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Micah Collier On ‘Becoming’ A Fresh Voice In Chicago Jazz

Written by on October 2, 2023

Chicago bassist and composer Micah Collier aims to rewrite the rules of jazz as he forges a path in the city’s vibrant music scene. Collier released his debut album, Becoming, on September 15: it’s a collection of 11 original compositions that reverberate with his lifelong journey of growth.

Born and raised in Chicago, Micah Collier grew up in a musical family with a dad who plays bass, percussion and saxophone, and a mother and grandmother who both play the organ and keyboard. He fell in love with the city’s thriving jazz community early on, and started composing original works at the age of 16. 

Those compositions have grown into his debut album, Becoming, which charts his artistic evolution over the past seven years. As his album encourages listeners to throw away preconceived notions about jazz and incorporates non-traditional elements into his craft.

After his September 15 album release, Micah Collier stopped into the Vocalo studios to sit down with Ayana Contreras. Blake Hall/Vocalo Radio

“I was always drawn to the groove,” he remarked. “Every time I went to hear anybody, no matter who it was, it was just a solid groove. And it felt good every time, no matter what.”

Becoming is the manifestation of Collier’s aims to uncover the groove of jazz that captivated him from the beginning. His music is not just for one generation, but it serves as a timeless appeal of jazz and soul, offering something for anyone at any age.

In conversation with Vocalo’s Ayana Contreras, Collier explored his musical influences and inspirations, and shared how he hopes to redefine the sound of jazz in a city known for its rich musical heritage.

Vocalo’s Ayana Contreras alongside Micah Collier outside the Vocalo studios on September 26, 2023. Blake Hall / Vocalo Radio

Ayana Contreras: I’m Ayana Contreras. Micah Collier has this new record that just dropped, the bassist and composer, we’re going to hear from him in just a hot second. And if that name sounds familiar to you, and you’re not already rocking with him, you might remember that viral video from 2020, playing in front of the Park Manor crib, right? 

Micah Collier: Yes.

AC: Yeah? So, folks, if that sounds vaguely familiar, I have a clip from our sister publication, the Sun-Times, talking to Jeremiah about those porch sessions. Let’s listen to that real quick, and then we will get into your story, Micah, because I think you all are fascinating. And you’re keeping the music alive.

[The following is a transcription of the above video, published in 2020 by our now-sister publication the Chicago Sun-Times]:

Jeremiah Collier: Right now, we’re just setting up for our porch sessions … that I host here every Thursday. We just offer live entertainment, because there’s not really much going on right now. So for us, this is kind of like, this is our, this is our medicine for us, too. Playing for people does something for us, as well. Like, it’s not just, yeah, we get a chance to play with each other. But playing for people, feeling that energy that we give to them, and then they give it back to us. Sometimes we have different artists come up here and perform, because this is an open mic. This is a session. So it’s like, I welcome different artists to come up here, show that this is a platform still, for other artists have come out, showcase their talent, whatever they do. We’ve been out here for almost a month now. So, for me, I kind of want to just keep it going so everybody can have a sense of place to go. Because like right now, I don’t think there’s gonna be any live music anytime soon. So, I really want to keep this around, just because of that.

I love Chicago, regardless what anybody else says about my city, like, I know my city is great. And I know what we have to offer, because it’s not all bad. You don’t see the stuff that the South Side has to offer, because all you hear about the South Side, like, “The South Side is bad. You know, it’s always gun violence, gang violence, killing, shootings.” Like, that’s the normal Chicago, we know that. But why not focus that energy somewhere else? I want people to put that negative energy toward something positive. Whatever I can do to change my atmosphere and my surroundings and change the people around me, maybe I can inspire someone to do something else, create something, be an entrepreneur for their own industry, do something else, like you know, just have, so we could have more positive faces in Chicago, we need as much positivity as we can.

Micah Collier outside of Vocalo studios after his interview on September 26. Blake Hall/Vocalo Radio

AC: That was Jeremiah Collier, recorded in 2020 by the Chicago Sun-Times, talking to him about those porch sessions that kicked off in the summer of 2020. That you were part of! I don’t know, you’ve met him before, right? 

MC: Yeah, right, right. Exactly. Nah, those porch sessions were amazing. And especially during a time where the whole world was shut down, we still were pushing, you know, pushing the envelope and pushing music. So we never stopped. 

AC: And that’s Micah Collier. Now folks might think, “Gee, is there any relation?” But there is a relation.

MC: Well, actually, there’s not. Through the music, of course, but, you know. I met them, it was, it’s so funny, because I met Isaiah [Collier] and Jeremiah, they were my first introduction to Chicago’s jazz scene. My freshman year, when I was 15, I went to see them and I was just like, “Wow, they got the same last name as me, and they’re my age and playing music!” I was just …

AC: It’s like brothers from another mother.

MC: Yeah, exactly!

AC: But then your father also is into music, right?

MC: Yes! He plays bass, percussion and alto saxophone. And so he grew up playing in the church behind his mom, my grandmother, who plays organ and keyboard, and so kind of just passed down, passed through.

AC: So you all never figured out — did you ever do, like, the Henry Louis Gates to try and figure it out? Because this town is too small…

MC: Yeah, no I feel like we have to go back. My grandfather, he did a little bit of digging, but I’m sure way down the line somewhere, we got to be connected, because it’s crazy.

AC: It’s super crazy. But I mean, all you are part of keeping that music alive in a really important way. And folks have been watching, I know you’ve been in the Tribune, like you’ve had a couple of moments. Couple of hot moments.

MC: Yeah, for sure. For sure.

AC: So the bass, I want to play something that centers you. But we’re going to talk about you and playing bass and how you connected with that particular instrument in just a hot second, but first, you have this album. It’s called Becoming.

MC: Yes! 

AC: It just dropped. We’re going to hear, right now, a track from that new project, “Remembering Port Au Prince,” then we’ll come back and talk more with Micah Collier. New album is out now, it is called Becoming.

A little taste of “Remembering Port Au Prince” from the Becoming album by Micah Collier. Micah Collier has this new record that just dropped, and, by chance, he just happens to be here. Like, this is wild!

MC: It’s crazy! We here, we in here.

AC: What on earth!

MC: Happy to be here.

AC: One thing about Becoming is a title that, I think, a lot of folks in your age group, and a lot of folks in this world, are trying to do, we’re trying to become something. But what did you have in mind when you named this project? 

MC: So all of the tunes on this project are all original music of mine that I composed, since I started playing jazz, really. 

AC: And when was that? 

MC: 2016. 

AC: And how old were you? 

MC: 16. 

AC: So you were in high school? 

MC: Yeah, high school. Sophomore year. Yeah, I started playing upright bass. I started meeting all of these pillars of the Chicago jazz community: Ernest Dawkins, Corey Wilkes, Junis [Paul], Justin [Dillard].

Micah Collier discusses his new album Becoming in conversation with Vocalo host Ayana Contreras. Blake Hall/Vocalo Radio

AC: Junius is my guy!

MC: Yeah, they’re all of my big brothers, all of my mentors. And so, once I got introduced to the Chicago scene through them, I just immediately was soaking in all of that knowledge and went straight to writing out tunes. All of these tunes on the record are really just a combination of my experience playing on Chicago’s jazz scene and experiencing life. All of these tunes are just a representation of who I am and what I’m trying to give to the world, and how I view the world and how I want others to hear my experience.

AC: So what do you feel like your connection is to these giants, these lions, and the generations before you? Because Chicago is a big jazz town. 

MC: It is. I was always drawn to the groove. Every time I went to hear anybody, no matter who it was, it was just a solid groove. And it felt good every time, no matter what, quote-unquote, “genre” they were playing, no matter if it was titled as a jazz gig or an R&B gig, no matter what it was, it always felt good to the soul to me. And so that’s why I call my music soul music, just because it just hits straight to the soul, you know? And that’s what I heard.

AC: Absolutely. So what high school were you at? I always say that because local people want to know where you come from.

MC: Yeah! I went to Chicago Academy for the Arts. 

AC: Ooh, fancy! 

MC: Yeah. Yeah, it was on, what is that, Chicago Avenue and Ogden? It’s a private performing arts school. Yeah, that was a great time. It was a great time.

AC: So this record, you’ve got an album release, what else do you have going on behind it?

MC: I’m at Andy’s Jazz Club every Thursday. That’s kind of where I workshopped all of these tunes before we went in the studio. I’m very grateful for Andy’s, they’ve had my band there, we’re still there, we’re there every Thursday. We’ve been there every Thursday since May of 2020. And so I use that place as the lab, right? We call it the lab, where we go in and just work stuff out. But other than that, I’m really using this record to kind of jumpstart everything else.

AC: So my question to you, this is more existential. There are a lot of people, my age and your age, who think that, quote unquote, the music we call “jazz music” is not for them… What do you think could change their mind about that? You know what I’m saying? 

MC: No, yeah, I hear you. 

AC: Like, they’re like, “Oh that’s for granddad…”

MC: Right, right. First, I think we have to just throw away any definition of what we think jazz is, or what we think R&B music is, right? Just throw all of that out the window and see how you feel when you listen to music, right? If you feel something, no matter what it’s called. Like, okay, jazz is supposed to be for this grouping or this age group of people, but not really. It’s teenagers listening to jazz, you know what I’m saying? It’s all type of people listening to jazz.

AC: How do you feel? What is the energy you’re trying to put out with Becoming?

MC: I really want people to feel good. I want people to understand that we’re all here. We’re all experiencing this life together. And the more we see that we are [more] together than we are separated, then the quicker we are to move forward as a society and as a people. 

AC: Absolutely. 

MC: And I want to do that through music.

AC: Absolutely. So, the one, the only Micah Collier, bass player, composer — can [listeners] get more information? 

MC: Yes! My Instagram, @__Micahalec. 

AC: Alright! So let’s go out with one more song from Becoming, let’s do “Satya.” Tell me about the title of the song, why did you call it that?

MC: “Satya”! So, of course, the whole title of the album is Becoming, this kind of self-exploration of who I am and who I’m becoming over the past six or seven years, and I was watching a Herbie Hancock, um, what was he doing? He was doing a lecture at Harvard, and he was talking about his experience with Hinduism and Buddhism and studying those concepts. And that inspired me to go and look at Hinduism, and I came across a word, Satya, which means the essence of truth, or studying one’s behavior to know the truth behind we as humans and how we operate throughout the world. So this song is kind of a definition of that.

Keep up with Micah Collier on Instagram, and listen to Becoming on Spotify below.

Interview and audio production by Ayana Contreras

Written introduction by Blake Hall

Photography by Blake Hall

Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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