Sammy Miller and The Congregation announced their debut album Leaving Egypt will be released on February 7, 2020. They’ve also shared the first single “Shine,” which boasts Sammy’s ingratiating vocals, undeniably uplifting lyrics, playful piano hooks, and an imaginative arrangement with dynamic horn and backup vocal-driven crescendos.
“It was the middle of winter in New York and I was hauling my drums through snow sludge west on Grand Street,” Miller recalls of the conception of the track. “I didn’t have gloves. As I was waiting for the M14 bus, I started to bounce from side to side, initially to keep me warm. I was cursing my life through hums, and at some point the chorus of ‘Shine’ popped into my head. Suddenly I felt lightness. I could hear the whole band in harmony — there was warmth, there was sunshine, everywhere I wanted to be. For a brief moment, I wasn’t cold.”
Sammy Miller, a Grammy-nominated drummer for his work with Joey Alexander, convened The Congregation in 2014 at The Juilliard School in New York City where he was getting his master’s in jazz.
“When I was at Juilliard, I realized jazz couldn’t just live in a conservatory vacuum. It needed to provide its initial function of being an expansive creative outlet where the rules are there for you to break and improvisation went beyond notes and into an experience,” Sammy says.
He soon found a cadre of jazz students who felt similarly—outliers who were fiercely individual on their instruments, but also craved a manner of expression beyond the solo. “We all went to Juilliard and have these credentials, but we didn’t like the insular feeling of the jazz scene. I wanted to find a new audience,” Sammy states. “We played in dive bars where people were scared of jazz.”
Their live show grew to be something of a mix between a comedy troupe and a dazzling rock band that played a vigorously reimagined strain of jazz. “We let ourselves be free on the bandstand and we took the audience with us,” Sammy says. The band’s boundless energy, inclusive ideals, catchy songwriting, and revue style presentation made them a word-of-mouth buzz band.
The seven-piece group is a community of adventurous and charismatic superstar musicians who are conservatory-trained but who have not lost their childlike wonder and awe for playing music. The band lineup is Sammy Miller, drums and vocals; Sam Crittenden, trombone; Ben Flocks, tenor sax; Sammy’s sister Molly Miller on guitar; Alphonso Horne, trumpet; Corbin Jones, bass and tuba; and David Linard, piano.
The Congregation’s 9-song debut album Leaving Egypt was cut in four 16-hour days at the legendary United Studios where the many famed Count Basie sides were tracked. The band enlisted drummer extraordinaire Jay Bellerose (Alison Krauss, Ray LaMontagne, Robert Plant, B.B. King) to supervise and produce the proceedings. The debut represents a milestone for Sammy Miller and the Congregation’s creative continuum. It captures the group’s vulnerability, communal nature, charming and warm wit, and playfully virtuosic musicality.
“This is us,” Sammy says of the album. “I’m proud of it, and I’m eager to embark on our mission to bring joy to people’s lives through music.”
Leaving Egypt Tracklist:
1. Searching For Ragtime
3. Reasons I Just Don’t Know Yet
6. It Gets Better
7. Eagle Rock
8. Date A Jew
9. When I’m Gone