Friday, August 20, 2010

Jazz concert preview: Five years after Katrina, Los Hombres Calientes to reunite at Orchestra Hall

Originally published at, Friday, Aug. 20, 2010

Irvin Mayfield (L) and Bill Summers
Los Hombres Calientes was living up to its name — the Hot Men — in 2005. A spicy gumbo of rhythms and sounds from New Orleans and Africa, the Caribbean and Brazil, the band had released its fifth CD, “Carnival,” in a series that combines infectious party tunes with ethnomusicology. It had toured and recorded around the world, won a Billboard Latin Music Award and earned a Grammy nomination. It was a huge hit each year at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, where it usually had the top-selling CD.

Co-led by trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and master percussionist Bill Summers, Los Hombres was a band with a future.

Then came Hurricane Katrina. Mayfield lost his father, Irvin Mayfield Sr. And Summers lost everything but his computer’s hard drive. Priorities changed.

On Saturday at Orchestra Hall, Los Hombres Calientes will perform for the first time since the storm. A concert earlier this year at the House of Blues New Orleans, a benefit for Haitian relief, was billed as a Los Hombres reunion. But as Mayfield told me earlier this week by phone from New Orleans, that was really “more Bill and I getting together. The one in Minneapolis is the first time the actual band is getting together.”

And, who knows, it may be the last. Since the storm, Summers and Mayfield have gone their separate ways. Summers, who began his career as one of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters and went on to record and appear with a very long list of luminaries, is playing with his new band, Jazalsa, and running the Summers Multi Ethnic Institute of Arts. Mayfield is everywhere doing everything: leading his New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, running his own jazz club on Bourbon Street, heading the New Orleans Jazz Institute at the University of New Orleans, serving as the Minnesota Orchestra’s first artistic director of jazz.

A large fan base here

The Saturday concert is highly anticipated and nearly sold out. Over a series of appearances starting in 2000, just two years after the group was formed, Los Hombres built a large and enthusiastic fan base here, making annual treks to the old Dakota (in Bandana Square in St. Paul) and its current home on Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis. Mayfield credits the Twin Cities with breaking the group nationally.
Whose idea was the reunion? “I don’t know if I would say it was any one person’s idea,” Mayfield says. “It was the fans’ idea.” (Last year Mayfield told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “Although I’ve done a lot, [Los Hombres Calientes] is the thing I am most known for. Around the world, wherever I am, people love that band.”)

Lilly Schwartz, the orchestra’s director of pops and special projects, “pushed to make it happen,” Mayfield says. “She put it on the schedule before we got it all together. So Bill and I decided we’d come back and do this one date. Outside of New Orleans, there’s no better place to do this music than Minneapolis.”

What was it like to play with Summers in February, after more than four years apart? “It set the stage for Bill and I to regain a mutual respect for what each of us brought to the table,” Mayfield says. “Bill is in that period of his career where he’s looking back. That’s typically not where I look at things from. Not that Bill isn’t still looking forward, but there’s 30 years difference between us. When we were co-leading a band, that’s where a lot of challenge came from. That’s also what created some of the magic.

“It’s one of those relationships where when we have agreements it’s beautiful, and when we have disagreements it’s crazy. All that was continuous through the years we were together as a band.”

Five CDs released from 1998 to 2005

We won’t hear anything brand-new on Saturday, but it won’t matter. The five CDs Los Hombres released from 1998-2005 comprise a wealth of exciting, polyrhythmic music. (Side note: All came out on Basin Street Records, which was hit hard by Katrina but survived.)

The first two, the eponymous debut (1998) and Volume 2 (1999), are full of reimagined standards and original compositions by Summers, Mayfield, and the group’s third founder and drummer at the time, Jason Marsalis. For Volumes 3-5, “New Congo Square” (2000), “Vodou Dance” (2003), and “Carnival” (2005), the band traveled to Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba, Trinidad, and Haiti, learning from, playing with, and recording local musicians, connecting the sonic dots between the African diaspora and New Orleans. So there’s no shortage of material to draw from.

“Consider it a compilation performance,” Mayfield suggests. “All that music, all those islands, New Orleans, Brazil, Jamaica — so much music. We’ll play until it feels like time to stop.”

Over the years, Los Hombres was more a fluid project than a fixed band. Mayfield and Summers were the core, but other members came and went. Marsalis left in 2000 and was replaced by Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, then Ricky Sebastian and Jamal Batiste. David Pulphus was the original bass player, followed by Edwin Livingston. Pianists included Victor Atkins and Ronald Markham. Plus, on the CDs, there were guests (Kermit Ruffins, Delfeayo Marsalis, John Boutte, Rebirth Brass Band, Mardi Gras Indians, members of Burning Spear) and field recordings of indigenous music.

The Minneapolis incarnation of Los Hombres Calientes will be almost all musicians who have played with the band in the past: Mayfield, Summers, and fellow Crescent City residents Aaron Fletcher on saxophone, Leon Brown on trumpet, Michael Watson on trombone, Ronald Markham on piano, and Jamal Batiste on drums. The exception: New York salsa star Ruben Rodriguez on bass.

The forecast: Hot.

Here’s “Fofori Fo Firi” from a live performance. And here’s a music video of “Vodou Hoodoo Babalu” from Basin Street.

Los Hombres Calientes, 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 21, Orchestra Hall,  ($22-$60 VIP). Tickets online or call 612-371-5656.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Minneapolis, jazz town

A self-described "serious amateur" jazz guitarist got in touch earlier this month, wanting to know if moving to Minneapolis might give him more opportunities to play than he was finding in the Chicago suburb of Batavia, where he now lives.

I have no experience booking gigs or carting gear or trying to get paid, but I do know that a lot of live music happens in this town most nights. Often I wish I could be in two (three, four) places at once because on some nights it's hard to choose. Looking ahead, October 7 is one. Dave Douglas is at the Walker Art Center, Anat Cohen is returning to the Dakota, and over at MacPhail, Adam Linz is launching his Mingus series.

So Minneapolis (more accurately, Minneapolis/St. Paul) is not NYC but if you know where to look (and I might suggest my jazz calendar) you can always find something worth going out for.

Patrick Harison at the Aster
Last night HH and I went to Whitey's in Northeast Minneapolis to celebrate the fact that a friend had gotten a new job. On the way in, we ran into pianist Tanner Taylor and the great Latin percussionist Luis Santiago, who were sitting at a table on the sidewalk. Tanner and friends recently opened a new performance and teaching space nearby called Jazz Central--"for the cats, by the cats."

From there we drove to Main Street and the Aster Cafe, where the wonderful young accordionist Patrick Harison was performing his signature blend of folk and jazz and old-timey songs in the courtyard, a place with cobblestones and iron furniture and views of the Mississippi River and the downtown Minneapolis skyline. It felt very European.

On the way out I checked Facebook and found a post from trumpeter Adam Meckler: "Playing at Favor Cafe tonight with Jack Brass. 8-10p. In Uptown. Get here." I've been meaning to see the Jack Brass Band so we headed there after the Aster and caught the last hour.

The Favor, a soul food restaurant on West Lake Street, is almost too small for the band, which had 10 players last night including two Sousaphones, something you don't see every day. Mirrored pillars blocked some of the band members from view and reflected others, a kind of surreal effect. Sound filled the room and bounced off the walls and leaked out onto the street, where we heard it when we pulled up to park.

Jack Brass is a New Orleans-style, horn-powered band that plays all kinds of music, with the focus on street party fun. They chatter and tease each other while they're playing, and sometimes they sing, but the music is serious and the solos are scorching. Trombonist Scott Moriarity was a blur. We left happy.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Abbey Lincoln 1930-2010

It's a beautiful day in Minneapolis. The summer heat has broken, the humidity has dropped, gardens are green and blooming, and windows everywhere are open to cool breezes. And I'm sad about Abbey Lincoln's passing.

My friend Janis Lane-Ewart, executive director of KFAI radio, always featured her music on her program around Lincoln's birthday (August 6) and it was because of her that I started listening more closely. I felt as if I was hearing someone sing the truth. No ornaments, no excess, no trendiness, no need to cross over to find a bigger audience, just clarity and message and integrity. Janis saw her live several times; I'm sorry I never did.

On Wednesday, only a few days before Lincoln died, singer Nancy Harms came to dinner, and we sat around the table until past midnight, talking and listening to music. Toward the end of the evening we found our way to Abbey Lincoln, "The Music Is the Magic," which appears on two of her CDs: Devil's Got Your Tongue (1992), where she sings it with the Staple Singers, and Abbey Sings Abbey (2007), where she sings alone, a stripped-down version. On the latter recording, released soon after she underwent open heart surgery, her voice is not as supple or lush as it was 15 years earlier but the lyrics seem more profound: "The music is the magic of a secret world/It's a world that is always within/The music is the magic and the hiding place/It's a place where the spirit is home/The music is the magic through the raging storm/The storm that is over again."

Nate Chinen's obituary in the New York Times
Matt Schudel for the Washington Post

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Northrop Jazz Season returns, relocated and reinvented

Originally published at, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010

Jazz fans who have been wondering about the Northrop Jazz Season — is it alive? Is it dead? If it’s alive, when is it happening and what artists are coming? — got some but not all of the answers in an email late last week.

Sent to previous jazz season subscribers a few hours before a general press release, the email announced “the new Northrop Jazz Live at the Campus Club.” The first event, scheduled for Friday, Oct. 22, will pair multicultural singer/songwriter Somi with area vocalist/actress Thomasina Petrus.
The other three events in the season will be announced that night, and series tickets to those events will be available then.

In short: New venue (no more Ted Mann Concert Hall), much smaller venue (the Campus Club seats 200 compared to the Ted Mann’s 1,250), new ambiance, new programming approach.

Change was inevitable

Some loyal regulars may feel that change is not good, but anyone who attended a Northrop Jazz Season event in the past couple of years must have known that change was inevitable. With the jazz audience shrinking, the Ted Mann was feeling ever more cavernous and cold. It was depressing to see the sparse attendance earlier this year for violinist Regina Carter’s elegant “Reverse Thread” concert and pianist Danilo Perez’s all-star band. Behind the music, you could hear the sound of money spiraling down a drain.

“What was happening wasn’t working,” says Ben Johnson, director of concerts and lectures at Northrop and the man responsible for both the jazz and dance seasons. “I had two options: reinvent or stop. The whole thing needed a fresh coat of paint.”

Located on the fourth floor of Coffman Memorial Union — which doesn’t sound very high until you get inside — the Campus Club has a spectacular view of the Minneapolis skyline and, closer in, the Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum, now undergoing expansion. It feels a bit like the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, with its big windows and perspective on Columbus Circle.

Which is precisely what Johnson had in mind. “That, and the romantic feel of the Village Vanguard,” he says. “This will be an alternative to the other jazz spaces in the Twin Cities, with amenities people have grown accustomed to having. We’re now in the business of crafting experiences.”

Seating will be general admission, cabaret-style, with linens on the tables. A full bar and small-plate, locally-sourced food will be available. The club is creating a special cocktail menu for Northrop jazz events.

Emerging musicians, interesting local talent

What about the music? “We’re going to match where I think jazz is going — New York musicians, emerging musicians, people starting to be featured on major rosters in performing arts series across America — with interesting local musicians, and they won’t just be the opening act.”
In fact, the Oct. 22 show puts Somi first, followed by an hourlong set with Petrus and possibly, Johnson hints, a collaboration between them.

“I’m interested in fresh, new voices in jazz, and trying to link that to the energy, vitality, and intellectual curiosity of the university,” he explains. “We’re also investing more in local artists.” Johnson and his staff are looking for ways (and funding) to commission new work from local artists, with plans to present world premieres.

Tickets went on sale Monday, Aug. 9, for the Oct. 22 event. One night, one seating, only 200 seats. It could be a snooze-lose. Johnson would be fine with that. “Having demand for a sold-out show is not a bad thing.”
Northrop Jazz Live at the Campus Club: Somi and Thomasina Petrus. Campus Club, Coffman Memorial Union, 4th Floor, East Bank, University of Minnesota. Friday, Oct. 22, 8 p.m. ($35). General admission, cabaret seating only. Tickets online, by phone (612-624-2345), or in person at the Northrop Ticket Office.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Update on August 22 benefit for Dean Magraw

Dean Magraw Benefit Poster

Do the Dean II, a benefit concert for Dean Magraw, is set for Sunday, August 22 at the Celtic Junction in St. Paul.

Here's the performance schedule. Be selfish: Where else will you see/hear such a lineup? Be generous: Dean has given much to us over the past several years.

12:00 pm-12:30 Lehto & Wright
12:45-1:15 Cory Wong
1:30-2:00 Gregg Herriges
2:15- 2:45 Elgin Foster
3:00-3:30 Eric Hohn
3:45-4:15 Marc Anderson
4:30-5:00 Laura Mackenzie
5:15-5:45 Marcus Wise
6:00-6:30 Hart Lieberman & Smith
6:45-7:15 Anthony Cox
7:25-7:45 Prudence Johnson
7:55-8:25 Dakota Dave Hull
8:35-9:05 Frank Boyle and His Eminent Acoustic Entourage
9:10-9:30 Drew Miller & Kari Tauring
9:45 Boiled in Lead

Many fine silent auction items will be available, including six hours of studio time at Aurora Borealis, Star Wars prints, Jetsons and Flintstones drawings (yabba-dabba-do!), photographs of Dean by Howard Gitelson signed by Dean, and many signed CDs including a Beach Boys disc and one from the Kinks.

Go here FMI. And here for a reminder of what we have all been missing during Dean's absence from the scene.

Here's an article Dugan Magraw, Dean's son, wrote about his father.

Dean Magraw is married to Megan Flood, a massage therapist who has taken significant time off from work to be with Dean, and has two kids: one named Dugan Magraw (23 years old) and the other one named Claire Monesterio (25 years old). Both graduated this May from the University of Minnesota and are currently working various jobs but will soon be taking time off work as well. Dean has an older brother named Dan Magraw and an older sister named Ruth Magraw. Both live with their families on the East Coast and have been coming to Minnesota to support and be with Dean the last three months.

Dean is a caring, fun-loving and thoughtful person who has sacrificed and gave so much to his family. His family has been doing whatever they can to support and love Dean during these rough times. However, it has been extremely difficult for his family, but for this wonderful Dad, husband and sibling they are willing to do anything to help him fight his illness.

A bit of History on Dean Magraw:

Dean was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma back in 2001. He underwent chemotherapy that saved his life. Dean was in remission for 8 years before receiving the news that he was diagnosed with Secondary Myelodysplastic syndrome.

Dean was diagnosed with Secondary Myelodysplastic Syndrome in late April 2009. Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) is a serious and life-threatening disease of the blood and bone marrow. In MDS, the bone marrow does not function properly and does not make enough healthy blood cells. This leads to many life-threatening health complications. The only chance Dean Magraw had for a cure was a bone marrow transplant. Since receiving the transplant, Dean’s system has struggled to accept it and he has yet to be able to work. His recovery continues to be slow, painful and keeps him from being able to work.

Due to his illness, Dean is very susceptible to any kind of infection (due to his extremely low amount of white blood cells). Without enough healthy blood cells, Dean’s body may not be able to handle an infection and it could turn out to be deadly. This has meant that Dean has had to basically stay in his house in order to protect himself from infection. Sadly, this also means that Dean has had little to no contact with friends and family and has had to cancel all of his work for the foreseeable future. Dean is a social, outgoing musician who loves being with and around people. Needless to say, Dean has struggled mightily with his new situation. To stay healthy Dean has been resting; practicing yoga & meditation; eating good, home cooked food from friends and family; spending quiet time with his wife and children; and playing music. Dean has spent a lot of time playing music in his practice room and has found it “wonderful.”.
The last thing Dean needs to be worrying about right now is money for his living expenses so please come out and support Dean Magraw at his benefit concert. It will mean so much to him and his family.
One Description of Dean’s Music:  A collective mix of American Jazz and Folk music from around the world.

Ornette Coleman festival at the Jazz Gallery

If I were in NYC, I would go to this.

From Jim Eigo:

Celebrating Ornette Coleman: Jimmy Katz Presents in co-production with The Jazz Gallery
An intimate three-day festival, September 24-26, 2010

The Jazz Gallery
290 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10013
(212) 242-1063

Featuring seven acclaimed bands and a Coleman-themed exhibit of photos by festival co-producer Jimmy Katz.

The Jazz Gallery, in tandem with noted photographer Jimmy Katz, will celebrate the music and life of Ornette Coleman at the Jazz Gallery in New York on September 24-26, 2010. The event, “Celebrating Ornette Coleman,” will feature great musicians playing music composed or inspired by the legendary saxophonist, who has expressed deep support for the event.

Katz, also a sound engineer, created the festival to honor a man who has broken all boundaries and led the way since the 1950s to the creative improvised music we enjoy today. This event is the first in a series of festivals dedicated to musicians whose artistry changed the course of jazz. The festival will be recorded, and to further a mission to support and promote jazz artists,  the musicians will own the masters.

All the featured musicians have unique musical statements to make in honor of the great Ornette Coleman. The artists are:
Trio Lovano Super Sonix (Joe Lovano, Cameron Brown, Joey Baron)
Mark Turner Quartet (Avishai Cohen, Joe Martin, Marcus Gilmore)
Kevin Hays Quartet (Seamus Blake, Ben Street, Jochen Rueckert)
Nasheet Waits and Equality (Stanley Cowell, Eric Revis, Logan Richardson)
Jonathan Blake Trio (Wayne Escoffery, Matt Brewer)
Logan Richardson/Ambrose Akinmusire Quartet
Joel Frahm Trio (Martin Wind and Matt Wilson)

Katz did not limit the lineup to saxophonists. “The leaders were asked to dedicate their performance to Ornette Coleman, and were given no direction more than that. The idea is that the format be open and in his spirit.”

Thursday, August 5, 2010

From Clara City to the Twin Cities to the Big Apple: Singer Nancy Harms is on the move

Originally published at, Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010

Nancy Harms
In 2005, Nancy Harms was teaching elementary school in Milaca, Minnesota. In 2006, she moved to the Twin Cities to pursue her passion for singing. By summer 2007, she was performing in public. In 2009, she recorded and released her debut CD, “In the Indigo.” She spent June of this year in New York City, where she sang at the Bar Next Door in Greenwich Village. On Sept. 1, she’s moving to New York.

Harms is a study in forward motion.

I first saw her sing in April 2008, when her friend and mentor (and now booking agent) Arne Fogel invited her onstage at the Times. I came home and wrote, “I like Nancy’s voice and her broad, open vowels, and her red hat.”

It’s been fascinating to observe her trajectory since: performances at the Dakota, Barbette, the Red Stag, the Bloomington Center for the Arts, the Hopkins Center for the Arts, the Capri Theater, the Jungle Theater, Hell’s Kitchen and other venues, critical acclaim and national airplay for “In the Indigo,” growing confidence and stage presence, increasing willingness to take musical chances — in her song choices, interpretations, and the musicians she performs with.

In a way, it has been like watching a time-lapse film of an amaryllis blooming. One moment it’s a strong green shoot, the next it’s a fabulous flower.

I spoke with her last year, before her CD release at the Dakota and the Jungle. This Saturday is her official send-off show at the Artists’ Quarter, so it seemed like a good time to talk with her again.

MinnPost: What have been the major turning points in your life since you decided to become a jazz singer?

Nancy Harms: A lot of them have to do with the people I met. First was Arne Fogel. I instantly had feedback all the time, both musically and career-wise. Then Robert [Bell]  came along as a producer [of “In the Indigo”], and it was great to work with him. That was a really intensive time of thinking “What do I want to say as an artist?” Later I started performing with [pianist] Bryan Nichols. That opened up a whole new world. And then, of course, there was my visit to New York City in June.

MP: What happened in New York?

NH: I had my show at the Bar Next Door and the audience responded really well. It’s a little place, it was crowded and toasty, but with great listening energy. I met a lot of people on the scene. When I sat in at a jam session at Birdland, the owner came over and said, “Great job, I really enjoyed your singing.” I got to work with Sheila Jordan at a jazz camp, and she told me, “You’ve got it. You’ve just got to go out and be heard.” I made friends with Tessa Souter, a fantastic contemporary jazz singer. She introduced me to Mark Murphy. I did some open mics. And I got to see Keith Jarrett play at Carnegie Hall.

MP: How did you feel about the city in general?

NH: It’s addicting. When you love jazz, to be in a place where it’s that abundant — it’s like a candy store. The city demands a lot from people, so you get a lot of people who are willing to face a challenge for something they love. I want to rise to those kinds of challenges.

MP: Minneapolis has been your jazz school. What have you learned here?

NH: To be myself and follow my gut rather than think about trends. To relate everything I do to my own story. I grew up in Clara City [Minn.] and no one wants to hear about that, but it’s part of what makes me who I am.

MP: What will be the hardest thing about leaving?

NH: Definitely the people. I have so many amazing friends here, in the jazz community and outside. How can a person leave something so golden? But with the world the way it is now, it’s easy to contact people. I’ll probably get a lot of visitors and come home more often than I think.

MP: Where do you want to be in five years?

NH: I would love to tour. In September, I’m performing at a jazz festival in Norway. I would love to be on a label. I did pretty well [with “In the Indigo”] on my own, but it would be helpful to have a label. I want to keep working on musicianship, take more lessons, some jazz piano lessons. I want to have better chops for arranging and writing. That really helps you to personalize what you’re doing.

MP: Who’s your band on Aug. 7 at the Artists’ Quarter?

NH: Bryan Nichols, Anthony Cox, and Jay Epstein. It’s a band I haven’t played with before. So, for people who have heard me sing, it’s going to sound different. I’m honored to share the stage with those musicians.

MP: Will you have a garage sale?

NH: No. I went through a lot of my stuff and brought things to the Salvation Army. My parents are coming to pick up the furniture I want to keep. I’m moving with very little. I’m not even driving. I’m flying.


Nancy Harms’ Send-Off Show, Artists’ Quarter, 408 St. Peter St. (in the basement of the Hamm Building), St. Paul, Saturday, Aug. 7, 9 p.m. ($10).

Listen to music from her CD on her website. Here’s her January 2010 appearance on KARE11’s Showcase Minnesota.

If you miss Nancy Harms this Saturday, she has a few more local gigs before she gets on the plane: at the Hilton in Bloomington and the Red Stag, Hell’s Kitchen and Barbette. She’s coming back in October for two shows at the Capri with Katie Gearty and Rachel Holder. Visit her website for details. And there’s at least one more event coming up in spring 2011. I don’t have specifics yet, but if you enjoy jazz singing you’ll want to be there.

"New York Nancy": Arne Fogel writes about Nancy Harms

Singer Nancy Harms made her New York debut in June at the Bar Next Door in the West Village. Her friend/mentor/booking agent Arne Fogel was there. These are his thoughts on Nancy, that performance, and her future. She's moving to New York in September. Read an interview with Nancy herebb

Nancy Harms
I remember the meeting, but only vaguely: the monthly Sunday-afternoon meeting of the Jazz Vocalists of Minnesota group, which consisted largely of relatively new and aspiring jazz-oriented vocalists, as well as a few veteran singers. As usual, we gathered at the now-lamented Times Bar and Restaurant, and as the participants took their seats, I noticed a new presence: rather serious in countenance and demeanor, unpretentious, yet with a stateliness about her that was unmistakable.

She didn’t talk much. To the best of my recollection, she & I did not speak to each other at all that day, but I took note of her, and her name, “Nancy Harms,” because “Harms” is the name of one of American music’s oldest and most venerated New York publishing firms. I remember wondering if she was perhaps related to that family, and wondering what she sang like.

It was late 2006.

Of course, there’s no way I could have known that nearly four years later I would be facing the difficult task of saying goodbye to this same young woman (no relation to the publishing family, as it turns out), now one of my dearest friends and closest associates, as she embarks upon what will prove to be the greatest adventure of her professional and personal life: Goodbye Twin Cities, hello New York….

Cut to June 21st, 2010, at the lovely and intimate Bar Next Door on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village, NYC.  I’m watching and listening as Nancy serenades the sell-out room, with classy accompaniment by former Minnesotan Michael O’Brien on bass, along with NY guitar legend Paul Bollenback.

I joyfully take note of the audience’s warm response to this trio, and once again study the Harms modus operandi, with which I’ve become so familiar: First of all, it’s a highly original physical presence; a kinetic consisting of bends, kicks, and the unorthodox movement of hands and arms, all of which are in service of the music and telling the story. The beautiful face is animated, but not overly so. There is mystery there, with abundant smiles and good humor, but the occasional flash of something untold; a sudden downward tightening of the mouth and far-away focus of the eyes…. She seems to draw upon a passing sense-memory to more effectively convey the feeling of the lyric. Often, it’s a sense of hurt, or the pain of long ago; artfully intermingling with the good humor and inviting warmth of Nancy’s overall persona.

And the kid has a way with a song! -- a few pop flourishes here & there (she did grow up in the 80s and 90s, after all), but somehow, she discovered jazz in college, or rather, jazz discovered her, and now she lives it: One doesn’t just suddenly “do” jazz just because it’s the cool thing to do. You are born with the ability to sing, to hear pitch, and to effect the microtonal slurs and blue nuances needed to inform the idiom in whichever form of the jazz vocal art you choose to follow. And--importantly--you either breathe swing or you don’t. Once again, one has to be born with this ability. You can’t effectively teach it to someone who doesn’t have it in the bones.

When I first heard Nancy sing, a month or so after that first encounter at the Times, I was most pleased to hear that she had arrived with the tools: She was pretty green, but she was distinctly in tune, and she had the beat. She swung. Also, I noticed that she seemed to have a natural affinity for the inner drama of what she was purporting to sing about. Virtually everything else can be taught, and I was reminded of the fact last month, watching her in that NYC club, that she has revealed the most skyrocketing learning curve of any musician I’ve ever known in my life.

I predict that Nancy will do extremely well in New York, or wherever she chooses to ply her trade in the future. She is one of those rare individuals who possesses a totally distinctive quality, and without any fuss or bother on her part, she simply stands out just as much amongst the NYC populace as she does here at home.

This was made apparent to me during my conversations with people in New York, as well as during my own observations of Nancy and the way she handled herself during the days I spent with her there, leading up to and including that NY performance.  She graces the scene like a veteran. She sees and conquers, with a smile (and that outrageous laugh of hers!) that belies her intensity of focus and her levelheaded self-confidence.

Arne Fogel
Nancy is also savvy enough to realize that this is not going to be easy. But she has a place to stay, and is determined to get that “day job,” the make-or-break elements so important to the leavening of ambitious daydreams into some usable form of practical reality. Beyond that, it’s the adventure of the unknown.

It’s important to note that Harms is not relocating exclusively for the advancement of her career: She fell in love with the pace of the city, the endless variety of the scene, and the highly-attuned sense of artistic camaraderie that, thus far, she has found in abundance in the jazz connections she’s made there.

In short: She loves the place. To the best of my powers of observation, there are already a number of NYC folks for whom the feeling is mutual, and I predict that this number will continue to grow during whatever period of time Nancy chooses to stay there. Many folks here will miss her, but all will wish her well. It’s a wise individual who recognizes and seizes the moment. Nancy is one of the wisest people I know. This is her moment.

Photo of Nancy Harms by Lisa Venticinque. Photo of Arne Fogel by Travis Anderson.