Jason’s musical life began at the age of six when he attended a wedding in Brooklyn, where he grew up. There was a wedding band playing at the event, and he was enthralled by the sound they were producing, so much so that when the band took a break he snuck onto the stage and started banging the drums. People with seemingly more authority than the child started calling for him to get off stage, but then the band’s drummer approached his parents, suggesting they should book some music lessons for him.
At first, he wanted a drum set, but his parents rejected the notion, citing noise concerns. Then he wanted a guitar, but that idea was shot down too. Finally, he was able to convince them to buy him an accordion, which he brought into private lessons. At twelve years old he was listening to piano songs and rock and roll and started learning the organ and piano. At thirteen, he was playing professionally in bands, doing gigs at parties, school dances, hotels, and wherever else would take them throughout high school.
Jason attended Indiana University to study music but decided the experience wasn’t for him. Meanwhile, the Columbia Record Club was hosting employee sales where records were being sold for a dollar, and Jason was able to sneak in and go shopping for music. The process was eased further when his girlfriend, who he had recently met, started working at that very club. With this, he had exposure to so much more music, especially Jazz, as that genre was generally unpopular with the rest of the employee sales customers.
Come about 1974, the New York musicians from where he grew up were starting to dabble in electronic music, and so Jason decided to move back home with the goal of making it in the industry.
The journey was “incredibly difficult,” according to Jason. “There’s no shortcut to make it.” He studied electronic music, B-bop, and classical, not wanting to do the same as everyone else at the time. During that time, he developed his skills with the synthesiser, and over “4 or 5 years” he became a known name in the field of the new technology, making himself a go-to figure for people wanting to hire someone to rig their synthesisers for them.
Eight years after moving to New York, synthesisers blew up in popularity. Suddenly, every big producer wanted synths on their tracks as the 80s roared along.
Jason thinks there was “a lot more opportunity back then in New York City to grow.” The quality of musicians was superb, yes, but he reckons it was much easier to get noticed by a major label back in the day, as the market was less saturated. Albeit, he wasn’t technically competing with surrounding artists, as he was doing “stuff nobody knew how to do” with his synth programming, earning him spots in productions he normally wouldn’t get the chance to partake in.
His big break came in 1984 when fellow musician and friend Kenny Kirkland called him up one day talking about a record day he would be attending, saying they needed someone to do some synth work. He invited Jason to do it, offering $500, which was a lot of money back then. That’s where he skyrocketed in fame, becoming known across the industry and working with the likes of Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson.
Nowadays, to get into the industry is easy thanks to the Internet age, however, Jason thinks it’s harder to become successful. “There’s too much out there, too many amateurs pretending to be professionals,” he told The Portugal News. “There’s a difference between a good voice and a good singer,” he explained, highlighting the presentation and songwriting that goes into being a musician. “There’s great players, but not many great musicians.”
Moving to Portugal
In 2022 Jason and his wife decided to make the move to Portugal. Having lived in Lisbon for 6 months now, he explained that the European lifestyle and people felt more welcoming. “When I was on a tour in Europe, I was surprised by how many people knew who I was,” a much greater number than in the States. After that visit, he decided to tour Europe himself and it went well, earning him a 4-star review from Financial Times London, a very prestigious rating. When he returned to America, “nobody cared.” Besides that, they also started feeling uncomfortable with daily life in the US, citing a rise in violence, often with the involvement of guns, and of general intolerance. “The people and their attitude just weren’t the same.” After getting coaxed a bit by some friends in Portugal, he and his wife decided it was time to take the risk. Of course, the pandemic then hit, but they worked through it, staying in the Iberian country for a month for their 50th anniversary. They sold most of their artwork and furniture and 2 thirds of the studio. “Moving was difficult, but nothing was going to stop us.”
Jason enjoys the tranquillity of the Portuguese people, as well as their delicious food, specifically the fish and the pastéis de nata. He also likes the scenery in the country, pointing out “Sintra, Óbidos, Portalegre and Porto” as standout locations, as well as, obviously, the weather. There are more queues here than in America, he says, but waiting here is more pleasant, as the lines are organised, it’s not every man for themselves. “The main thing you need in Portugal is patience.”
At the moment, Jason intends to perform small events around the country, around the scale of 50 guests paying €5 each. He has a live show, “The Extraordinary Journey of Jason Miles… A Musical Biography,” where he shares stories of his 5-decade career. He’s met some Portuguese artists, such as Rui Veloso, but has expressed his wishes to collaborate with more local musicians. Internationally, he has upcoming concert dates in Brussels, Milan, Paris, and Novi Sad (Serbia). “You can keep it slow, but you always feel like there’s something to do. Here, I feel life is loose. Right now, it’s all about health and quality of life,” he concluded.
Star in the 2015 music video for the hit single “Headlights” by German musician, DJ and record producer Robin Schulz featuring American singer-songwriter Ilsey. Also a journalist.