From Broadway and back to the Bay, Rebecca DuMaine found an award-winning second act performing jazz with her father, Dave Miller.
It’s no accident that Rebecca DuMaine and Dave Miller’s most recent album is called Chez Nous. Translated from French, the phrase means “Our Home” — an apt description for how the two appear on stage. When DuMaine takes the microphone at jazz clubs around the Bay Area to sing from the American Songbook, including tunes originally sung by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday or Sarah Vaughan, she couldn’t seem more at home. It’s not just that her voice is a natural for jazz, with its perfect pitch and clear articulation. Or that she grew up in a family steeped in bebop and swing. It’s also that Miller, her accompanist, happens to be her father, an accomplished pianist and the leader of the Dave Miller Trio.
The two have been performing together since 2010 and regularly make the rounds at clubs throughout the Bay Area, including the Savanna Jazz Club in San Carlos, the Sound Room in Oakland and Angelicas in Redwood City. This year, they released two albums on Summit Records, Chez Nous and Just Imagine, the latter of which features the Dave Miller Trio on its own, without Rebecca.
Chez Nous was chosen in the preliminary round of Grammy nominations for Best Jazz Vocal Album. This fall, Just Imagine was ranked in the jazz charts’ top 100 by Jazz Week. “They’re right at the top of the pyramid of jazz in the Bay Area,” says Dr. Pascal Bokar Thiam, a music professor at the University of San Francisco and the owner of Savanna Jazz. “They’re some of our most talented jazz musicians.”
Their jazz roots also run deep. Miller started playing piano by ear as a 3-year-old growing up in Great Neck, Long Island, and then studied classical music for most of his childhood. As a teen, he swerved toward jazz after studying with a Broadway pianist and discovering the music of British jazz pianist George Shearing. All of this coalesced to make him the pianist he is today: playful, precise and full of swing.
After playing in a jazz band at Alfred University in upstate New York — where he also met his wife of 53 years, Bebes Miller— Miller went to law school and moved to California to join the San Francisco law firm of Hanson Bridgett. He and Bebes, an English and French teacher, had two daughters, Rebecca and Stephanie Miller, and eventually settled in Atherton.
Miller had given up his jazz dreams for the law until 1972 or ’73, when Hanson Bridgett hosted a holiday party and the managing partner forgot to hire a band. He made a last-minute call to the local musicians’ union, and someone there said, “All we have left is a bassist and a drummer.” The managing partner said, “Send them. We’ll provide the piano player.” Bill Belasco arrived to play on drums, along with Martin Clevinger on bass. Miller accompanied them on piano. “I was thinking, ‘I got the last two guys in the hiring hall,’” says Miller, “and they’re thinking, ‘We’ve got to play all night with a lawyer.’”
From this unlikely beginning, however, the Dave Miller Trio was born. Belasco has remained the drummer, and the trio has included various bassists over the years, including Mario Suraci and, most recently, Chuck Bennett. The band has recorded 11 albums, five of them with DuMaine.
When DuMaine was growing up, Miller played the piano at home constantly, exposing his daughters to bebop and swing, even as he rose to become managing partner at Hanson Bridgett (where he now works half-time), coached his girls’ sports teams and became almost a scratch golfer. “He could be intimidating,” DuMaine jokes, “if he weren’t [five-foot-six].”
DuMaine played piano and flute as a child and sang in her high school’s choir but decided to pursue acting in college. After graduating from Duke University, she moved to New York and changed her stage name from Rebecca Miller to Rebecca DuMaine, after her maternal grandmother. There was already an actress named Rebecca Miller, the daughter of the playwright Arthur Miller.
DuMaine acted in regional and off-Broadway theater and did voiceover and commercial work. However, because she didn’t have the big, belting voice required for Broadway musicals, she thought her singing days were over.
That changed when she became pregnant with her first child (with husband Marc Bryman) and her desire to sing returned. “It felt like the perfect time to come back to jazz,” she says. “I had this literal gravitas weight in my belly, and you kind of need to know a thing or two about life to sing jazz.” She and Bryman moved to Menlo Park to be closer to family, and she soon found herself singing with the Dave Miller Trio when not at her day job as a professor of voice and speech at the Academy of Art University.
DuMaine and Miller have developed a musical shorthand with one another.
“It’s amazing to watch,” says Deb Hunt, a longtime friend of the family and former colleague of Bebes at Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough. “Rebecca can lean over and say three words to him before a song and then count a couple of beats, and off they go. Or in the middle of the song, he’ll change keys and she’ll follow him. It’s almost flawless.”
It’s a family affair that appears destined to continue. DuMaine and Miller play to packed houses, which usually include their respective spouses. Sometimes, Rebecca’s younger sister Stephanie joins DuMaine and Miller onstage with her guitar. And Rebecca’s children, Jackson and Kealy, have recently joined them to sing. “So now,” says Miller, “we’ve got a third generation on the stage too.”
See Them Live
December 7: DuMaine and the Dave Miller Trio perform at the Savanna Jazz Club (1189 Laurel St., San Carlos), 8p.m. savannajazz.com
December 14: The group performs at Cafe Claude (7 Claude Lane, San Francisco), 7 p.m. cafeclaude.com
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