Music That Makes a Difference 2018

Music That Makes a Difference 2018

CNN Music & Art

Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson

CNN Music & Art

Eddie Van Halen donates guitars to public schools

Eddie Van Halen

CNN Music & Art



At the tender age of 16, Montreal-born jazz singer Nikki Yanofsky is shaking up the genre by bringing youthful energy to the microphone and a musical gift that comes along once a generation. Octaves are limitless vocal hurdles that are elegantly ascended with spot on pitch and rich tone. Yanofsky’s sound is uniquely her own with old-soul hints of her hero Ella Fitzgerald. Her debut studio album, Nikki, was released by Decca Records this May and hit #1 on the Canadian Jazz charts while climbing to #3 in the U.S. The disc is chalked full of modernly arranged jazz classics bringing the funk to Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child,” and adding Zepplin-esque riffs to “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Equally as impressive as her vocal purity and range is Nikki’s songwriting ability. She co-wrote four songs on the disc, including the delicate “For Another Day.”

It’s been quite a year for Nikki Yanofsky. In addition to the new CD, she headlined jazz festivals from Canada to Japan and played major venues from Carnegie Hall to The Kennedy and Lincoln Centers. She performed with the legendary Count Basie Orchestra, collaborated with hip-hop icon Wyclef Jean and was even interviewed on “NBC Nightly News” by Brian Williams. Her highlight was performing Canada’s national anthem at the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. This summer, Yanofsky will grace the stage at the 5th annual Napa Valley Festival del Sole (July 16-25), along with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Chris Botti. Recently, I caught up with Nikki Yanofsky in New York as she made the rounds to promote her new CD.

Ben: “The new CD is out. It’s moving up the charts. You’ve got to be so proud.”

Nikki: “I’m ecstatic. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Ben: “You’ve been working on the new album for quite some time. Now that it’s out, how does this change the game for you?”

Nikki: “You know, I’ve been doing live shows, mostly in Canada, since I was twelve. So singing is all that I’ve ever really wanted to do. It’s awesome that I’m now able to reach the world with my music. It’s very surreal.”

Ben: “When I was your age I was addicted to Van Morrison.”

Nikki: “I love him.”

Ben: “But at that age I wasn’t able to process exactly what his lyrics, his musicianship, his talent meant. I just loved the music. But when you hear music do you hear it differently? Can you explain when you listen to someone like Ella Fitzgerald what is going on inside your mind?

Nikki: “Let’s just say that music makes me feel so much. Ella, for example, I don’t necessarily listen to the words. I listen to her voice. When I listen to Paul Simon now, I listen to the words. Different types of music, different types of artists provoke different reactions. Another example – Stevie Wonder. I listen to everything from the melody to the words and also the chords.”

Ben: “When you’re listening to Ella, and you say you’re listening to her voice, it’s because it’s one of the most pure and recognizable instruments in the history of music. How does it make you feel when you hear your voice being compared with her great vocals?”

Nikki: “It’s definitely a huge compliment, but you can’t let that go to your head. You’re always striving to create a sound that’s your own. Sometimes when I’m listening to myself, I hear what people say when they say I sound like Ella with little things in my tone. Other influences creep in there, too, without even thinking about it. So it’s definitely a compliment as I work on my own voice.”

Ben: “Your voice is very polished at such a young age. But what I’m curious about is how did you become such a talented songwriter? You’ve got writing credits on four of the tracks on your new disc.”

Nikki: “Thank you. I just wanted people to listen to the songs and be touched by the messages in them. The writing part is actually my favorite. I mean, I love it all – the singing, recording, touring, promoting – but I have to say that actually writing the music is the most exciting for me.”

Ben: “Is there a track that you’re most proud of on the album?”

Nikki: “I’m proud of the entire album as a whole, so it’s hard to pick just one. I’m passionate about it all. I love ‘Grey Skies.’ I love ‘Never Make it on Time.’ I love ‘Cool My Heels.’ And I’m really proud of ‘For Another Day.’”

Ben: “’For Another Day’ is my favorite track on the album. All of those songs you just listed are great because they’re your originals, and you’ve also got this unique sound to your voice. To be able to craft this jazz/pop-type vibe and then also be able to write great songs at your age is quite something. The reviews seem to all be in your favor.”

Nikki: “Yeah, I’m so appreciative of that. It’s really great to have that kind of support after working so hard on this album in the studio. To hear people say, “Oh I like this song or that one or I love the whole album…” it’s just nice to know that the album means something to some people.”

Ben: “You’ve had a chance to work with some very well known names in the music industry. Can you tell me about some of your favorite experiences.”

Nikki: “Working with Phil Ramone. He’s the best. He produced the whole album. He was such a pleasure to be with in the studio and have his experience and knowledge onboard… I just wanted to give him a big hug every time I saw him. He gives the best hugs. Jesse Harris, also, you know – he really helped me define my sound and to write songs. Ron Sexsmith is probably one of my favorite people that I’ve ever written with because he’s one of my favorite lyricists of all-time. I am so lucky to actually work with one of my idols. I have also worked with Wyclef Jean – and he’s as talented as it gets.”

Ben: “Man, you are living a dream, girlfriend.”

Nikki: “Yes, I am.”

Ben: “So Nikki, what about the Olympics?”

Nikki: “The Olympics, oh my gosh. I know the lyrics, but I was so nervous about messing up the words or tripping in my heels. I just didn’t want to fall. But I was just so proud to be up there and represent my country and be a part of the Olympics.”

Ben: “You’re also involved in charity work already, right?”

Nikki: “I helped raise $10 million over the last four years with different charities that I’ve been affiliated with. I’m very into raising money for cancer research, and also animals and the SPCA. It’s very important for me to help give children and animals a voice. “

Ben: “Where did this giving back spirit come from?”

Nikki: “I’m lucky to have my career and to be singing and traveling, but I’m even more lucky to be able to simply walk on the street. Some animals are abused and don’t have homes. They’re stuck in cages. Many children are lying in hospital beds right now, unable to move around freely. So it’s important for me to help them.”

Ben: “That’s awesome. So is it fair to ask what kinds of goals you have in the music industry? Where do you want to go on this journey?”

Nikki: “I really want to be very good at one instrument one day. I play piano. I play guitar. I play drums. But I want to be really good at one of them, so I can accompany myself on stage. I’m working on playing guitar on the song ‘Try Try Try’ – so hopefully I’ll be able to grab the guitar one day soon and play that song on stage.”

Ben: “Do you get any down time at all? And when you do what role does music play in your life when you’re just breathing?”

Nikki: “Music is everything. I don’t call what I do work. I call it play. Technically it’s my job, but I also do my job when I’m off the court.”

Written by: Ben Bamsey
Photography by: Jeff Lipsky & Slven Vlasic

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