By MIKE CHAIKEN
In the Nutmeg State, if you’re looking for jazz on the radio, you’d have to engage in a scavenger hunt amoung the schedule of college radio stations or public radio to find someone dipping into the canon of classic jazz for an hour or two… typically in the late night hours.
Subsequently, there are few opportunities for young musicians to “stumble” on the art form and fall in love with the work of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, et. al.
So, if it weren’t for a case of serendipity one summer, jazz vocalist Nicole Zuraitis might not have discovered her passion, and talent, for the genre.
Nicole is coming to Southington this Friday at 8 p.m. to perform at the Peace Café of Southington’s First Congregational Church.
“It began when I was 12,” said Nicole in a telephone interview from her home in New York City. The Litchfield native said her parents heard about a jazz camp being held in conjunction with the Litchfield Jazz Festival. They suggested that she give it a go.
At the time, Nicole explained, she played trombone. And she had not tried her hand at singing.
And, although she played a brass instrument at the time, the then-Holy Cross High School student had little exposure to listening to jazz, let alone playing it.
Initially, Nicole said her enthusiasm for the camp was a bit tepid. She said she arrived at the camp in soccer shorts and simply went through the motions. However, in time, she said something clicked about jazz. “That started the bug.”
Nicole later joined the jazz band at Holy Cross as a trombonist. And then she joined the jazz band at Naugatuck Valley Community College.
Around that time, Nicole’s music director at NVCC suggested she try singing. She was no stranger to vocals, having studied opera since she was 16.
Eventually Nicole found herself standing in front of a big band, with horns percolating, and herself singing selections from the Great American Songbook.
As an opera singer, Nicole said she loved singing the classical composers. But she said she loves the freedom of jazz. She loves the opportunity to give the music her own little twist when she performs jazz.
“I’ve always marched to the beat of my drummer,” said Nicole.
“Music comes natural and easy to me,” said Nicole. “I love being challenged by jazz.”
These days, Nicole writes most of her music. And her personal style of jazz tends to gravitate toward the Norah Jones/ Sara Bareilles direction. But she has the skills to tackle more than that. And when she steps on the stage at the Peace Café, she said she likely will perform a show that offers a selection of music from each decade from the 1920s to today. The audience can expect music from George and Ira Gershwin or Cole Porter. They can also expect music popularized by Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald.
Besides working as a performer, Nicole also has had the opportunity to teach young students about the art of jazz. She has taught in India, at Berklee School of Music in Boston, and in jazz workshops at New York University.
One of her first opportunities, however, came at the very place the spark of jazz was ignited in her head. The Litchfield Jazz Festival jazz camp.
After a couple of years at the camp, Nicole said she took a bit of a break and took on her journey through jazz on her own.
But when she was 17, she approached the organizers of the Litchfield Jazz Camp and asked if she could work at the camp in exchange for a scholarship to study voice at the camp. They granted her request. Then when she was a sophomore at NYU, she asked if she could come back as a teaching assistant. Again, her request was granted.
A pattern and post-campership relationship was built between Nicole and the Litchfield Jazz Camp. And a few years ago, Nicole said she became a full-time vocal instructor for the camp.
When she teaches students, Nicole said she tells her story of how she found jazz and what it means in her life. “Jazz is always going to be there for me.”
Nicole said she commends her students for stepping away from a music world of four chords and computers and taking on a music genre that requires them to use their brain. “It’s the most complex art form out there.”
Beyond this show, Nicole said she is working on a new EP—a follow-up to her first two albums. It will be full of her more pop-oriented original material. She hopes to try something new for her by creating some videos for each of the tracks to help promote the package. Nicole also is planning on recording a jazz album featuring a mixture of original compositions and cover material. And she will continue to tour.
Nicole Zuraitis will be at the Peace Café of First Congregational Church of Southington on Main Street tonight, Friday, Feb. 13 at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $10 in advance at firstchurchsouthington.org. Tickets at the door will be $15.
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver. com.
By MIKE CHAIKEN