As one of New York City's elite drummers, Allison Miller is used to raising a ruckus and attracting attention. But when she posted a story about her experiences as a lesbian on the often testosterone-soaked Gotham jazz scene, she wasn't expecting it to explode on social media.

A musician of Miller's stature would seem to have a lot to lose by making waves. Her Huffington Post essay —‰'You Don't Play Like a Girl': Queer in a Jazz World" didn't name names, but she painted a gimlet-eyed portrait of an insular world that can feel a lot like a guys' high school locker room.

Allison Miller brings her band to Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz this week.Courtesy: Kuumbwa Jazz
Allison Miller brings her band to Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz this week. Courtesy: Kuumbwa Jazz ( desdemona burgin )

"I didn't realize it would get circulated so heavily or how forward some people thought I was being," says Miller, 38, who performs Thursday at Kuumbwa with her all-star quartet Boom Tic Boom, featuring powerhouse pianist Myra Melford, bassist Todd Sickafoose and violinist Jenny Scheinman, who's also featured throughout guitarist Bill Frisell's inaugural run as one of five SFJazz Center resident artistic directors April 18-21.

"People were so into it," Miller continues. "I got a ton of emails from young women in this business, and that was really special. There have been gays in jazz as long as the music's been around, but people don't talk about it that much."

One reason her column circulated so widely is that Miller has become a musician with extraordinary stylistic range who intersects with an array of disparate scenes.

She's spent much of the past decade on the road with a series of trenchant singer-songwriters such as Ani DiFranco, Natalie Merchant, Brandi Carlile and Erin McKeown. But she's also forged creative alliances with edgy jazz saxophonists like Marty Ehrlich and Ellery Eskelin. She's toured and recorded widely with Hammond B3 organ legend Dr. Lonnie Smith and composed music for Showtime's cult series "The L Word."

Since the release of Boom Tic Boom's eponymous 2010 debut album, however, Miller has started turning down long tours to concentrate on leading her own projects. Her West Coast run marks the second Boom Tic Boom release "No Morphine, No Lilies" (The Royal Potato Family), an album she recorded at Berkeley's Fantasy Studios.

The album's defiant title reflects the conditions under which it was recorded, with Miller in the midst of reordering her life to take care of her grievously ill girlfriend (who has since recovered). The fact that her bandmates were also contending with disruptive life developments adds to the album's emotionally taut feel.

"I was pretty much a mess, down to where are my charts even readable?" Miller says. "Todd's wife had just had a baby, and he was really tired. Jenny was eight months pregnant, with pneumonia. It could have easily been a disaster, but it made everyone play with that desperately hanging-on energy."

The album captures Miller's steady growth as a composer and bandleader, with arrangements built upon the powerfully expressive voices that constitute Boom Tic Boom. Guest appearances by masters like slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein and cellist Erik Friedlander provide an additional jolt.

Several of her compositions are heartfelt tributes to departed drum masters, such as the herky-jerky "Speak Eddie," which offers a spirited farewell to San Francisco drum great Eddie Marshall, whom Miller got to know when they were on faculty together at Jazz Camp West. The warmly elegiac "Spotswood Drive" is a tone poem to Walter Salb, her late drum mentor.

"The thing about Alli is that she's a really honest and joyful person, and that comes out in her music, the way she counts off a tune, even the way she sits on her drum stool," Sickafoose says. "She writes such beautiful lyrical pieces. I guest it's almost a cliche to be surprised when that comes out of a drummer."

Amid a whirlwind of activity around the Bay Area over the week, Miller performs Friday with Sickafoose's band Tiny Resistors at San Francisco's Red Poppy Art House. She joins guitarist Will Bernard on Saturday at the new Oakland jazz spot Duende and also conducts a series of workshops for singers April 13-15 at Oakland's Piedmont Piano with bassist Rene Hart and prolific Oakland pianist/composer Julie Wolf. She concludes her Bay Area run with Boom Tic Boom April 18 at Mill Valley's Throckmorton Theatre (with clarinetist Ben Goldberg filling in for the Frisell-engaged Scheinman).

Miller returns to the Bay Area this summer for high-profile gigs at the Stanford Jazz Festival and Yoshi's and another season teaching at Jazz Camp West. Her days of long tours with singer-songwriters are over, and while she misses the steady paycheck, Miller feels she's answering her call as an artist.

"I was feeling exhausted from the road," she says, "and I just didn't have enough time to play my instrument the way I was meant to play, improvisationally."

allison miller's
boom tic boom

When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320 Cedar St.,
Santa Cruz
Tickets: $20-$23; 831-427-2227, www.kuumbwajazz.org