Q&A: Jazz Artist Julia Sokolowska & Producer Walter Millsap
Written by Sarah Osman
Jazz musician Julia Sokolowska and producer extraordinaire Walter Millsap are two musical masterminds who have to come together to work on Julia’s latest album. Sokolowska, originally from Poland, has been performing in her native country since the age of 10. When she was 16, she was a finalist on the Polish TV show, “Twoja Droga Do Gwiazd” ("Your Way to the Stars”) before going on to become a regular guest performer in Dallas, Houston, and Chicago jazz clubs. She went on to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. Upon moving to Los Angeles, Sokolowska met Milsap, who has worked with some extremely talented artists including Mariah Carey, Beyonce, J.Lo, and Mindless Behavior. The pair are now working together on Sokolowska’s newest record, which is sure to be a hit!
The two share the story of how they met, who some of their favorite jazz artists are, and how Sokolowka’s Polish background has had an impact on her music.
YH: How did you two meet, and come to collaborate on your newest project?
Millsap: I met Julia through my partner Brian Peters; he sent over an amazing song Julia wrote and I instantly fell in love with not only her voice but such an amazing, amazing song, and I called Brian and said, "I must sign her, I must work with her, I can make that star a *super star*.
Sokolowksa: We met through a long time friend of mine -- Brian. I was putting materials together to record an album and asked Brian to help me out in the studio. He sent one of the songs to Walt, and next thing I remember is we're all talking on the phone making plans to record a major album.
YH: Tell us a bit about your new project together!
Millsap: Julia's album is soooo amazing; the sound sonically is refreshing, the musicianship is amazing! But more importantly, Julia as an artist is refreshing. I can easily begin to try and compare her to another artist, but honestly, she's sooo unique; she's special, her music/album is amazing, amazing, amazing!!! She's here to stay and literally help changethe face of music through such classic songs.
Sokolowska: I wanted to record a really good jazz album that would be both sophisticated musically and pleasant for the listeners. After I finished recording the first prospective song, we knew it will be a hit. There is just something very fresh and exciting about the music we are doing.
YH: Julia, you have worked as an arranger and composer for many notable artists. What is the favorite arrangement that you have worked on thus far?
Sokolowska: Every single project I was involved in brought something new and amazing to my life. Because of my interest in big band writing, one of the most exciting projects for me was to arrange for Count Basie Big Band. I think I went absolutely crazy when I first heard them at the rehearsal for Ray Charles Tribute Show, a truly unforgettable experience.
YH: Julia, you are originally from Poland. How has your Polish upbringing influenced your music?
Sokolowska: If culture influences who you are, then it must also influence your music. I was raised in a classical world; I was playing Chopin pieces ever since I was little, and at least once a week my mom would take me to see Warsaw Philharmonic. Even with all this going on, I was scanning the radio for whatever snippets I could get from U.S. soul and jazz music. I fell in love with Jazz very early in my life and started going to those 'old school' Polish jazz clubs that still, believe it or not, held a vibe of those smoky jazz clubs from the '30s. I think the person that I need to thank for my success in the jazz world is President of Polish Jazz Society Krzysztof Sadowski, who opened my eyes to this music and introduced me to the Polish jazz scene.
YH: Julia, as a teenager, you appeared on the Polish TV show "Your Way to the Stars." What was it like for you to be on this show?
Sokolowska: Since I was 15, I was performing on Broadway, but this was my first major TV experience. I recall I got really scared at first. I remember having my first backstage interview, and I was so nervous that all I could think of was a science project I was working on at school. So, when the interview came out, I got all over newspapers and TV as the "science girl". It was the first time I was away from my parents for a long time, traveling from one hotel to another with a strict daily schedule and cameras following us everywhere. But I think that this experience opened my eyes to how show business works, and when [that] first fear was gone, it turned into an amazing experience.
YH: Who are some of your favorite jazz musicians and why?
Millsap: I'll let Julia answer this question; I have sssooo many, I wouldn't want to forget anyone.
Sokolowska: Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and McCoy Tyner, because they defined contemporary piano sound; Sarah Vaughan and Dianne Reeves because I love the power of their voices; [John] Coltrane and Miles [Davis] because they took music to a spiritual level; Duke Ellington and Jim McNeely because they are the best Big Band writers ever.
YH: Walter, how did you come to take in interest in Julia?
Millsap: Again, it ws literally an amazing song that brought us together. I have a saying: "One song can change the rest of your life." And I believe it will do just that for Julia.