Singing from the soul to the soul

Combining traditional jazz with funk, blues and contagious joy, Nicole Henry makes Vail debut.

Nicole Henry believes that human beings are all connected. She strives to instill her audience with this notion every time she hits a particular note or loads a verse full of heart-resounding fervor.

“That’s the reason that I sing. We, in our own little way, want to either save ourselves or save the world as artists. We want to make a difference. The reason we want to inspire people is that we know we’re connected. We have the same fears, the same desires, the same spirit,” Henry says.

The Miami-based singer cites Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn as inspiration and has been sized up as a traditional jazz vocalist (she won the 2013 Soul Train Award for Best Traditional Jazz Performance). But really, her style straddles the borders of jazz, R & B, funk, gospel and contains a solid dose of soul. Swaying with eyes closed, reaching and quivering on stage, Henry summons each word from her core. The glowing aura – both visual and auditory – that she emanates serves as an intimate conversation with the audience.

Even while belting out emotional sentiments, Henry’s delivery is powerfully uplifting. Perhaps this is because the overriding feeling she’s always had while singing is pure happiness. Oddly, she took little notice of her ability to enrapture an audience as she was growing up, even as she was continuously asked to perform.

“I didn’t realize I had a unique talent necessarily until I was in college,” she says. “I always just did it. I sang the national anthem at every basketball game, every football game, but it was just something I did. I took it for granted. Even winning the talent competitions at my high school, I didn’t think about it as a real passion. It was just something I had fun doing. It was when I had a chance to sing for people who didn’t know me that it hit – these people don’t know who I am and they really like what I’m doing. I realized the power of being an entertainer and that’s when I was addicted. It was like, OK.This is what I’m capable of.”

The jazz world’s most acclaimed new vocalists, Nicole Henry, will play at Vail Jazz Club Series and Vail Jazz @ Vail Square on July 8th and July 9th

That was in 1997 and since then Henry has released seven studio albums, a new single last year and is in the process of putting together a new record, rife with original material. She has also wandered down the path of theater and acting, appearing in several commercials and voice overs. But music is the backbone of her artistic expression.

“It was a natural gravitation because music has this immediacy that I really enjoy. With theater, it takes much more time. I think singing is like a sprint, acting is more like a marathon, short term satisfaction. It just wound up that singing was more fulfilling to me, at least immediately.”

When she’s on stage, Henry views her performance as a three-part power formula.

“One is listening to my band, particularly when a song intro begins. If I just focus on how supportive my band is, how much feeling they put into it, I get so lost and appreciative,” she says. “That’s the dim light going bright in my mouth and here I am floating on top of this music. The other place is  – when I hear that, I think of how grateful I am, how appreciative I am that I’m – I get so lost and happy about that. That’s the light starting the dim going bright. The other part is where I’m in the song, the sound coming out like a stream of light and here I am floating on top of this music. Then I look at this audience and I feel their energy and their desire to be entertained. It’s those three coming together. It’s a real buzz.”

Anyone familiar with Henry’s performance can attest to the fact that the buzz is contagious. The light she generates moves through every ear, every soul, every molecule within sound range.

“I would say it’s an inspired performance, uplifting and inspiring. We have so much fun when we’re making music, my band and I. We go between heavy and light as far as content and messages. It’s all for forward progress,” she says. “When I sing, I’m there to remind people that we are all human. As different as we are, we share the same basic things. I love reminding people to celebrate regardless of how confused they are, how unfortunate, how fortunate, that music is something we can all enjoy.”