February 2008

Nikki Yanofsky
presented by Toronto Downtown Jazz & Luminato
February 5, 2008 Isabel Baader Theatre Toronto
Echoes of Ella
by Carol Lipson (photo taken by Mike Colyer in June 2007)
Child prodigy. The phrase brings to mind exceptionality. As a rule, we reserve the phrase for the young who startle us with their innate talent and the limitless possibility that talent presents. On Tuesday, February 5, I heard such a child prodigy in jazz vocalist Nikki Yanofsky with her first full concert headline appearance in Toronto at the Isabel Baader Theatre. Backed up by a swing band, the young teen commanded the stage with a blend of childlike exuberance, demure stage moves, vocal prowess, and an eerily cultivated musicality far beyond her years.
Most audiences, even those who may not listen for the fine points of singing, are bowled over by the power of Nikki’s voice, as evidenced in her rendition Tuesday night of songs like “I Ain’t Got Nothing Like the Blues.” Hers is already a rich instrument. (Unlike her speaking voice — that still belongs to a young girl. And the audience loves the paradox). And yes — Yanofsky rips into notes, swings steady and sure, and runs rhythm & blues riffs that more than intimate her soul/pop versatility. But it is Nikki’s vocal tone, it is in her vocal quality that I heard echoes of Ella, with whom this young musician has so close an affinity. I heard the playfulness too, the sweetness and the strength combined. To be sure, Nikki is developing her connoisseurship as a musician. At this formative stage, her scat singing is more rehearsed than spontaneous and her accelerated understanding of melody line exceeds her latent grasp of the meaning of the lyrics. (To be expected. She hasn’t yet lived the words). That she should mimic recorded singers is also understandable. All singers learn from and are influenced by the greats. But the fact that Nikki could approximate Ella at thirteen is remarkable. And she is already colouring songs and finding paths she can take that are her own.
Nikki Yanofsky
Nikki has a passion for — an unbreakable bond with music. And so, as an avid learner of the art and craft of singing jazz, she shares with the audience what that learning process is like. “This is hard,” she acknowledged as she introduced “Lady Be Good,” though the performance was well-executed. The audience laughed with the easy affection and collective pride that the young can elicit.

Questions spun through my mind as I heard notes shooting by me like missiles, shining like stars in the dark. Where will she go from here? What style will Nikki forge that will be singularly her own by the time she is a teen? A young woman? Will she branch out and integrate rhythm and blues with jazz to cross pop lines?

We’ll have to wait and see. On Tuesday night, Nikki was introduced as “Canada’s up-and-coming talent.” Fair enough. But her musicianship can only evolve from here, and when it does, she will probably belong to a global audience.

That’s a prediction.

The Band
drums / music director – Geoffrey D. Lang
bass / arranger – Rob Fahie
Hammond B3 and keyboards – Robert Goldfarb
piano – John Sadowy
guitar – Richard White
percussion – Aldo Mazza
alto saxophone / flute – Jean-Francois Ouellette
tenor saxophone / flute – Sean Craig
tenor saxphone / clarinet – Richard Beaudet
trumpet #1 – Jocelyn Lapointe
trumpet #2 – Andy King
trombone – Serge Arsenault

The Imani Gospel Singers

We welcome your comments and feedback
Carol Lipson
• • • • • •
Mike Colyer
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The Live Music Report

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