One definition of musical prodigy? Singer Nikki Yanofsky. As a little girl she sang along with Ella Fitzgerald recordings, matching the scat solos. Her debut performance at the age of 12 was in her hometown, at the Montreal Jazz Festival. By the tender age of 14 she’d worked with the New York Philharmonic, Will.i.am., Wyclef Jean and Herbie Hancock, among others.
And Yanofsky’s recording of the 2010 Winter Olympics anthem, “I Believe,” sold a gazillion copies, making her, according to her bio, the youngest Canadian artist ever to sell said gazillion copies. Now Yanofsky’s reached the ripe old age of 19, and she’ll release her second studio album this summer, with Quincy Jones as executive producer. Stay tuned to CBC Music for more about that collaboration.
Meanwhile, we turned to Yanofsky for some jazz advice — for young listeners or newbies of any age who are jazz curious.
What do you tell the person who says, “I just don’t get jazz”?
The thing is, jazz has a stigma of being complex because of its typical many chord changes. When someone says "I just don’t get jazz," I would just tell them not to overthink it when listening. Just let it make you feel something you've never felt.
Which three albums would you give to a jazz newbie to win his or her heart?
Louis and Ella. This was the first jazz album I've ever heard and its endearing and simple style is enough to convert anyone to jazz.
Quincy Jones's Big Band Bossa Nova. Q is the best. And this album captures his fun and contagious energy. Soul bossa nova is one of my favourite songs of all time, it is pure genius. This album makes you want to dance
Miles Davis, but it's a tie between Kind of Blue and E.S.P. Both are classic. I think I've tried to learn every single solo on Kind of Blue. Miles has a way of making the most complex musical ideas sound super simple and easy to listen to. He puts his heart into every note. I think anyone could feel that.
E.S.P is amazing because it's the first recording of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams all together. It's perfect!
What about the current generation of jazz musicians?
Jamie Cullum is amazing. I love his stuff and his voice and his approach. He is totally original. He did a cover of Rihanna’s “Don't Stop the Music” and it’s freaking awesome. José James is really great too. He reminds me a bit of Jon Hendricks. I like him because his tone sounds super old school. Alfredo Rodriguez is incredible. One of the best piano players alive today and he’s super young; he is also one of the nicest people ever.
What’s the one thing you think people should stop thinking about jazz?
That it’s their grandparents' music! I'm working towards exposing the fun and catchy side of jazz.
Scat singing. Decode, please?
It’s basically just like how a piano or a horn solos. Scat singing is improvisation with your voice using a ton of syllables.
You’ve collaborated with so many greats, from Herbie Hancock to Quincy Jones. Any advice from any of those guys you could share?
Herbie is amazing, playing with him has been such an honour and I've learned so much. The main thing I've learned is to be creative. It’s tough to remember when to come back in after his solos because he takes you on such a journey, all I want to do is keep listening to him!
Quincy always tells me to trust my instincts. He is a great mentor and is really supporting me in my dream. To have him behind me is such an amazing feeling, especially because he has been so effortless with bridging the gap of jazz and pop, something I am going to do with this next album — so happy that he is executive producing.
Nikki Yanofsky tour dates:
June 21 Rochester, NY, Harro Ballroom
June 24 Ottawa Jazz, Confederation Park
June 25 Toronto Jazz, Koerner Hall
June 27 Saskatchewan Jazz, The Broadway
June 28 Victoria Jazz, Royal Theatre
July 4-6 Montreal Jazz, Theatre du Nouveau Monde
José James balances R&B and jazz on new record
From ELEW to Herbie Hancock: jazz does pop
Giants of Jazz: Herbie Hancock in exclusive interview from CBC's Hot Air archive
on Apr 10, 2013