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What's so good about Nikki Yanofsky?
17-year-old Nikki Yanofsky stands out in a world of American Idol-fueled pseudo-talent - she is the real deal. Since her debut at the Montreal Jazz Festival at the age of 13, she has proven again and again - with performances at venues like Carnegie Hall and the Olympics, sharing the stage with artists like Herbie Hancock, Marvin Hamlisch and Wyclef Jean - that hers is a true musical gift. She performed in Koerner Hall last year to a standing ovation, and I'm excited to see her this year on our mainstage.
Nikki burst onto the jazz scene with her stunning performances of classic Ella Fitzgerald repertoire. I admit to being a bit biased here; I grew up listening to Ella - for me she epitomized the jazz vocalist - so I was impressed that someone so young was taking on some challenging repertoire. Nikki's performances, though, were more than imitation - she quickly showed a maturity and an understanding of the music which for other artists only comes much later on. Here's Nikki performing "Airmail Special" at the ripe age of 13:
Of course, it's important for any young musician to show that she's able to perform in more than just one style, and to truly make her own mark on the music she performs. What has especially impressed me about Nikki is her ability to do just that - whether she's singing cover songs or originals, she makes the tune her own. Check out her interpretation of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", recorded at the age of 15. When I listen to this recording, it's clear to me that in just two years, her voice and musicality matured immensely:
Nikki has continued to develop into a spectacular talent. Although her international profile increased dramatically with her performance of "I Believe", the theme song to the 2010 Winter Olympics, I'm glad to see (and hear!) that her dedication to her craft remains unwavering. She won't rest on her previous successes; she seems dedicated to challenging herself, singing a wider variety of repertoire and writing her own music. Here's a short video in which she discusses - and performs tracks from - her new album: