The general advice for singers looking to make a splash is to focus -- decide what you love most and do best and stick with that. But that just doesn't work for Bay Area vocalist Natasha Miller, a lively, melody-driven singer equally comfortable singing jazz standards, her own pop-rock originals and R&B ballads somewhere in between.
Plus Christmas songs delivered with a remarkably easy-going manner and minimal sentimentality, Miller's focus for her Sunday show at The Addition.
Miller says keeping her feet in different musical worlds just comes naturally to her. She recalls learning how to use her voice with the help of her father, a pianist.
"The first song I remember singing with my dad is 'Misty,' which is pretty heavy stuff for a kid, and then the theme from "Ice Castles," so really I grew up doing both," she says. "I thought all along I could do both."
And more. Miller actually made her first dent as a classical violinist, playing professionally from the age of 15. She moved to the Bay Area as soon as she could after college and led a successful string quartet for several years before deciding she needed a more direct way to communicate what was in her heart. She switched to guitar and started writing heartfelt tunes that mixed catchy pop hooks with rootsy elements, in the mode of Norah Jones or Shawn Colvin.
Those songs formed the backbone of Miller's first album, 2002's "Her Life." For a follow-up, she decided to have fun with jazz standards such as "Peel Me a Grape" and "Fever" on "Talk to Me Nice."
One of the reasons Miller can make such a fluid transition between the two forms is that she favors a straightforward singing style with minimal scatting or vocal gymnastics. "I'm a melodic jazz singer" she says. "I don't take things too far from the melody. And I'm kind of the same way with the pop material. It's not like, 'Oh, now Natasha's putting on her jazz voice.' "
Where Miller does like to take artistic liberties is with the arrangements. For her other standards album, 2010's Spin Vintage, she recruited musicians such as Jazz Mafia capo Adam Theis to come up with free-wheeling musical settings such as a rap break in "Blue Skies" and a pathos-free version of "Smile." "On my version of 'Smile,' I intended to do it in a quick, upbeat way. Thats how I heard the song."
Miller, whose day job revolves around running Entire Productions, one of the Bay Area's busiest concert booking agencies, also developed a couple of other specialties along the way. An unlikely meet-up with Bobby Sharp, writer of the Ray Charles classic "Unchain My Heart," led to a great friendship and two albums of songs Sharp had written during his long recovery from various addictions and crooked music deals.
And she's become an adept interpreter of Christmas songs, a surprise for someone with few good childhood memories around the holidays."I grew up in Des Moines and had a really wretched childhood," Miller says, explaining why Christmas was something she mostly tried to avoid.
She was willing to work Christmas Eve, though, and those concerts became a tradition at Yoshi's San Francisco (now The Addition), where sold-out houses voiced their appreciation for having somewhere to go and not having jolliness shoved down their throats.
"Christmas is hard for a lot of people -- it brings up all these expectations," Miller says. "I just try to make it a little easier."
Natasha Miler performs 7 p.m. Sunday at The Addition. Tickets are $18-$22.