SCOTT SIMON, host:
Sophie Milman has a classic kind of jazz voice that makes you think of smoky lounges, softly clinking glasses and the cool of the night.
(Soundbite of song, "Make Someone Happy")
Ms. SOPHIE MILMAN (Singing): (Singing) Make someone happy. Make just one, someone happy.
SIMON: Canada is Sophie Milman's home now but she was born in a village of Russia's Ural Mountains and raised in Israel before moving to Toronto as a teenager. And her voice got noticed there.
Only a few years later, she just released her second CD. And this is the title track, "Make Someone Happy." Sophie Milman joins us now from the studios of the CBC in Toronto.
Ms. Milman, thanks so much for being with us.
Ms. MILMAN: It's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
SIMON: How did you find this music as a youngster?
Ms. MILMAN: We moved from Russia to Israel when I was 6, going on 7. And my dad started playing the jazz records that he's collected in Russia. And that became my music of choice over the years. So I was exposed to it so young - at such a young age that, naturally, my voice was shaped by jazz and was shaped by, you know, both the Russian-Jewish thing. You can sort of hear that in my sound. But I grew up listening to all the jazz greats and singing along. And when it came time for me to sing, that's just the natural sound that came out.
SIMON: Let's hear a little more, if we could, another one of the classic songs, "It Might As Well Be Spring."
(Soundbite of song, "It Might As Well Be Spring")
Ms. MILMAN: (Singing) I'm as restless as a willow in a windstorm. I'm as jumpy as a puppet on a string. I'd say that I had spring fever. But I know it isn't even spring. I'm as starry eyed and vaguely discontented. Like a nightingale without a song to sing. Oh, why should I have spring fever when I know it isn't even spring?
SIMON: Let me ask you a question about your voice.
Ms. MILMAN: Yes?
SIMON: You have a different accent when you sing, when you do when you speak.
Ms. MILMAN: Well, what kind of - see, I'm not really aware. Sometimes the Russian accent really comes out, especially when I'm either tired or aggravated in speech. And the (unintelligible), you know, (unintelligible) dusty. That's how I sound. But, you know, singing has this magical power to transform one's voice. I know people who stutter, who can barely get a sentence out when speaking, sing with no problem. It's kind of a…
SIMON: Mel Tillis, a famous country singer, yeah.
Ms. MILMAN: Exactly. And my father, actually, used to stutter a lot as a child and as an adolescent and in his early 20s. But when he used to sing, his words sort of really sort of follows. And not that he had to follow his voice but he loved singing and he could actually get the words out. I guess the power of music comes from somewhere deeper than the insecurities that sort of caused the stuttering and then the language barriers that cause the accent.
SIMON: Could you tell me the story of how your voice got discovered?
Ms. MILMAN: In Israel, I was singing - there was sort of a kids' program that I was involved in. I was chosen. There was one year when I was 10 years old -chosen out of 10,000 kids to be one of 10 to participate in this kids' show. And there were months of rehearsals and we took it on the road - totally turned me off singing. And I sang a little bit. I sang a little bit in high school -not in high school - before that, in junior high in Israel. But my voice was not, I would say, really a good fit for Israeli music because jazz was so unpopular there when I was growing up. I was truly the only one listening to the genre. I'm different. I always read different books. I always listened to different music and didn't make me the most popular kid. Unless - used to sing Israeli music. It sort of didn't necessarily translate.
SIMON: There are a number of what we think of as jazz standards like the title track that we played. But there are also some wonderful surprises. Let me get you to talk about a couple of those.
Ms. MILMAN: Sure.
SIMON: All right. First selection, we thought - it's a standard but not a jazz standard.
(Soundbite of song, "Matchmaker, Matchmaker")
Ms. MILMAN: (Singing) For Papa, make him a scholar. For mama, make him rich as a king. For me, no, I wouldn't holler if he were as handsome as anything. Matchmaker, Matchmaker, make me a match. Find me a find. Catch me a catch. Night after night in the dark I'm alone. Come, make me a match of my own.
SIMON: Now, where did you first hear this song (unintelligible)?
Ms. MILMAN: When I was a kid, I saw the movie and then I went to see Chaim Topol who played Tevye in…
SIMON: Topol, the great Israeli star.
Ms. MILMAN: I just - I fell in love. I - just the story, the concept. I'm very close to my family. And even though we're - I'm generations removed from (unintelligible) life really. Something in that movie really speaks to me and with so much humor and so much love in it.
SIMON: I want to ask you about one of my favorite recordings of all time. You do - you're on special version of it on this album. Let's take a listen.
(Soundbite of song, "Fever")
Ms. MILMAN: (Singing) Sun lights up the daytime. Moonlights up the night. Honey, I light up when you call my name cause you know I'm gonna treat you right. You give me fever with your kisses. Fever when you hold me tight. Fever in the morning. Fever all through the night.
SIMON: Ms. Milman.
Ms. MILMAN: Yes?
SIMON: A lot of people wouldn't have - I think I can use this word with you -the hoodspa(ph)…
Ms. MILMAN: Yeah.
SIMON: …to do their own version of a Peggy Lee classic like this. But boy, you sure do.
Ms. MILMAN: Yeah. This is really the brainchild of my wonderful arranger, Cameron. And when he brought to me this arrangement - and this is about a year and a half ago - and he said, well, this is how I envision this song, and I said, boy, is this ever different?
And we're sort of performing it and people really started responding to it. And I think we do maintain being the integrity of the original. But it's a little bit different. It's not - without the snapping. It's a little less sexy, a little more moody. But at the same time, I still think you feel the fever. At least I do when I sing it.
SIMON: Yeah. Another song to ask you about.
Ms. MILMAN: Sure.
SIMON: The one that ends the album - "Eli, Eli."
Ms. MILMAN: "Eli, Eli," yeah. That is a very special song, as far as I'm concerned. I was exposed to it in Israel, obviously. And it's sort of modern-day prayer for a broken world. And it's - the story of the song, it was written an Israeli poetist(ph), Hannah Szenes, who was around and active in the '40s. And during the Second World War, there was a small contingent of Jews who lived in Israel, Palestine - whatever you want to call it - before 1948. And they enlisted her to go on a mission to Eastern Europe. She went over there and, you know, got captured and tortured and killed. But out of the ashes emerged the song. And the lyrics are: "My Lord, My God, I pray that these things never end - the sand in the feet, the rush of the water, the thunder of heaven, the prayer of men."
(Soundbite of song, "Eli, Eli (Walking in Caesarea)")
Ms. MILMAN: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)
SIMON: It's a very beautiful song.
Ms. MILMAN: Thank you.
SIMON: And a lot of artists would hesitate to make that part of an album like this.
Ms. MILMAN: You know, on the first record, everybody was marketing me as, you know, the Russian jazz sensation. Yeah, I kept thinking, what about Israel? You know, what about 10 years of my life that was spent there? And like I've said often that it's not very sexy to be Israeli these days because of, you know, it seems like Israel can do no right these days. And I have to tap into that because it's such an important part of me. And this song is sort of completely apolitical. It's just the most hopeful inner energy of a human being and just praying for the natural and good things in life to remain the same always.
SIMON: Ms. Milman, it's been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much.
Ms. MILMAN: Thank you. It's my pleasure.
SIMON: Sophie Milman, speaking with us from Toronto. Her new CD is called "Make Someone Happy."
(Soundbite of song, "Something in the Air Between Us")
Ms. MILMAN: (Singing) Sand and stars the secret life of planet Mars. Somewhere I can feel the sun.
SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.