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 York.

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 with.

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… 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 School?
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 the label…..
A – Yeah. He had Doc Severinson, Della Reese, me, and he made Spyro Gyra famous.

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 records/CD’s?
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 Big Deal.
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.

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