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Teen jazz sensation scats her way to the top

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TORONTO — When Nikki Yanofsky was a kid, she used to bang on chairs to make music. Now she sings to thousands of people worldwide.(with video)

Nikki Yanofsky [Barry Harris photo]

Yanofsky, 15, who sings mostly jazz and some pop, made her musical debut at the 2006 Montreal International Jazz Festival.

Since then, the Montreal native has recorded a track for High School Musical 2, and was the youngest singer to record a song for an Ella Fitzgerald tribute album on Verve Records. She has also recently begun touring internationally.

“I was always listening to music since I was two years old,” she said. “I’d always be attracted to anything that resembles music, whether banging on chairs or singing songs.”

Yanofsky began singing jazz after hearing Ella Fitzgerald sing. It wasn’t long until she was hooked.

“Ella kind of ushered me into jazz music. It became my first love,” she said. “[Jazz] is so much fun to sing. I owe a lot to it.”

To Yanofsky, singing jazz is a challenge. And the teen likes challenges.

“I kind of like to bite off a little more than I could chew. That’s just in general. I enjoy things that make me work a little harder. I guess jazz kind of had that appeal,” she said, adding that she also sings pop and hip hop.

When singing, Yanofsky will often lapse into scatting. One of her favourite moments onstage is performing Airmail Special, a scat song by Ella Fitzgerald.

“When I sing it, the audience, I don’t know how they know, but they know it’s more challenging and they start applauding midway. It makes it so worth it,” she said.

 “Scatting originated with jazz. It’s so cool, your voice gets to take a solo… This year and last year, I’m making up my own scats on the spot [while performing]. It gives me freedom to do everything in [my] head. They say, ‘It’s jazz, anything goes.’ It’s OK if you make a mistake.”

But Yanofsky is a perfectionist. She’ll spend several hours singing and practising every day, even if she’s on vacation.

This  preparation helps her feel comfortable on stage. While Yanofsky started performing at a young age, she’s never had a problem with nerves.

“I get a rush of excitement, but I never get nervous. It’s never like nervous, ‘I’m scared,’ it’s nervous excited,” she said.

“The trick to not being nervous is being really prepared, that’s what I tryz to do. The best part is when you hear the audience really appreciate what you put your heart and soul into.”  

Whether in Montreal or Japan, it isn’t difficult for the singer to connect with her audiences.

“If you don’t [connect], you have to get them to connect with you,” she said. “The audience feels your energy and gives it back to you.”

Yanofsky will be performing in Mississauga on Jan. 15 and then in Saskatoon the next day.

“Toronto’s one of my favourite cities. It’s one of the most Canadian New Yorks,” she said.

Apart from playing in New York and other American cities this summer, she toured Japan, and got to take her best friend along.

“It was so much fun. The days that we wouldn’t be doing shows, we would go…  shopping together. We have the funniest pictures,” she said, adding that the country was a different cultural experience.

“The crowd is so different… They’re a lot more reserved, but they’re so respectful. They don’t talk at all [at concerts],” she said.

Yanofsky has recently started writing her own music. She has an album called New to Me, with several original songs on it, coming out in the spring.

While writing music is new for the teen, she has been writing poetry since she was 10 years old.

“It’s a way of expressing yourself. I’m very expressive. That’s why I love music so much,” she said.

Yanofsky will be performing in Missisauga on Jan. 15 at the Living Arts Centre and in Saskatoon on Jan. 16 at TCU Place. For more information or to order tickets, visit www.nikkionline.ca.

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