Nancy Harms‘ singing embodies a quiet sort of mystery, a coolness that is reserved but always tinged with sweetness. We have met in person once or twice, but most of what I know about Nancy comes from the world of social media and, of course, her music. Nancy’s most recent solo effort, Dreams in Apartments, was met with a warm critical reception: the Wall St. Journal’s Will Friedwald wrote, “…after hearing [Nancy] just once, you’ll never want to let her go.”
The success of Dreams in Apartments has taken Nancy to Copenhagen, Oslo, Paris, and Torino already this year, and her ongoing collaboration with pianist Jeremy Siskind will find her touring the western United States this spring. We New Yorkers will have to keep an eye on Nancy’s calendar to find out when she’ll be performing here next. Until then, a big thank-you to Nancy Harms for answering a few questions for the “Spotlight On…” series!
Who or what inspired you to pursue a life in music?
Right out of college, I had a lovely job of teaching music to elementary-aged kids in a small town and I really enjoyed it. But it wasn’t enough. As great as it was, it left a hole and I felt like I was living someone else’s life. I began to explore the world of jazz singing more and more, and as I did I felt as though I was getting closer and closer to home. I have been singing in public since the age of four, but with little exposure to jazz and not many examples of professional artists in my community, it took me a while to find out exactly what was calling me out of my teaching life. Figuring out how one goes about taking the leap into that wonderful, wild world of being a professional musician was no small task for me, but I knew that’s what I had to do.
In the course of your musical development, what has come most naturally to you? What has been the most challenging?
I have a pretty good ear in some respects and have tended to rely on that too much in my musical life…as a result, working on sight-reading and theory have not been the most attractive or easy things for me. I’m a very intuitive person so I can easily get frustrated when I’m asked to break things down or name them…I just like to absorb the info in my own way and then put it to use and call it a day.
If you were to choose another profession, what would it be, and why?
Photographer. I’m not that practiced or studied in photography, but I really love being behind a camera and capturing things through my own “eye.” I also love to see other people’s photos…a glimpse into how they see the world/what attracts their eye…Shapes? Colors? Light? Good stuff.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, on or off the bandstand?
I have received so much incredible advice as I have a mentor (Arne Fogel) who has given me an embarrassment of riches in that category. But something that is sticking out in my head now is the advice that another singer gave me on arranging tunes. She said that she just spends some time with the lyric, maybe even just speaking it, and finds out what the lyric means to her and then tries to put that into sound. This made so much sense to me…our brilliance lies in how true we are to ourselves. [Ed. Note: I added the emphasis to Nancy’s last sentence, here, because it resonated within me so powerfully. What a succinct, beautiful truth.]
What are your current musical obsessions? Who/what is in steady rotation when you listen to music lately?
I’m in love with the new Kate McGarry tune “Ten Little Indians” at the moment. So tender.
I have a surprising laugh that is often (lovingly) compared to the sweet song of the pterodactyl.
Keep up with Nancy’s touring schedule on her website. You can also check out one of her original songs, “And It’s Beautiful,” below.