Miami Jazz Singer Nicole Henry Releases New EP Summer Sessions

Nicole Henry is celebrating her new EP.
Nicole Henry is celebrating her new EP.
Photo by Rafael Balcazar

After having to reschedule an interview with local jazz singer Nicole Henry, I texted her, “Thanks for being understanding."

She texted back, “I’m a singer that’s my job.”

When we were able to talk, she elaborated, explaining how empathy is a key component to what she does. “I tell stories and share feelings through songs.”

Growing up in Pennsylvania, Nicole Henry’s mom played classical piano while she sat in her room, singing along to Aretha Franklin and Sister Sledge. After moving to South Florida to attend the University of Miami, Henry decided to make Miami her home. “I was fortunate to work with a lot of amazing, world-class musicians down here," she says. "There are a lot of creative people who allowed me to find my own voice.”

She quit her office job in 2001 and has been working full-time as a singer ever since, striving to bring her perspective to classics. In 2002, this paper named her Miami's Best Local Solo Musician in our annual Best Of Issue, and in 2013, Henry won a Soul Train Award for Best Traditional Jazz Performance.

“A lot of my repertoire is from the jazz standards, but I sing classic soul and folk songs. I’ll sing anything, but you want to take the time to make covers your own; otherwise, you sound like a hotel lobby band. And I’ve had to do that. Even then, you don’t want to sound like a jukebox.”

Her current band — which includes Pete Wallace on piano, Eric England on upright bass, Dave Chiperton on drums, and Aaron Lebos on guitar — backs her on songs like Ramsey Lewis’ “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free." With a repertoire so diverse and old school, was there any song that stumped her — that she couldn’t figure out how to make hers? “There were two Stevie Wonder songs I tried that I couldn’t do anything with," she says. "Musically and logically, he’s so perfect that you can’t change them.”

Fortunately for her fans, Henry was able to find eight songs she could make hers, and on July 24, she’s releasing Summer Session, an eight-song acoustic EP with both covers and originals, accompanied by James Bryan — who won a Latin Grammy for his work with Nelly Furtado — on acoustic guitar. The two met in 2003, and a song they played together in that first meeting, “No One Is to Blame,” made it as the final track on this record.

But mere days before the album’s release, Henry is not resting on her laurels celebrating. She spent the afternoon working with local songwriters on another record. “You have to write 40 songs and hopefully ten of those you’ll love and will be the new record.” Songwriting, though, she says, is filled with land mines. “We were working on a ballad today that when we started on it was uplifting, then it got Disney," she says.

The reason I had to reschedule our interview was because I had to watch my daughter, who — like every toddler in America — is obsessed with watching Frozen over and over again until you no longer want to build a snowman but rather torture it slowly and painfully. How did Nicole Henry know that I too would cringe at the mere thought of making a song Disney?

Then I remembered: As a singer, understanding is her job.


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