet Blue’s All-You-Can-Jet pass – unlimited flights for 30 days for $499. I visited 17 cities in 30 days totaling 35 flights. Highlights were: all of it – microbrews in Portland Oregon and Portland Maine, road tripping in Utah, Arizona, and Virginia; California, Seattle, Colorado, my first Rosh Hashanah in North Carolina, and just catching up with old and new friends across the country.

Of course it wasn’t a music-less trip – I managed to plan my schedule around a soul-crushing Bruce Molsky solo show in Seattle, a rocking Crooked Still show in Chicago, and a gig with Andrew and Noah in Watertown, NY (technically in October), just to highlight a few.

All You Can Jet spilled over into the first week of October, and I found myself unable to stop traveling after that. I ended the official 30 days in Syracuse for a really fun fall weekend of apple picking, hiking, and general wholesomeness that you just can’t find in NYC, then took a train to Boston for a gig at the beautiful jazz club Reggata Bar with Doug Wamble and another one of my heros – Charlie Hunter. From there I had a few days home in NY (which I cherished deeply) before flying down to Florida for my favorite weekend of every year – Magnoliafest. From there I flew to New Orleans and took a bus to Lafayette, Louisiana to play at the fantastic Blackpot festival and spent a week hanging around Acadiana. It was one of the best weeks of the year, filled with great friends and new friends, and parties every night centered around jam sessions and amazing pots of Jambalaya and Gumbo.

November felt like the first time I was home in NYC for any amount of time in months – two whole weeks in my own bed! Well almost- I spent the 14th night staying up all night at an amazing swing/jazz session followed by breakfast at a diner before heading to the airport to fly to Costa Rica for a week! I made the most of my time in NYC, going out to shows 9 of the 14 nights including 8 straight nights. By then I really did need a vacation after all that traveling, and the week in Costa Rica was spent rarely leaving my uncle’s perfect house on the Pacific, avoiding getting dressed, and cooking breakfast lunch and dinner for me and my four friends who paid the way for my trip. I came back feeling refreshed and at peace.
The last week of November was full of inspiring concerts: Margaret Glaspy, a Search and Restore Fundraiser Show (we’ve┬áraised $76,822 for our jazz promoting nonprofit!!!), and Maria Schneider Orchestra.

December is still in progress but so far:

New Years Eve will be spent back at Ashokan, and I can’t imagine a more perfect way to conclude this year and jump in to the next!

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