Nicole Henry back in Aspen for JAS Café
When award-winning jazz vocalist Nicole Henry was a young girl growing up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, she was surrounded by music but never understood that she could create a career and life around it.
“My aunt Deborah was a lead singer for a band throughout the ’70s. I remember singing along to her songs and then, of course, singing along to Aretha Franklin. My parents continued to play “Amazing Grace,” her gospel album, every Sunday,” Henry said. “My mom played piano, so we had a piano in the house. But I grew up in an academic household, and you’re taught that you’re going to college, and you didn’t study arts unless you wanted to teach arts.”
That all changed after she graduated from the University of Miami.
Armed with a degree in communications and theater, she was surprised when friends began asking her to appear as a backup singer on their records, which led to appearances at open mics and talent competitions, where she won prize money as a side hustle to her day job in communications.
“Somebody asked me to go on the road with them to do background vocals, and then that’s when I was like, ‘This is real,’ and something I can do,” she said.
In 2000, she decided to quit her day job and pursue a career in the arts full time.
Subsequently, she launched her acting career, appearing in national commercial roles, as well as getting a series of voiceover assignments. In late 2019, Henry returned to the theatrical stage and garnered critical praise in the musical version of “The Bodyguard.” In 2021, she was in the world premiere of the new musical “A Wonderful World,” based on the life of Louis Armstrong.
A multi-disciplinary performer, she discovered her passion for jazz in 2002 and focused her attention on the development of her full-time singing career, which was quickly rewarded when the Miami New Times named her Best Solo Musician.
Her soulful and powerful voice have since earned her a Soul Train Award for Best Traditional Jazz Performance and four Top-10 U.S. Billboard and HMV Japan jazz albums.
She has also recorded with some of today’s musical greats, including Kirk Whalum, Julian Lage, John Clayton and Gerald Clayton, and has performed with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra, Pasadena Pops, and Michael Feinstein.
Based on her commitment to supporting non-profits — such as Miami Music Project, YoungArts, and Miami Children’s Initiative — proclamations from the city of Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County have named “Nicole Henry Days” in 2011, 2016, and 2017. She has also served two terms on the board of the Florida Chapter of the Recording Academy (GRAMMYs).
“I fell in love with jazz and had not really been introduced to the genre throughout my life, prior to that time,” she said. “So, when I did, I was very fortunate because it really allowed me to learn a lot about music and interpreting lyrics and arrangements and styles of music. It’s really been a blessing. It’s taken me all over the world.”
On Friday and Saturday, that journey will bring her to Aspen as part of Winter JAS Café series at The Little Nell.
This won’t be Henry’s first time performing in Aspen, but she admitted it’s been over a decade since she has graced the stage here and is looking forward to returning with her full band in support of her latest CD, “Time to Love Again.”
“Very excited to come back,” she said. “It’s been a while. But Jim Horowitz and his team always do such a wonderful job with their programming. They’re great hosts. So I’m looking forward to it.”
“Time to Love Again” was released during the tail end of the pandemic and is an album dear to her heart, featuring covers of some of her favorite songs from a broad scope of artists from Nina Simone and James Taylor to Stevie Wonder and Joan Armatrading.
She said these tracks are timely and especially needed now with what the country is going through on a political, social, and racial level, and she believes music has the power to bring people together and help the healing process.
“There is a special connection you have with your audience when you’re singing directly to them. It’s very personal. I make it personal,” she said. “And there will be excitement, as well as heartfelt emotion in the songs that will bring warmth and fun fond memories to you. I always want to make people feel good. So I’m excited about taking that ride with everybody there.”
What: JAS Cafe presents Nicole Henry, “Time to Love Again”
Where: The Little Nell, 675 E. Durant St., Aspen
When: Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.
More info: jazzaspensnowmass.org/event/2023-winter-jas-cafe-tba-4/