"Jazz Monthly Feature Interview"
Jazz Monthly: I am just totally excited when there’s new music and a great new artist on the scene, and I am honored to have her as my special guest here at Jazz Monthly.Com for the very first time. She has an incredible voice, a dynamic style. She has a great record that is called Ella: of Thee I Swing. You must check out this artist because when I talk about musical stamina, this just epitomizes what she has accomplished. I see so many wonderful things happening for her in the future. Please welcome the young lady with the Blu-Ray voice, the fabulous Ms. Nikki Yanofsky. Nikki, how are you, my friend?
Nikki Yanofsky (NY): I’m very good. How are you?
JM: Wonderful. Well, I must say that when I heard your record, I was completely blown away, but then you have a DVD along with it and the DVD just blew me away. That was it. I was over the top by then, and might add that the quality of the DVD is astonishingly good.
NY: Thank you so much.
JM: When I listen to you talk and when I listen to the music, I continue to wonder: how did you develop such a passion for music? At what point did you discover this great passion that you have for music? I mean you’re singing ELLA!
NY: I think it was born inside of me, you know what I mean? It was just always there. I always had a passion and it was always just in me waiting to come out and I guess I was always listening to music. When I was two years old I was listening to the Beatles, Stevie Wonder and I could already appreciate that sort of music at a young age and I just started singing along, and before you knew it, I guess, here I am and I’m living the dream. It’s sort of a cliché, but it’s really exactly what I want to be doing and I’m really fortunate enough to be doing it.
JM: Yes, well, you truly are living the dream. And I must say that your parents certainly had a lot to do with that. I’m sure they let you listen to some fantastic music as well.
NY: Yes, my parents have been very supportive. So has my entire family, as a matter of fact. I actually have two older brothers and they’re the ones that introduced me to the Beatles. I’m the youngest of my family. I have a 20-year-old brother and an 18-year-old brother, so after five years of listening to nursery rhymes, I guess they sort of wanted to see if we could actually appreciate some older music, and so that’s how I got involved with music to begin with. Also, my dad’s also a piano player, well, just as a hobby he plays the piano, and my mom has a pretty voice. I was just always around music. I remember like when I was a little younger, my friends would say “Oh yeah, I want to be a singer” and I’d say “Yeah, I want to be a singer too” and then the next week they’d say “I want to be an actress” and I’d continue to say “I want to be a singer.”
JM: So you knew very early on what you wanted to do.
JM: So now I’ve got to ask you, and I must let everyone know you’re 14 years old.
NY: Yes, I am. Gonna be 15 in February.
JM: Very cool. Do you remember your first performance?
NY: I remember. Well, actually, if you count this as a performance, I don’t know if this would count, but me and my cousins, we always have dinner on Sunday nights because we like to see each other at least once a week, so when we were really small, when we were around six years old or maybe even younger, we used to always go downstairs after dinner and prepare talent shows for our parents to watch and I would always sing in the talent shows. That was always my thing. And then I guess my first real big show was in 2006 for the Montreal Jazz Festival. It was in front of 125,000 people and so I opened up for the Neville Brothers and I also closed for them as well, and at that time, I was the youngest person in history to ever perform at the jazz festival and I only found that out after I’d performed, so I was like “Oh my Gosh, that’s so cool.”
JM Well, it is cool. In fact, on the DVD there is some footage there of your performance that is just stunning. I mean, it’s amazing.
NY: Thank you.
JM: Yes, and when I analyzed what you were doing, your style, your phrasings, it was as though you were 30 years old and you had been doing this for years.
JM: Yes indeed. And I noticed that you can get into character, you completely feel every song and it’s a different feeling, but you capture that and incorporate your own style into that, which I think is just remarkable for a 14-year-old.
NY: Thank you. That means a lot because I’m actually working on that. Because I’m only 14, certain songs’ theme is a little bit old for me. You know, let’s say a love song. It’s not like I’ve ever been in love before. You know, I’m 14 years old. I have time for that later, but when I’m on stage and I’m singing a song like, say, “You’ve Changed,” and it’s all about loving someone and breaking up and you once loved someone and then all of a sudden now they’ve changed and you want to break it off. I can’t really relate to that, but I try to find a way to connect to it and the common thread between all the songs, how I connect to them, is always through the melody because the melody is the thing that gets to me originally…. that’s the reason why I’m interested in singing a song, a particular song, and so that’s the reason why I can get into those love songs because the melodies are all so really beautiful, and so that’s something I’m really working on, actually. I just try to get inspired by the melody and I guess that’s how I get into character of those things.
JM: Yes, and I think that when you have the level of passion that you have for music, it’s a little easier to do or you understand the path to get there, and I think that’s a wonderful thing. Your dad mentioned something about enjoying the process.
NY: Yeah, I love it. I love every second of it. There’s nothing that I would want to take away, you know?
JM: Yeah, and I think that’s a beautiful thing and you have really nailed that, I think, because that’s not something you see every day, not even in adult artists, so you have really captured that and I think you’ve done it in a most unique way and it’s your style. Because when I watch you feeling the rhythm of every instrument and the entire song and recognizing the chords, it’s a beautiful thing to watch because you’re in that moment and you’re communicating that to your audience, and that’s not always an easy thing to do, but you make it look so easy.
NY: Thank you. Well, that part actually comes naturally to me, like actually being able to appreciate all the little things, that is why I started to sing because I was always able to pick up on things that, let’s say, not everybody could. At a young age too. So I just really got interested in the music. I’m like “Oh, if that does this, I wonder what this does?” You know? It was just mysterious and I was curious. So I went inside and now I’m doing it and it’s just amazing. I can’t tell you how lucky I am to be able to do something I love at a young age. I want to continue to do it for my whole life, whether I become a global singer, let’s say, or just singing in a local restaurant. I’ll be happy as long as I’m singing.
JM: Well, that’s a very good attitude and approach to have because no doubt you will be doing all of those and you’ve done that already, actually, so that’s a beautiful approach because it’s all about the music and communicating and expressing yourself through music regardless of the audience or the size of the audience, and that’s wonderful.
NY: Thank you.
JM: You’re so welcome. Now, I hear you’re into the handshake thing. You have this cool handshake with Geoffrey, right?
NY: Mm-hmm, Geoff Lang.
JM: You know, I’m totally into the handshake thing, but my friends can’t learn them. They improvise too much. We’re supposed to have a certain handshake but before you know it, it’s something else. But I watch baseball a lot and the coolest guy I’ve seen for some of the most amazing handshakes is the shortstop for the New York Mets, Jose Reyes.
JM: He’s got some really cool handshakes. So check him out.
NY: All right. It’s always my thing. I make handshakes with everybody in my band. Everyone in my band has a handshake with me, just Geoff’s is the longest because it’s evolved since 2006 and it’s gonna be 2009.
JM: Well, it’s a good thing that you have that photographic mind and photographic ear, and that’s a wonderful thing and I thought that was a great compliment by your dad to say that.
NY: Thanks. Yeah, I think that it’s the epitome of it, you know, where it captures the equity of my ear. I hear something and I’m able to reproduce it. I’m really lucky to have that because it saves me a lot of work.
JM: Yes, it does, and that’s so wonderful. You talked earlier about when you went to Montreal in ’06, but talk to me about October 11, 2007, going back.
NY: Oh, well, I live in Montreal, so—
JM: Yeah, I mean, but going back to that performance.
NY: Oh man, that performance. We had no intention of actually putting it out as a CD/DVD compilation. There was nothing in the cards for that. We didn’t even consider it, but it came out perfectly. Everybody was on their game that night. I was really feeling it because the band was really feeling it and the band was really feeling it because I was really feeling it. I don’t know, it was just a combination of everything and the energy was so right that we said “This is way too cool not to release.” I think it’s cool as my first sort of album in Canada to be released, a live album.
JM: Yes, well, it is just stunning, I tell ya. The production on this DVD is magnificent. When I listen to your music, I recognize the stamina of your voice that is totally different, especially for a 14-year-old, and I’m so amazed and just captivated with the strength of your voice and the passion of your voice. Do you feel that when you’re on stage?
NY: Well, in a way it’s very strange because sometimes I’ll be completely into a song and it’ll show, but other times, let’s say, like my mind will be elsewhere but for some reason my lips keep on moving and words keep on coming out, and it’s sort of like I’m on autopilot and thinking what did I have for lunch today, you know? It just depends on the day but for some reason, even if I’m on autopilot, my voice will always be projecting, it will always be there, even if my mind isn’t. I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s like I’m looking over myself singing but I’m there.
JM: Yes, well, it’s sort of like mental multi-tasking, I guess, huh?
NY: I guess so.
JM: Yeah, well, I noticed that you’re quite adept at multi-tasking when communicating in a group setting in that you’re talking with your producer and with your music director and everyone’s giving you advice and everyone’s giving you tips about different things, and you’re able to put all of that together and do exactly what everyone has advised you to do in a song.
NY: I try. (Laughs) I work with this company called A440 and it’s a whole group of people that just are all behind me and I’m for them. It’s great. It’s a really, really comfortable setting and I’m really happy to be a part of it, but most of them are musicians so they have so much advice and it’s sort of hard to take all of it and also put my own spin on it, you know what I mean?
NY: So like I’m really trying to do that, so thanks for that compliment because that’s really something I’m working on and it’s nice to know that it’s noticed.
JM: Oh, yes indeed. I mean, quite noticeable. And I had to say to myself as well that you love the studio, don’t you?
NY: Mm-hmm. Yes, I do. I love everything about this. It’s great in music because time flies. I didn’t know the definition of “time flies” until the studio because I go in there, let’s say 10 o’clock in the morning, and then like before you know it, I’ll ask “What time is it?” I only ask once maybe during the whole day because I’m so into it, and my mom’s will say “Oh, it’s five o’clock.” I’m like “What?” .
And it’s so great. You get so many takes to do it perfectly, you know? I mean, really capture the essence of what everyone’s feeling in one take, and that’s what’s magical and that’s what often makes the cut. And I was just working on my next album, I finished it last weekend, now it’s just going into mixing and stuff, and I’m really excited that’s gonna be my first album worldwide.
JM: Well, I am totally excited and can’t wait to hear it. I mean, I’m not over this one yet.
NY: Thank you. And it’s great to know that also you think that I’m making things my own because it’s kind of hard to sort of have your own voice when you’re doing covers. It’s also a challenge. I like to transcribe things. I like to listen to something and then try to do it exactly like the artist and then make it my own. So I have my influence in there and also my own little spin on it.
NY: This next album is mostly originals, so I co-wrote most of the songs, actually.
JM: That is fantastic. I cannot wait. You’ve got me excited all over again.
NY: Thank you.
JM: So tell me, what’s your favorite thing about recording a song? What’s the most exciting part?
NY: I think it depends on the song. For example, one of the songs on the album is sort of Eva Cassidy-like almost, you know what I mean? It’s like a real Norah Jones- like folky kind of ballad and it’s beautiful, and for that song my inspiration just comes from the melody. That’s why the song is just so unusual but it’s still at the same time so beautiful. So when I was singing that one, I just wanted to sing it 10 times over again even if we already had the take set. They were like “Okay, we’re done with that song.” I’m like “Hey, can we just do it one more time?”
There’s another song on there that’s really like Motown-y, really influenced by Motown and stuff, and like Stevie Wonder’s in there—not actually. You could really tell that I’m inspired by him and Aretha and Marvin Gaye, and so for those it’s like I just tell everyone before, “Think Motown” and then everyone just has that mindset and we’re all like grooving to it and all funky, and it’s so much fun.
JM: That is so cool. It’s fun but it’s a very cool intellectual approach because it does create the atmosphere to get into that moment of Motown.
NY: That’s really the most important thing and that’s also why picking the right studio is important too because if you’re in an environment that you’re not comfortable in, then the songs aren’t gonna come out okay, and also everybody has to be sync with each other. I always make sure. Well, we usually are because we all get along marvelously, but let’s say there’s something that needs to be cleared, I’ll always make sure that it’s clear beforehand so that everybody’s feeling the same vibe as I am or let’s say I’m feeling the same vibe as someone in my band. So everybody has to be into it and the studio, luckily for this CD, was in Montreal and it was perfect and there was hardwood floors and a little kitchen. It was so cozy and I love that sort of environment. I always had candles in my little booth too.
JM: Yes. Talk about some of the artists that you’ve worked with or met that really was amazing for you.
NY: Well, I’m working with Phil Ramone, who’s my producer. I consider that an artist, you know what I mean?
JM: Oh yes.
NY: He’s unbelievable and I’m so happy to be working with him because he’s produced most of my favorite artists of all time and now I’m in that list. I’m flipping out because, I mean, I respect him so much for what he’s accomplished and what he’s done, and I think it goes without saying that he’s by far one of the best producers of all time and I’m so happy, I’m so happy that he’s on my first album, that he’s doing this with me. Well, I’m not actually producing it, but I’m really happy that he’s involved because it’s sort of like a seal of sort of closure and confidence that it will do okay, and that it’ll sound great because I really trust him with this because he knows exactly what I want to hear too, so it’s really amazing to have him with us. And also I’m working with Wyclef, you know, Wyclef Jean.
NY: Yeah, he’s unbelievable too because he produces and he sings and he does hip hop and he’s quite versatile. It’s cool to go from one studio to another, one with Phil Ramone and one with Wyclef, because it’s two totally different things and I enjoy both of them, so he’s definitely another person that I really enjoyed working with. I really respect John Mayer as a singer and a songwriter, and I actually met him.
I spent think an hour with him, but he was such a cool guy, so that was definitely one person that I really enjoyed hanging out with for a bit. I’m really looking forward to just continuing to see who I continue to work with because I’m really getting opportunities that I’m really, really appreciative for. These are people that inspired me to do what I’m doing, and so it’s cool to be able to say that I met them.
JM: Yes, I’ll say.
NY: But at the same time, I still can appreciate the fact that they’re just people and we all have different passions in the world and theirs happens to be music and so is mine, so it’s cool to meet someone with a common interest.
NY: And also I was on a six-city tour with Marvin Hamlisch and it was an honor to be with him because I love Broadway and he’s a legend. Also, I love Barbra Streisand he wrote some of her greatest hits like “The Way We Were” so it’s really cool to be with him. He’s also hilarious and he’s great company, he’s so funny.
JM: Oh, well, my goodness, you’re just having a good time, aren’t ya?
NY: I am.
JM: You truly deserve it and I must say that listening to you sing creates an excitement that I haven’t heard in quite some time.
NY: Thank you.
JM: Yes, and I think I speak for thousands of people that have seen your live performance and that hear your music on TV. I think that you have a certain appeal and I call it delectable connectives in that there’s this instant appeal to not only what you do but who you are.
NY: Thank you.
JM: Oh, absolutely.
NY: Because I really do put my heart and soul into it when I sing and I think that’s how come people often tell me that I’m relatable when I’m on stage.For some reason they tell me that they can connect and that’s really cool because that’s sort of what I strive for and it’s nice to know that people can see that. I really do put so much into it and it’s cool to see that it actually does pay off.
I’m really doing this for myself. I want to prove to myself that I can do this and I’m continuing to do it, and I just want to see how far I can go. You know, I want to see where this takes me. I’m really curious and I’m also very impatient. I’m like “Come on, I wanna see what happens next.” I constantly set bars for myself because I just want to improve and it’s for the artistry of it and for the growth and that’s really why I’m in it. I don’t care if I become famous or not; I just want to continue to sing for my entire life.
JM: Yes, well, I think it’s just an amazing approach that you have to making music and it’s like you’re always saying “I just can’t wait to sing another song” and I love that. That is a beautiful thing and it reminds me of an artist that doesn’t want to take night off, it’s a great vibe.
JM: Well, I must say, Nikki, that if I had my way and I owned Carnegie Hall, you would have a standing invitation.
NY: Thank you.
JM: So now you talked about the record, the new record that you just finished. Tell me a little bit about it.
NY: Well, like I said, you can definitely hear who I’m inspired by but I still like to put my own twist on it. You know, there are five covers on there, just songs that are too good not to put on there. You know, they’re unbelievable so I’m like “Oh, I have to sing this one.” So those are on there. I’m not gonna spoil it by telling everybody what they are, but you have to buy the album to see.
JM: I love that.
NY: And then the original songs, I mean, there’s one, I think, yeah, there’s one love song on the whole entire album and I don’t even know where I got the inspiration to write the words for those because I’ve never actually been in love, but I don’t know. I just sort of thought—I don’t even know what I was thinking—but my mom says it’s really cool to listen to because for someone that’s never been in love, it’s pretty accurate, so I’m like “Oo, that’s good to know.”
JM: There’s the stamp of approval right there.
NY: Yes. The rest of the songs, they talk about basically what I go through, you know, certain things that…. I’m very curious so some of the songs are about curiosity, some of the themes of it, you know, and then there’s just having fun and walking in other people’s shoes, putting myself in other people’s positions. It’s really just me on an album. Like now that I’m even talking about it now, it’s making me think even more about one of the song…. it’s called “Don’t Ask Me Why” and it’s about questions that I don’t know the answers to. That’s one of the themes of that song. It’s just everything that I believe in and everything that makes up who I am is on this album.
NY: So I’m really excited to have it out there so people can get to know me.
JM: Yes, that’s wonderful.
NY: Thank you.
JM: Well, I hope that everyone gets the record because they’re in for a treat.
NY: Thank you.
JM: Oh, absolutely. Now, when does that record come out?
NY: Hopefully in the spring, but I don’t know the drop date yet. We’ll see.
NY: We don’t have a specific date.
NY: We don’t even have a title for the album yet.
JM: Oh, cool.
NY: Because there are so many different genres that we might want to put something like “These Are My Hats” or something, like all different things that I like to do.
JM: That’s pretty good. Wow. Now, how can people get Ella… Of Thee I Swing?
NY: They could get it in , well, if they live in Canada, it’s only sold in Canada, but you can also get it, I think, on Amazon.com. I’m not sure. Or you can just go to my site, www.nikkionline.ca or www.nikkiyanofsky.com. It leads you to the same site either way. But I think that there’s a link on there to actually buy the CD/DVD.
JM: Okay, very cool. Great website too by the way. So tell me, there are a lot of 14-year-olds out there that want to perform, want to record. What would you say to them about their goals and their passion for music?
NY: I say this every time and it’s very cliché, but if you have a dream, chase it because that’s exactly what I’m doing. I really, really want this, so I’m putting my all into it. And if you’re really, really dedicated to it, it’ll come. Whether it be a school play that you get the part or whether you get a recording contract, or anything that you really, really want, you can achieve, so that’s definitely my advice.
JM: Well, I think that’s very good advice to have and very good goals to have. Nikki, I must say that I am completely excited about what you’re doing and I would say to you keep making it fun, keep having fun with it above all, and you’ve got a great team supporting you and count those blessings and keep making great music, my friend.
NY: Thank you. I will. That’s one thing I can promise for sure.
JM: We have been talking with the incredible and amazing Ms. Nikki Yanofsky. Her latest record is Ella: Of Thee I Swing. It is available at Amazon, at her Web site, and other stores beyond in Canada, and her new record, please be on the lookout for it in the spring of ’09, and if you see her appearing at any venue or event, don’t miss it. It is something to be a part of. It is a great experience. Nikki, it’s a pleasure and an honor thank you so much for talking with me so candidly.
NY: Thank you for having me.