FEATURE / PREVIEW: Nancy Harms, (Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, 30 June)

Nancy Harms. Photo credit: Ken Shung

CORRECTION / UPDATE: The trio at the Elgar Room will be Bruno Heinen, Mark Lewandowski, and Adam Pache - Jeremy Siskind, who is on the album, and is mentioned in the article, will not be playing.

This month will see American jazz singer NANCY HARMS do her first ever solo concert in the UK, upstairs in the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room on 30th June. Peter Coldham writes:

The concert will mark the release of Nancy Harms' third album, Ellington at Night, a collection of re-imaginings and reworkings of some of the composer’s most famous songs in trio and small ensemble settings.

From humble beginnings as a primary school teacher in Clara City, Minnesota, Harms did not take the conservatory route into jazz, but discovering a passion for singing, threw in teaching to head to Minneapolis to sing and record. Following her first two albums, In the Indigo (2009), and Dreams in Apartments (2010), she has now joined up with Jeremy Siskind, the unusual pianist-composer and self-avowed ‘finger-songwriter’ who romped to victory at the Nottingham International Jazz Piano Competition in 2012 with a take on Michael Jackson, among other offerings.( Link to Peter Coldham's review)

A few singers around today may be able to match Harms’s flexibility and range, with its whispery trebles. Cecile McLorin Salvant perhaps comes to mind as someone with the same cool poise and phrasing, who also still improvises as freely and flexibly as Harms does. But it’s hard to think of someone else who can combine all these skills with the subtle warmth and humour that seem to lie underneath all her singing.

Arrangements on the new album are Siskind’s and so display some of his flair for the humorous and unexpected in rarer Ellington tunes (such as Long, Strong and Consecutive, complete with stifled laugh at the end), and feel for the sentimental (Lost in Meditation). Her voice often finds the same the purity of tone she has achieved in previous recordings such in Midnight Sun, or the intimate longing she discovers in Never Let Me Go, in her superlative take on that tune (link to video from Paris).

As someone who’s been following her output avidly for a couple of years now, it’s exciting to have one of jazz singing's brightest lights here in the UK. The Elgar Room, with its elegant, high ceilings, low-lit ballroom feel and outrageous red piano should provide a suitable ambience for the occasion.

Peter Coldham is a pianist, singer and teacher in London

LINKS: Nancy Harms website
Elgar Room bookings

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