By David Rolland
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With power and finesse unrivaled by any jazz singer south of Manhattan, Nicole Henry has become Miami's worst-kept secret. The sophisticated Japanese jazz community, for one, is on her like green on wasabi. They've bestowed her honors such as "Best New Jazz Artist" (2004 HMV/Japan Music Awards) and have proclaimed her "one of the most impressive live performers of the great American songbook" (2005, Japan Times). She's gained droves of fans on this hemisphere as well, largely due to word of mouth from her regular gigs at Van Dyke Cafe on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.
Her frequent ventures away from that cozy spot, though, have enticed her to expand both her repertoire and instrumentation. At her sold-out Carnival Center debut in November 2006, she mixed jazz standards like "I've Got You Under My Skin" and "Blue Skies" with soulful pop numbers by the Commodores; Earth, Wind, and Fire; and Chicago. Usually backed by drums, upright bass, and piano, Henry had the foresight to add acoustic guitar and electric bass to her lineup for these newer classics.
When she sits down to talk with Miami New Times, Henry exudes a mature confidence. She notes her collaborations with the Cab Calloway Orchestra in San Diego, and her sessions at North Miami's storied Hit Factory studios. Her upcoming album, she explains, marks a major step in her career: the recording of her own compositions, which will stand side by side with the jazz standards on the disc.
Performances at fabled venues like the Rainbow Room, Cotton Club, and Lincoln Center provide thrills, of course, but they also deepen her musical vision. Successful tours in Japan, Korea, Mexico, and England reinforce her status as "a superb vocal thespian, swinging with controlled abandon," in the words of Cadence magazine.
Between sips of her cappuccino at the Books & Books Cafe in Miami Beach, Henry notes that she also cherishes local engagements, such as her return to the Sandoval Club. It doesn't matter what size the stage is; Henry has the energy and the chops to turn a good song into a transcendent performance.