Nikki Yanofsky pairing with Quincy Jones to bring jazz to new generation
05:00 AM, Jun 16, 2013
Quincy Jones presents: Nikki Yanofsky
Friday, June 21 at the Harro East Ballroom
5:30 and 7:15 p.m.
For tickets, visit http://rochesterjazz.com/artist_lineup/?artist_id=858
This summer, Nikki Yanofsky is traveling on the concert circuit for the first time without her parents.
The 19-year-old is traveling to summer jazz festivals as she prepares to release a new album.
“This is like my own version of college, in a way,” Yanofsky said in a recent phone interview from her home in Montreal. “I told them there will be dates I want them to come to, but it’s something I have to do on my own.”
The petite brunette, who performs at Harro East Ballroom on opening night of the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival, became a Canadian national phenom at age 12 when she sang Motown tunes for a crowd of 125,000 as the opening act for the Neville Brothers at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. She has been back to that festival every year since.
Shortly after her festival debut, she began to pick up jazz, quickly mastering Ella Fitzgerald’s scat techniques. One year later, she was the youngest artist on Verve Records’ album, We All Love Ella: Celebrating the First Lady of Song.
At 14, she toured with the late Marvin Hamlisch.
A mutual friend offered to set up an introduction with Quincy Jones, the illustrious manager who produced Michael Jackson’s Thriller and worked with superstars Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. He also was the man behind Norah Jones when she was on the cusp of her star turn a dozen years ago at the Rochester jazz festival.
“I was so nervous, because he’s the king, you know?” Yanofsky said of her meeting. “When he walked into the living room with a bathrobe and a smoothie, I was like, ‘Oh boy.’ But he was really nice to me. Obviously, he gets requests to listen to people sing all the time. I was lucky enough to go to his house.”
She performed “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” and the second she finished, Jones was smacking his leg excitedly and asking what else Yanofsky could sing.
Under Jones’ wing, she topped the charts with “I Believe,” which became the anthem for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. She also sang at the celebration of Jones’ 60 years in music at The Hollywood Bowl in 2011.
She also sang with Stevie Wonder in April at Jones’ 80th birthday celebration.
She recently signed with Jones again so the two can work together full time on a common goal: bringing jazz to the next generation. For the first time since she began touring,Yanofsky is in the same age category as her band, handpicked by Jones, all Berklee College of Music graduates. The oldest is 24.
“I want to bring jazz to my generation in a way that doesn’t feel preachy,” Yanofsky says. “There’s a lot of contemporary jazz artists my age doing this. It’s nice to have a slew of us kind of coming in and sneaking up on everyone.”
Part of reaching her generation requires formulating her own style. For the past two years, she’s been working on a new album, Little Secret, which will combine jazz and pop with her own songwriting collaborations. She drew some themes from her experience in high school, which led her to be a great supporter of Bullying Awareness Week. (She’s also an ambassador for the Montreal Children’s Hospital, The Children’s Wish Foundation and MusiCounts.)
“My bullying wasn’t a sob story, but I had the whole Mean Girls experience I ate alone in the art room most days,” she says. “It made me a stronger person because I had my family to talk to when it was going on, and at the end of the day, I realized these were not people I wanted in my life anyway. These causes give you someone to talk to; they make you feel like you’re not alone.”
Yanofsky says jazz festival audiences can expect to hear the first sounds from her as-yet-unreleased album.
“I’m really excited about thisI’ve been working like crazy,” she said. “Earlier in my career, I was writing whatever, but the more I wrote with other people on this album, the more my sounds came into play and I started to figure out what I’m going to sound like for hopefully my entire life.”
That’s a tall order at age 19, but Yanofsky isn’t feeling pressured. She doesn’t take herself too seriously she goes makeup-less and wears baseball caps in public. Her Instagram feed, which has fewer than 200 followers, is filled with food photos and selfies.
“I think people forget I age in their eyes I’m still that little 12-year-old,” she says. “But I’m not as young as when I started.”
If Yanofsky had the chance to give her 12-year-old self a glimpse into the potential of her already international career, she says she wouldn’t.
“I don’t want to tell her anything because then I wouldn’t be who I am now in fact, I would make my 12-year-old self give me advice,” she laughs. “I was super fearless because I didn’t really know the magnitude of what was going on. I try to keep that in mind now every time I go on stage.”