(JTA) — Sammy Miller and his girlfriend Misha grew up in very different cultures: Sammy was raised in the Jewish community in suburban Los Angeles, while Misha was raised Muslim in Karachi, Pakistan, before moving to move to the United States at the age of 12.
Miller also happens to be a musician – he conducts Sammy Miller and the Congregation, an up-and-coming poppy jazz band that sounds like a cross between Preservation Room Jazz Band and the Ben folds five.
Now he’s penned a humorous song, titled “Date a Jew,” about the pressures he and his girlfriend felt at the start of their relationship.
The “Date a Jew” music video, which features stunning shadow puppets by the Turn on the lights! Theater Co., is premiering here.
“There was one thing in this world my momma said, you gotta date a Jew,” Sammy sings at the start of the song.
A few lines later, he sings that Misha “taught in the mosque” not to date Jews.
Luckily, in real life, the pair cleared the first hurdles. Miller approached Misha when he was 16, at a Model UN conference for high school students.
He wasn’t one to be bold – even now, at 28, he speaks softly and deliberately chooses his phrases – but he approached her and told her he thought she was pretty.
“She didn’t say anything because it was a weird thing to say,” Miller said.
So nothing came of it at first. But about 10 years later, Misha showed up at one of Sammy’s gigs in Chicago. The rest is romantic history.
These days, they share each other’s traditions – Sammy remembers, for example, how Misha sat with him through his grandfather’s house. Shiva, and how he later learned the Islamic equivalent of the Jewish mourner’s Kaddish prayer.
The song’s opening ethos dovetails perfectly with Miller’s musical philosophy: to make jazz fun and accessible to everyone again. Miller, a Juilliard graduate, believes the contemporary jazz world has become too serious and insular, in stark contrast to some icons of the genre, like the late Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, who were storytellers.
“I try to create material that matches our moment, which is my experience. … We don’t dress in bow ties and pretend it’s 1927,” he said. “We want to create a space for people to be themselves, and I feel like Misha did that for me and I did that for her.”
Miller isn’t very religious these days, but just about everything about his band’s aesthetic has a Jewish vibe, from the congregation in the name to the album title’s Exodus reference to the Moses-like personnel. shown in some promotional photos (like the one attached to this article).
“[‘Leaving Egypt’] it’s we’re leaving the conventions of our jazz world,” Miller said. “We are leaving what we knew for something unknown.”