Nancy Kelly’s refined vocal style is a study in phrasing, style and the ability to swing. Kelly’s powerful singing has captured many awards and the ears of many jazz fans around the globe. With a new CD that continues to demonstrate why critics have called Nancy Kelly "the real deal," Kelly is back and keeping the jazz world swinging.
H. Allen Williams: What initially inspired you about jazz?
Nancy Kelly: The freedom! Jazz is a great vehicle for expression. I am also very attracted to the feel, the rhythm. As you know, I am a swing singer, or it’s often referred to as a "rhythm singer," so I'm all about the groove. I also like to improvise. I love that I can perform the same song and never sing it the same way twice; it’s a never ending pallet of creativity.
H. Allen Williams: How did you get involved in music?
Nancy Kelly: We are all involved with music. All one has to do is open up and let it come in; I did that from day one.
H. Allen Williams: What has been your focus that has allowed you to developed professional relationships and a life that has provided you with much success?
Nancy Kelly: I think success is a personal thing. I can say for me, I do feel successful. However, it’s not something you are aware is happening, you just do what you love and one day it all comes together. If you play jazz to make money, you're crazy and wasting your time, you do it because you love it.
H. Allen Williams: Could you discus one or two artist who have influenced your approach to singing and improvisation?
Nancy Kelly: Mark Murphy, Ella, Dizzy, Chet, Dexter, Miles - I mean I take bits and pieces from everyone. They all speak to me.
H. Allen Williams: How would you describe your vocal style to someone that has never heard you sing before?
Nancy Kelly: I am a Swing singer with a touch of be-bop.
H. Allen Williams: How do you practice music, Nancy? And what advice do you give to the younger generation of aspiring musicians?
Nancy Kelly: I listen to music. I never practice per say, I do warm up exercises before a gig. My advice to aspiring vocalists is simply--Listen to the greats and compare their approach to the same tune. Listen to sax solos and piano solos. The drums are very important, as singing is rhythmic; I am a freak for a good drummer.
H. Allen Williams: You just released your latest CD entitled, Born To Swing on Amherst Records. Can you tell us about the project and the player’s involved?
Nancy Kelly: This CD was a project Houston Person and I talked about for some time. I needed a new CD and he was very supportive. Dino Losito and I have worked together for over nine years and the bass player (Neil Miner) and drummer (Mark Taylor) are guys I enjoy working with from New York City. We all feel the same way about the music, and that's important.
H. Allen Williams: How did you choose the music on the CD?
Nancy Kelly: The tunes are simply tunes I enjoy singing and have a great relationship with.
H. Allen Williams: What is your favorite song on the CD?
Nancy Kelly: I do not have a favorite cut. I find that I like different tunes according to my mood.
H. Allen Williams: When performing in the studio and live. What is your ideal state of mind to be in and how do you place yourself in that state?
Nancy Kelly: Performing jazz is a very intimate thing, one must be "clear" of any sense of ego. You must always "let" the music happen, the moment you think about it, it losses the magic.
H. Allen Williams: What type of touring will you do to support Born to Swing?
Nancy Kelly: I hope to do as much touring as I can. I’d like to make many new friends and fans for sure.
H. Allen Williams: You have been performing for over thirty years. How has the jazz audience changed over the years?
Nancy Kelly: I see so many older folks. Sometimes I get worried, but I think jazz will survive. I think you will always see young people being drawn to jazz, as it represents a challenge and freedom of expression and it’s an American treasure.
H. Allen Williams: Do you notice a difference in the audiences in the various countries you perform in?
Nancy Kelly: The Japanese love our music and all of Europe loves it too. They seem to take it very seriously. I love it when people allow themselves to become a part of the music and let loose.
H. Allen Williams: How do you want your music to influence people?
Nancy Kelly: I love to connect with the listener and to know the listener walks away feeling moved in some way not by me, but by the music!
H. Allen Williams: How has winning Downbeat magazine’s reader’s poll, "best female jazz vocalist" two years in a row affected you as a person and as a vocalist?
Nancy Kelly: Not at all. It’s not about winning anything. Anyway, music is subjective and it’s very personal what one decides is good or bad. Music is not competitive. However, I like it when the awareness level of my work is increased to the jazz fan, that’s great!!
H. Allen Williams: Discuss what activities outside of music you engage in and how they provide fulfillment for you?
Nancy Kelly: I love to cook and I am a nature freak. I also paint. I love my computer and have even designed a few websites. I am a very active person.
H. Allen Williams: What is next for Nancy Kelly?
Nancy Kelly: Hopefully, some more work, and I'd like to keep recording.
H. Allen Williams: Is there anything else you would like to add to our discussion?
Nancy Kelly: Keep swinging!
H. Allen Williams
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