Mercedes Nicole’s infatuation with music began sitting at the feet of her father at age seven as he played and replayed the warped albums he treasured of the great women in jazz, Billy Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughn. Seeing her complete fascination with jazz, her father began sneaking her into clubs in Los Angeles, where she spent most of her childhood and teen years, seeing and hearing greats like Nancy Wilson, Bobby Hutchinson and Cal Tjader. However, being brought up as a strict Baptist, Mercedes did not venture into music like her peers in high school or college, until age 30, when her fascination with Jazz became undeniable.
Mercedes is vocal jazz stylist who interprets standards, blues, original compositions, and New Gospel music. In 2005 she wrote, produced and performed her first tribute to Nina Simone at the 300-seat Microsoft Auditorium in the Seattle Public Library. In 2008 and 2009, she performed the treasured recordings of Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn at Demetrio’s Jazz Alley and she has graced the stage in a variety of top class venues.
Recently we ran into her latest single release, “Touching The Sky” and followed it up by browsing through some of the songs from her CD “People Are Talking”. The album contains 6 covers, 3 original songs and 1 prayer. We discovered that Mercedes is a genuine gem amongst the clutter composing today’s musical spectrum. Thank goodness she’s faithful to her remarkable vocal stylings.
Talent aplenty, Ms. Nicole’s voice and delivery strike your memory in familiar ways. Comparison to world-famous blues and jazz females are tempting, perhaps justified. Nonetheless, Ms. Nicole is never derivative but rather refreshingly comfortable in an all-new manner. Mercedes Nicole is also smart enough to work superb material. On her CD “People Are Talking”, she easily interprets standards by such great tunesmiths as Van Morrison, Vernon Duke, Antônio Carlos Jobim, and George Gershwin into her own repertoire.
The first time you hear Ms. Nicole you make the assumption: this is some legendary great from the past in some glorious newly re-mastered recording you have never heard before. You’re a little surprised when you’re wrong and more than a little intrigued – this is Mercedes Nicole, who in her own quiet, unassuming way is as much bigger than life as any of her peers.
I have a passion for female jazz vocalists and track hundreds of them, known and unknown. Simply put, Mercedes Nicole is a superb and moving singer, the real deal, with her own voice, which is as smooth and rich as aged single-malt scotch over ice. Her phrasing is dead-on and there isn’t a single clunker in her catalog.
Her songs are arranged and performed with a subtlety, restraint and intelligence that throw into marked prominence the deficiencies of modern-day poseurs who sing a variety of songs in a jazz-inflected style but embody disingenuousness with every breath. Listen beyond the superficial similarities, to Holiday, Fitzgerald and Vaughn, and you’ll hear in Mercedes Nicole a singer who is plugged into the essence of what elevates the jazz art form: simple, direct expression, and no reliance on overtly forced technique.
Ms. Nicole’s husky mellow tone elicits a tender blend of romance, vulnerability and sensuality, giving her a style of her own. And it is most evident on her original compositions like “People Are Talking”, accompanied beautifully by Alexey Nikolaev’s saxophone, and the melancholic, yet uplifting “Touching The Sky”. She has an effortless palette of notes she moves through with a pitch perfect and low resonant delectability, which can be admired on the bluesy “Chicken Biscuits & Gravy”, another original composition.
Ms. Nicole is also ably assisted by some talent musicians, including Piano – Darin Clendenin – Gregory Smith, Bass – Clipper Anderson, Drums – D’Vonne Lewis – Jamael Nance – Don Gunn, Cello – William Smith, Guitar – Steve Peterson, Vibes – Susan Pascal.
From classic standards to original compositions, Mercedes Nicole’s voice and timing of her words and music brings us a fresh clear view of life and takes us to an earlier time. If you love great female vocals, singing great songs, this lady and her CD “People Are Talking”, will stand up to anything you have ever heard…by anyone. Trust me, I know from experience.
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