Nancy Kelly Interview
(Born To Swing)
Starting at age 4, she studied piano, clarinet, drama and dance with private
instructors-----and voice at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New
During her career, she’s performed at The Blue Note, Birdland, The
Rainbow Room and Dizzy’s Jazz Club at Lincoln Center.
She’s also performed in Singapore, Switzerland, France, Turkey and
Japan, where she toured 3 times.
“Downbeat” Magazine’s Readers Poll voted her the “Best
Female Jazz Vocalist” 2 years in a row.
Simply put, Nancy Kelly is a Central New York legend!!
Q – Nancy, for some reason, I always thought
you were a native Syracusan. But, you’re from Rochester.
A – I’m from Rochester, yeah. I’m actually from a little
town south of Rochester called Scottsville.
Q – I probably thought you were from Syracuse because of all the
times you played in Syracuse. But, since you’ve played all over the
world, how could you be happy singing in a small downtown Syracuse club?
Or doesn’t that matter to you? A gig is just a gig.
A – It’s not about the location. It’s about the music.
I don’t rely on the outside source of where I am to be happy. It’s
about the music. Yeah, it’s really fun to play at Dizzy’s in
Lincoln Center or some of the really ‘hot’ spots in Los Angeles
or Miami or Birdland in Tokyo or wherever it might be. At home, I’m
with a lot of people I love. They’re my friends, and my family. I’m
playing with my musicians who are like family to me. It’s very comfortable
in that way. Anyone who knows me or sees me, knows that I give the same
no matter where I am.
Q – How many gigs are you doing each year?
A – It’s not the quantity but the quality that has changed.
I am traveling more than ever. I always work a lot after a cd release. I
always work a lot in the summer up state. I book in LA and the south east
more during the winter months. Gigs come out of nowhere and I must be ready
to fly as they say.
Q – Would you have been as good of a singer
had you never studied with private instructors and gone to the Eastman
School of Music?
A – I think what we have to do is define what’s a good singer.
It’s subjective. The listener decides who a good singer is. On an
academic level…..this is a difficult question to answer. There are
things that you can do right and wrong with your voice. Does studying help
you technically become a better singer spiritually? Depends on who you study
Q – Why did you go to the Eastman School?
A – For technical help.
Q – Did you need to go there?
A – Yeah. I was having some problems…..my voice was getting
strained ‘cause I wasn’t using it properly. I went for breathing
and technique. It was just life-changing for me. It was wonderful. I teach
voice. I’m a big supporter of taking voice lessons. (Laughs).
Q – You’re a graduate of the Eastman
A – No, I’m not.
Q – How long did you study there?
A – A year. My teacher at Eastman said” I have to let you go
cause I’m gonna ruin you” They teach classical singing and I’m
a stylist, had I studied further I would have developed habits that would
be hard to undo for popluar singing.
Q – You’re a jazz singer, but could you
have been a pop singer? Why did you settle on jazz?
A – Because that’s what makes my heart sing.
Q – When Downbeat Magazine calls you “The best female jazz
vocalist” for 2 years, what does that do for your career?
A – Well, first of all they didn’t. That was a Reader’s
Poll. That kind of press is very helpful-----it’s good. It looks great
in the press kit. It does validate you in the eyes of some people who are
looking to buy an artist..
Q – At one point you were recording for Amherst Records. That was
at the same time Doc Severinson of the “Tonight Show” was on
A – Yeah. He had Doc Severinson, Della Reese, me, and he made Spyro
Q – Do you still record for that label?
A – Yeah. He put out my last record.
Q – Are you happy with the job Amherst Records did in promoting your
A – They have been very good to me on many levels.however I don’t
think they promoted my last cd very well. Some things I wish were different
but I’m grateful to have had a label. Let’s put it this way;
any Joe walking the street can put out a record. That means nothing. When
somebody will come up to me and say, ‘My son has a CD,’ and
the answer I want to say is, ‘And? So. Yeah. O.k.’ (Laughs).
It means nothing. Anybody with money can put out a record. Getting on a
label that pays for all the recording time, the promotion, for all your
photos, for all the marketing-----that happens to only a handful of people.
In that respect I was a very, very lucky lady.
Q – So, before all this hardware existed that
allowed a person to record their own CD, being on a record label was a
A – Yeah. Being on a major label still is. The whole recording industry
is really in a transitional phase right now. The world that I’m in,
the jazz world, has kind of sold out to capitalism and commercialism in
that the people that are getting record deals and the people they’re
putting money into are very young and good looking. Very young, 19, 20.
Essentially a record label is not interested in a woman my age. (Laughs).
Mostly everybody raises their own money nowadays and does their own record.
There are a number of labels that will take the CD and do the rest of the
work for you once the CD is finished. But, the days of someone walking into
a nightclub and seeing someone and going, ‘Oh, you’re great!
I’m going to sign you to my label and spend a lot of money on you’-----those
days are gone. That doesn’t exist anymore. That’s the reality
of the business.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved