MIAMI — Montrealer Nikki Yanofsky, 17, who sang I Believe before millions at the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympics last year, recently kicked off a three-city U.S. tour with jazz divas Jane Monheit and Dianne Reeves.
Nikki Yanofsky [Barry Harris photo]
Yanofsky sang and scatted five songs from her latest CD, Nikki, on March 18 at the Arsht Centre in Miami, Fla., proving herself worthy of comparison to the two veteran singers on the bill.
Having her maternal grandmother, who spends winters in south Florida, as well as other vacationing Canadians in the audience added to the excitement, but it was Yanofsky’s fast-maturing voice and skill more than the novelty of youth that’s generating the applause and praise of critics and fellow singers.
“Nikki at age 17 has become an exceptional performer for her ability to sing in such a mature way, to scat and to improvise that she had to be included in our lineup in our Jazz Roots series at Arsht,” said John Richard, the centre’s CEO.
Richard’s comments have been echoed by promoters who have booked Yanofsky over the next few months across the United States and in Europe for the summer.
“I never take anything for granted,” Yanofsky said. “To be compared to great singers and performing on stage with them, well, I can’t get over it. It’s like nothing I’ve ever dreamed and everything I ever hoped for, and it’s all happening so quickly and is so much fun.”
Since singing with her father Richard’s jazz band at age 11, at a fundraiser for Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Montreal, Nikki knew she wanted to be a professional singer.
“I knew from a young age that I wanted to sing professionally. There is nothing better in my life to do than singing and immersing myself into my songs,” she said.
Yanofsky’s dream came true at age 13 when she performed on an outdoor stage at the Montreal International Jazz Festival and went on to record her own CDs and to be nominated for Juno Awards.
Yanofsky started making inroads into the lucrative American market last year with her television debut in the PBS special Nikki: Live in Montreal.
Along the way, Yanofsky was mentored by many other Jewish artists, such as the composer Marvin Hamlisch, who featured her at age 14 at a Carnegie Hall performance in New York.
Along with her performance at the Winter Olympics, another memorable night for Yanofsky took place when she performed On a Clear Day in honour of her idol Barbra Streisand in February at the Grammy Awards.
“To perform for Barbra Streisand, well, that is a dream come true. My mother and I saw all her films from Funny Girl to Yentl, and to share the stage in her honour with Herbie Hancock, Barry Manilow and Stevie Wonder was a special moment for me. There is no singer alive that can be as perfect as Barbra Streisand,” she said.
Beyond Canada and the United States, Yanofsky won praise last summer performing in Asia and Europe and, last August, at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat, Israel, a country that provoked much sentiment for her.
“Performing in Israel was so moving. How can anyone, Jewish or not Jewish, not feel connected to the people there? I enjoyed not only performing there, but seeing all the landmarks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I definitely want to come back to Israel as often as possible,” Yanofsky said.
She comes from a close-knit Jewish family. Her parents, Richard and Elyssa, who manage her career, support many Jewish causes, including the Israel Cancer Research Fund. The singer will be home next month to celebrate a Passover seder with her parents and two brothers .
After graduating from St. George’s School in May, Yanofsky will be forgoing university, at least for now, to pursue her singing career full time.
“Nikki believes in hard work and is very grounded, so working on her music with the best teachers and mentors on tour will be as good as going to a professional music school,” said Phil Ramone, who produced Nikki and has worked with singers Billy Joel and Barry Manilow.
“Nikki’s dedication to be the best singer she can be matches her talent as one of the best voices of our time.”
Three Generations of Divas with Yanofsky, Monheit and Reeves, stopped in Indianapolis on March 26 and will visit Dallas on April 21. To follow Yanofsky’s tour schedule, go to www.nikkiyanofsky.com.