The Magic of Nicole Zuraitis
She may have once been a promising high school soccer player, but the minute you hear her voice you know she was born to sing. Listening to Nicole Zuraitis transports you back to the days of the great girl singers – Rosemary Clooney, Peggy Lee, Anita O’Day, Margaret Whiting, and so many more. Although she is very young, she brings to a song that worldly-wise approach to lyrics that makes one swoon.
“I am basically self-taught,” Zuraitis says. “I started out in Litchfield public school and then went to Holy Cross High School in Waterbury. I was always singing and I learned by listening and watching and imitating.”
In high school she was playing the trombone and her music teacher suggested she try singing with the community college jazz band, which is where she found her calling.
She then went to the Litchfield Jazz Camp where she worked in the office in exchange for going to the camp classes. Zuraitis then went on to New York University to continue her music studies.
“The ironic part is that I had such a big voice and I didn’t know what to do with it,” she says. “So I was an opera major and I have this crazy technique that’s difficult to describe, but it makes me very versatile. After graduation I was singing at a friend’s wedding and Vita Muir, who runs the Litchfield jazz Festival. heard me and decided immediately that I should be put on the program for that year. So there I was on the main stage in 2008, totally inexperienced. But my heart was in it and that’s how my career began.”
But it wasn’t quite that easy. Zuraitis took her show on the road, knocking on doors and driving a hundred miles for a $50 gig. It’s called the grind but it was the only way to be heard. After traveling to Europe and finding it just as difficult, she decided New York was where she had to be.
“It was 2009,” Zuraitis recalls. “I went to an audition at agency that did corporate events and they hired me based on the fact that I could play the piano and I could – sort of. So they sent me out to play the piano at the Waldorf Astoria.
“For two solid hours I played in the lobby,” she says. “I was so atrocious it was amazing that they let me come back again, but they did. That’s how I learned to play – on the job.”
While finding work in New York was challenging, there was a network of peers and a wealth of venues for musicians. Zuraitis would go and listen to as she could and learned from them. To listen to Nina Simone or Jane Monheit or Ann Hampton Callaway is to understand the incredible art of a song.
Zuraitis began to establish herself as the jazz singer songwriter she longed to be. Yes, she also writes a lot of her own music and it is as unique as she is. But she is always raising the bar higher.
“One of my goals was to play at the Blue Note and the 55 Bar in the West Village. Simply going there and asking to play doesn’t work, you have to be recommended and I finally was. I got to play as a headliner at the Blue Note and once a month I am at the 55 Bar. They make me feel at home in front of an audience that is not my immediate family or friends.”
Zuraitis is now at the top of her game, having won accolades and awards for her singing and her composing, including the ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award and the People’s Choice Award and the Johnny Mercer Award from the National American Traditions Vocal Competition. She has two self-released albums and she recently signed with Dot Time Records for a new album next year.
Although she is constantly working and touring, she still loves coming back home to Litchfield. On April 1st at 8:00 PM she will return to the Litchfield Community Center’s Starry Nights Café. Stepping into elaborately decorated room evocative of the Carlyle or the Regency, guests will be welcomed by the Nicole Zuraitis Quartet, featuring the one and only vocal enchantress herself.
For more information or to purchase tickets for Nicole Zuraitis, visit Info@the communitycenter.org or call 860-567-8302.