From Precocious Child Performer To Beautiful Woman, Legendary Producer, Quincy Jones Says “Nikki Yanofsky Is The Bomb!”
Nikki Yanofsky speaks very fast. That’s not surprising because the 21-year-old Montreal chanteuse, composer and lyricist, with the pipes of a seasoned jazz veteran, can reproduce the most intricate ‘scatting’ by her idol, Ella Fitzgerald, while giving everything a fresh pop take all her own.
She’ll be celebrating the upcoming Pan Am Games in concert at the Richmond Olympic Oval, in British Columbia, Canada on June 14th when the Olympic Torch Relay arrives and the cauldron is lit. Richmond is one of five cities outside of Toronto (the Games begin there on July 10th,) that the torch will travel to. Nikki’s no stranger to the stadium, having sung the I Believe anthem at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics opening and closing.
Her newest album, Little Secret was nominated for a 2015 Canadian Juno Award for Best Pop Album. The CD is also available in the U.S.
Discovered at age 12 performing in 2006 at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, audiences will remember her moving performance of I Believe at the opening the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games in Vancouver. Her first studio album, Nikki, was produced by the late Phil Ramone; nominated for a Juno Award and won Nikki the WAVE Smooth Jazz Award for “Female Vocalist of the Year.” Having performed with Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan , Herbie Hancock and the late Marvin Hamlisch she’s a favourite at Jazz Festivals from Japan to Eilat, Israel.
I caught up with Nikki at the Vancouver Convention Centre earlier this year.
MM: Quincy Jones has produced and composed for all the greats from Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin to Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney. How were you introduced?
NIKKI: It’s so funny how that happened. I actually met the whole entire (studio) team first. When we finally met Quincy at his L.A. home he was in his Missoni bathrobe- he’s very good friends with the family and he’s always decked out in something from them – a scarf or socks . He was holding a blueberry smoothie and I thought he looked like the ‘Godfather’ walking in but was so welcoming, super friendly. He’s the nicest man.
MM: What advice has he given you for this next stage of your career?
NIKKI: “Music can never be more or less than you are.” When I hear his Soul Bossa Nova I really feel his personality coming through so in my song Something New I sampled Soul Bossa Nova in the chorus because I love that it makes me think of him. I think I learned the most from Quincy just by watching him. He really practices what he preaches. He always says ,“Humility with creativity and grace with success.” I always try to remember that.
MM: How are you attracting a younger audience?
NIKKI: I think the biggest thing with jazz is that it does have this stigma of being attractive to only older people. What I do is retro music – a pop crossover instead of putting myself in a jazz-only box. My demographic keeps getting younger and younger which is really great. Sometimes I get Tweets “ I listened to jazz because of you.”
MM: Tell us about the video you shot for Necessary Evil– you’re quite the vixen.
NIKKI: It was shot at a chateau outside of Paris. That was a really scary video to shoot- the panther was real! I asked the trainer if I could pat her and he said ” yeah sure, but if she turns over, get up slowly and walk away fast.”
The song actually has a double meaning. On the surface it sounds like a relationship, but I wrote it to mean the ‘fame monster’ – I’m going to spit you out and use you-and the panther is a metaphor for that fame. In the end I tame it.
MM: Who would you love to perform with in the future?
NIKKI: Definitely Bruno Mars. And I’d love to work with Pharrell and Ed Sheeran. I’ve sung with Stevie Wonder but I’d really like to record something with him – he’s my hero.