Born: October 12, 1950 Primary Instrument: Vocal
Nancy Kelly’s vocal style is a study in phrasing, style and swing. She’s both old school and new. She’s experienced, yet her delivery and ideas are fresh. She can take a song and turn it up or down, and leave you believing that it was meant to be exactly that way. It takes great jazz chops to do that, and Kelly’s are superb. She has earned many awards and enlisted fans from around the globe. She began her musical career at age four in her hometown of Rochester, New York, with piano lessons. She continued her music studies to include clarinet, drama and dance. When she enrolled at the Eastman School of Music, she decided to concentrate on voice. At sixteen, she formed a combo and performed at clubs around Rochester. In the early 70s, she joined a rock band as lead singer and went on tour of the East Coast and the Midwest. Enjoying the freedom to improvise, she gravitated to jazz, forming her own group. As a jazz artist, she's performed on the West Coast, in the Far East and Europe. She performs regularly in New York City at the most prestigious clubs: The Blue Note, Birdland, and Dizzy’s Coca Cola club at Lincoln Center. She has appeared at numerous jazz festivals and has sung with various symphony orchestras around the country. Nancy was twice named “Best Female Jazz Vocalist” in the Down Beat Readers’ Poll. She has recorded four CDs, the most recent being “Well Alright” with guest tenor saxophonist Houston Person.
Nancy Kelly continues to dazzle audiences with her take-no-prisoners, back-to-the-roots swinging style. In a market place where wispy voices and shallow emotions abound, Ms. Kelly is a breath of fresh air…or should we say, smoky air; she takes us back to the time when jazz -- and that includes vocal jazz -- was an authentic expression of real emotion.
Nancy Kelly Well, Alright! (Saying it With Jazz SIWJ 0309)
On the second CD, recorded in towards the end of 2008 at Bake's Place, an intimate club in Issaquah (in the state of Washington), Nancy turns her attention to some show and pop songs from the 1960s and a generous sprinkling of blues. Among the songs she sings are 'But Not For Me', 'I Love Being Here With You', 'Let's Fall in Love' and 'Alright, Okay, You Win'. The result is an electric performance, on that underlines the praise prompted from me by her first CD. This time, Nancy has a different backing trio: Randy Halberstadt on piano, Jeff Johnson on bass and Gary Hobbs on drums. She is, however, again joined by tenor saxophonist Houston Person, whose biting take on the blues is a special joy. Just as joyful is Nancy's singing voice. She has a similarly biting approach to some of the lyrics, curtailing some words in the interest of the dynamic swing she imparts. There are also many occasions throughout this wholly admirable set when she sets the spine a-tingling in a way that so few of today's singers can manage. Run, don't walk for this one.
Chris Spector MIDWEST RECORD
NANCY KELLY/Well Alright: Did some one say we had a problem with the golden age of broads? I don’t think so. Kelly is right in the pocket with a return to the last hurrah of the golden age of broads, the 60s, when supper clubs still roamed the earth and were populated by swinging kitties that knew how to take a song and a room on their own terms in high style. Yeah, kind of like the original Ramsey Lewis Trio hitting it at the London House with some solid thrush, that’s what this feels like. Lewis understands white space and laying out to let her cats swing as well. A dandy throwback vocal date from a pro that keeps proving her chops with each new session. Hot stuff.
----------------------------------------------------------- Singer Nancy Kelly's vibrant, rhythm-driven vocals have precisely the right combination of good-time energy, imaginative scatting and take-no-prisoners swing. Don Heckman L.A. Times
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 read more H Allen Williams Jazzreview.com
From first perfectly pitched note, she lets the listener know that she's more than just another vocalist...superb control of intonation and time...manages to uncompromisingly establish her own voice. This chanteuse puts a hammer lock on the listener.One thing you can say about Kelly:she is not afraid to lean into space and soar like a bird. She's fashioned her own wings. read more DeeDee McNeil Cadence
Singer Nancy Kelly adopted a kind of take-no-prisoners approach to scatting and swinging on revved-up renditions of “It’s Alright with Me” and “Jeanine.” A perennial festival favorite since 1982, Kelly is a world-class jazz singer in the feisty, swinging tradition of Anita O’Day. Throughout her scintillating set she demonstrated superb phrasing, excellent time, great intonation and tons of chops, with a load of charisma to boot. read more Bill Milkowski JazzTimes M&T Syracuse Jazz Fest 2007
Nancy Kelly is the Anita O'Day of today
Here's the latest news on Nancy's new CD Born To Swing
It's very pleasing to report that Kelly not only treats this music with care and respect, she also turns it into what are unquestionably jazz performances. At a time when we are still immersed in the flood of popsters claiming to be jazz singers, this cd comes as a very welcome assurance that the real thing is still around. So why are the big bucks behind the wannabes and superior singers such as Kelly having to make their own way? Its an unfair world. Many nearly mere singers squeeze into the jazz fold by way of their accompaniment. Here though there is no question that Kelly has the touch that would swing like mad if she was all alone. This cd is on my list for jazz vocal album of the year. read more
Bruce Crowther The Jazz Journal International UK
Kelly creates her own universe of swing, executed with nuclear cool. read more
C Michael Bailey All About Jazz
Miss Kelly has paid her dues in the jazz genre and as a result she has developed into one of the major forces in this idiom, perhaps the best off them all. She has honed her craft in jazz clubs the world over. Kelly's range is high wide and handsome, her phrasing is impeccable and she scats joyfully, correctly and gives new meaning to the word hip. Nancy Kelly is the real deal and your ears will bear witness to that. read more
John Gilbert EjazzNews.com
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Nancy teaches "The Art of Popular Singing and Vocal Jazz Techniques" privately and at several colleges in upstate New York, focusing on what she calls "conversational singing." In Nancy's words: "I do not teach how to sing particular songs or any particular style of music. While I have students that study Jazz singing with me, my classes are intensive study on how to use the voice." She has combined techniques from the classical discipline with her 40 years experience singing everything from rock to jazz. By taking a scientific look at what she does when she sings, she's developed a pedagogy (style) for teaching popular voice. This is real singing for the 21st century. It is not classical study. The student uses scales to gain control and learns to translate that knowledge into a piece of music, focusing on proper tone, body placement and use of vowels and consonants and proper breathing. "Then they learn to first read a lyric, then sing it as one would say it. My approach teaches you to be yourself and develop your own style," Nancy explains. With 40 years of experience as a performer and recording artist, Nancy has a storehouse of knowledge to share with the aspiring singer and the working professional alike.