Nicole Zuraitis has seen the music world on both sides – classical and jazz. She’s landed solidly in the jazz and acoustic world and her growing number of fans are so grateful that they have discovered her crystalline yet sultry voice. She has an incredible ability to arrange songs that we are already with and transform them into cool jazz interpretations. You can hear the greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn with a tinge of Laura Nyro thrown in for good measure. and Her piano work is outstanding; a blend of Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans. Nicole’s songwriting is evocative and entertaining. She’s got it all going on.
Check out Nicole’s website.
Here’s a great example of her original work.
And here’s a terrific example of Nicole’s interpretation of Dolly Parton’s classic, “Jolene.”
What inspired you to go into music in the first place? Did you learn to sing and play at a young age?
My mother caught me singing harmony to “Zippity Doo Da” recording when I was 3 years old and thought…. well isn’t that strange! I dabbled in sports and the like, but realized I had a gift that would be a waste to throw away. I taught myself how to play the piano when I was 15 and I took classical voice lessons around the same time, plus sang and played trombone in the high school and community college jazz band in Waterbury, CT. The sensation of being on stage combined with the fulfillment of performing something you practiced so much drove me to pursue this full time.
Who were your first inspirations?
When 9/11 happened, I remember being glued to the TV, feeling hopeless and scared. When the Concert for New York City came on over a month and a half later, I was glued to the TV again, but this time weeping and feeling the catharsis of millions of people together as our favorite celebrity musicians took the stage in unity. I was inspired from that day forward to use music for activism and helping people. I’ve always loved Carole King, Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, The Eagles, The Pretenders, Mariah Carey, Billy Joel, Elton John, Whitney Houston, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Prima, Miles Davis and Nat King Cole.
What is it about jazz that fuels your creative spirit?
I spent many years as a classical opera singer, I sang opera professionally in New York City and Italy until I was about 24. The restrictions of classical music were hard on me as I’ve always considered myself a bit of a gypsy soul. When I would sing jazz, I felt freedom and a type of expression I just couldn’t get from classical music. I haven’t looked back since!
Your website includes so many rave reports about your vocal prowess. What have you discovered about your vocal abilities over the years?
Thanks! I studied voice at NYU (classical voice) and received an incredible technique (at a pretty penny!). I find that my voice continually changes, and I attribute the changes for good are due to my technique and the fact that I sing every single night, sometimes 4 to 5 hours a night, all genres. The versatility came from me being the “piano woman” here in NY, just like Billy Joel was back in the day. I take requests that span 1920-2017 and I think it keeps my voice in shape.
You teach songwriting and vocal workshops all over. Have you learned important lessons from your students?
I’ve learned that the most important thing to teach students is to be kind to one another. Everyone has a voice and we cannot change our anatomy, so I stress acceptance and encouragement rather than competition and jealousy. My students have taught me that if you give them the permission to create freely, that anything is possible, and friendships can form easily across racial/cultural lines.
In addition to your solo career, you also have experience working with groups like EVA. How does your music making differ in those two different ventures?
I’m thankful for touring with EVA and Livingston Taylor/Tom Chapin because I was able to meet Chelsea Berry through them! My songwriting tends to sway in three different directions which is why I have three different projects: typical singer-songwriter with harmony (EVA), modern jazz-pop songwriting (My new album Hive Mind) and my newest project of jazz standards I write that are meant to sound like the great American songbook (My song “Long Meadow Vine (the wine song).” I like to keep it interesting!