“Ellington at Night” With Nancy Harms: Midwest Tour and Minnesota CD Release, Dunsmore Room on April 25

Twin Cities
Nancy Harms
Nancy Harms

“Nightlife is cut out of a very luxurious, royal-blue bolt of velvet. It sparkles with jewels, and it sparkles in tingling and tinkling tones.” — Duke Ellington

“Both jazz- and cabaret-land could learn a lot from the elegant, understated, but beautifully expressive tribute to Duke Ellington…. this show, and Nancy’s featherweight, postcoital sound, made even Ellington warhorses sound new to my ears..” – James Gavin

Nancy Harms, © Andrea Canter
Nancy Harms, © Andrea Canter

In 2015, Minnesota transplant, New York-based vocalist Nancy Harms presented two stunning rounds of shows at Manhattan’s famed Metropolitan Room, showcasing immortal Duke Ellington melodies that she specially selected to illustrate that “luxurious royal blue” quality. Recording this repertoire with a stellar trio headed by frequent musical partner, pianist Jeremy Siskind, and coproduced by long-time mentor Arne Fogel, yielded Nancy’s most ambitious–and artistically satisfying–project to date, and a should-be contender as one of the year’s finest jazz vocal recordings. Not bad for a former music teacher from Clara City, Minnesota, five years into her Big Apple career. Nancy, with the Jeremy Siskind Trio (featuring Gordy Johnson and Jay Epstein), celebrates the Minnesota release of Ellington at Night with two shows in the Dunsmore Room at Crooners Lounge in Fridley, April 25 (7 and 9 pm).

About Nancy Harms

Nancy Harms arrived on the New York scene in summer 2010 after launching her singing career in the Twin Cities. A native of Clara City, MN, Nancy sang in school and church ensembles, but did not discover her affinity for jazz until she enrolled as classical voice student at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN. She worked a few years as an elementary school music teacher before relocating to the Twin Cities and dedicating herself to jazz performance. Drawing inspiration comes from diverse jazz sources (Louis Armstrong, Harry Connick, Jr., Lauryn Hill, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Kurt Elling, Gretchen Parlato and more), Nancy found herself “more interested in the more progressive sounds and how they might apply to my singing.” Shortly after releasing her highly regarded 2009 debut, In the Indigo, she made the move to New York, never looking back.

Nancy Harms. © Andrea Canter
Nancy Harms. © Andrea Canter

Since her arrival in New York, Nancy has worked extensively with Wycliffe Gordon (appearing on his Hello Pops), as part of the Jeremy Sisskind Trio (appearing on his well-received 2012 recording, Finger-Songwriter and 2014 Housewarming), and with vocalist Emily Braden and bassist Steve Whipple (Double Bass/Double Voice), all the while growing as a unique interpreter and budding songwriter. With her 2013 release, Dreams in Apartments, Harms took another leap, this one farther into the realm where voice and imagination come together to define the highest art of jazz singing, a realm currently inhabited by the likes of Norma Winstone, Kate McGarry, Tierney Sutton, Kendra Shank and the young Cecile McLorin Salvant. The new recording brought accolades from critics as well as audiences, with the original song “Weight of the World” topping the PopJazzRadio.com channel on two separate occasions with over 44,000 votes from fans. Nancy went on to celebrate the release of Dreams In Apartments at Birdland, as well as bringing the music to clubs in Los Angeles, Copenhagen, Oslo, and Paris. Nancy now appears regularly at Copehagan’s Standard Jazz Club, in Paris at Sunset/Sunside and New Morning, in Oslo at Herr Nilsen, in Torino, Italy, and of course in New York, at Birdland, Zinc, Smalls, Kitano, Bar Next Door, Cornelia Street Cafe, Rockwood Music Hall, Chez Lucienne, Dizzy’s, Lenox Lounge and more.

Over her first five years in the Big Apple, Nancy has maintained her Minnesota connection largely through mentor, co-writer and co-producer Arne Fogel, himself one of the active veterans on the Twin Cities vocal jazz scene. Fogel co-produced the Ellington at Night shows in the Metropolitan Room (early in 2015 and again in September) which received rave reviews from critics like Will Friedwald (Wall Street Journal), who commented that “She engages the listener by seeming to put her whole soul completely forward and yet, somehow, hold something back at the same time….She’s the kind of a singer who, after hearing her just once, you’ll never want to let her go.”

Nancy Harms Ellington at Night CD CoverEllington at Night (Gazelle Records, 2016)

The new recording was officially released in two sold-out shows at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York on April 13, following a European release tour in February and March with club dates throughout Denmark and Italy. Nancy and the Jeremy Siskind Trio will tour through the Midwest this month, with a London CD release in late June at Royal Albert Hall, an appearance at the Cophenhagan Jazz Festival, a West Coast tour in August, and performance at New Morning in Paris in September.

For this album of the prolifically recorded Ellington, Nancy dips deep into the repertoire, combining new arrangements of such standards as “Lush Life,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” “I Got It Bad and That Aint Good,” and “I’m Beginning to See the Light” with seldom-heard tunes like “Rocks in My Bed,” “Troubled Waters,” and “Long, Strong and Consecutive.” With pianist Siskind, bassist Danton Boller and drummer Willie Jones III, along with a string quartet and two tracks, Harms has perfect support for her “journey under the Duke’s velvet sky and twinkling stars,” as she notes on the album sleeve. She further notes that “Ellington’s music explores all the richness that the night has to offer, from loneliness to luxuriousness, from flirtation to melancholy.” And Harms elegantly succeeds in bringing this range of emotion and atmosphere to the listener, from the sultry innocence of “Prelude to a Kiss” and roller-coaster passion of “Lush Life” to the angular upbeat arrangement of “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” the swampy darkness of “Strange Feeling” and wispy elegance of “Lost in Meditation,” “Reflections,” and “I Like the Sunrise.” (Read full review here.)

Jeremy Siskind, © Andrea Canter
Jeremy Siskind, © Andrea Canter

In the Dunsmore Room and Beyond

In its first four months, the Dunsmore Room at Crooner’s Lounge has quickly earned a reputation as one of the premiere listening spaces in the Twin Cities. Seating about 80-85 patrons in a dining room overlooking a small lake about 20 minutes from downtown Minneapolis, the venue boasts a 9-foot Bosendorfer and a “listen now- talk later” policy that owner and staff politely but firmly enforce. To date the intimacy of the Dunsmore Room has offered a perfect setting for piano and voice, making this an ideal venue for the release of the sublime music of Ellington at Night. With Jeremy Siskind on piano, the trio in Fridley will include two of the Twin Cities’ finest — bassist Gordon Johnson and drummer Jay Epstein, supporting Nancy through two shows (7 and 9 pm) on Monday, April 25; Gordy and Jay will join Nancy and Jeremy on April 30 at The Barn Theater in Willmar, MN.  The full schedule for the Midwest CD release:

The Dunsmore Room in Crooners Lounge is located at 6161 NE Highway 65 in Fridley, just north of I-694 and 20 minutes northeast of downtown Minneapolis. Limited seating remains for the 7 pm show; reservations strongly recommended via Brown Paper Tickets at www.croonersloungemn.com. Dinner option with ticket, $35 for 7 pm show; 9 pm show $15 ticket. More about Nancy Harms at www.nancyharms.com  CD available via I-Tunes, Amazon and other music sources.