Jazz coach guides young musicians to new heights

Matt Miller

“There has never been a better time to play music.”

While a traditional music teacher might lead class curriculums involving sitting in stuffy classes of 30 students, reading loads of beginner sheet music and tinkering with rusty mouthpieces and mutes for hours, saxophonist and jazz coach Matt Miller provides his students with a hands-on, personalized experience.

Photo by Reilly Moncrief

“(At the camp), we explain to the kids the reality of being a musician,” said Miller, who is in his fourth year as a coach with the Otis Redding Foundation’s Music Camp.

Piloting his music career in fourth grade, Miller was immediately drawn to the saxophone’s curved figure and was introduced to jazz by a series of influential teachers.

“In high school, I didn’t have an iPod or anything like that — I had an actual CD player and I would go and buy them. Jazz was my kind of passionate music,” he said.

Despite negative stereotypes of the unrealistic future of music majors, Miller defied the critics and attended the New School University in New York, where he earned his bachelor of fine arts degree in Jazz and Contemporary music, and then Mercer University in Georgia for his Master of Music degree. He also has worked as a freelance journalist, writing about music for multiple platforms.

“(As a musician), you can’t be like, ‘this is what I’m doing and this is the little box that I fit into.’ You need to be a diversified musician, and really, a diversified person, to make it in the world,” Miller said.

In 2013, Miller’s friend, Flint Dollar, introduced him to the Redding family and he joined the faculty of the Otis Music Camp. When he is not teaching at the camp, Miller teaches middle and high school students at a public charter school in Atlanta and performs throughout the Southeast and country.

“(At the camp), we have a wide range of students,” Miller said. “We have a lot of kids who are beginners, we have many kids who are advanced. Basically, they have an idea conceptually, we guide them towards that idea. We find a way to include everyone no matter what.”

As the digital age continues to grow, the field of music seems to be following the trend as online platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music and SoundCloud have allowed young musicians to share their music.

Photo by Reilly Moncrief

“There has never been a better time to play music. In the 60’s you had to get signed; now, there isn’t much of a threshold to be heard. God, you can find people online so easily — you’re no longer limited by where you live. Personally, I think it’s just good for you to play because of that,” he said.

As the music world continues to grow, Miller plans to continue his musical journey by teaching and sharing his passion with others.

“I can’t imagine not having (music0 in my life — I can’t even fathom. I always find myself coming back to it,” he said.