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5 Questions for Grammy Award-winning Jazz Singer-Songwriter Nicole Zuraitis

Nicole Zuraitis accepts the award for Best Jazz Vocal Album for "How Love Begins" on stage at the 66th Annual GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony held at Peacock Theater on February 4, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.
Rich Polk / Billboard
Nicole Zuraitis accepts the award for Best Jazz Vocal Album for "How Love Begins" on stage at the 66th Annual GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony held at Peacock Theater on February 4, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

Jazz singer, pianist, and now Grammy winner Nicole Zuraitis was born in Waterbury and grew up in Litchfield. In fact, she attended the very first Litchfield Jazz Camp as a trombone and piano player. Zuraitis took home the Grammy this month in the “Best Jazz Vocal Album” category.

I spoke to Nicole Zuraitis just days after her Grammy win. She was nursing a cold, but had plenty to say about her Connecticut upbringing, and flexing her songwriting skills on “How Love Begins”, her Grammy award-winning album.

Congratulations on your Grammy win! What was your reaction when you heard your name called?

I blacked out! (laughter). Shock. Imposter syndrome. Horror. Happiness. Overwhelmed. Those are, I think, the top five things. I can't watch the speech because you only have 45 seconds. And since I'm an independent artist. In order to be an independent artist and make it to the Grammys, you have to make an entire community of people to pull with you. So I had a lot of people to thank. I would have led with a joke if I had more time! So, it just felt like “Oh my God, only 45 seconds!” They're gonna give me the hook. But today is the first day that, despite having a cold from hugging 2000 people over the last week. I feel joy today.

You grew up in Litchfield, did your Connecticut upbringing help foster your music career?  

I was part of the Litchfield Jazz Camp when it first started. I went there as a trombone player and a piano player. I've had incredible music educators that helped shape me as an artist, that are all from Connecticut, and I give them props all the time. My first ever voice teacher was Laura Mashburn in Litchfield. And then I had Joe Jacovino, who was my high school band director, who also brought me to the Naugatuck Valley Community College Jazz Band when I was in high school. He was the first person that was like, “here, you should sing with the big band”. I just loved music and educators saw that in me.

You won the Grammy for “How Love Begins”, your sixth album. What was it about this album that you think garnered so much attention? Was this album different then the previous five? 

Yes, 100%. And the thing that was different with this album was that I had intention. I had a goal. The rest of the albums I ever made, I always was kind of floating between genres. I didn't feel like I was fully accepted in jazz, but I definitely wasn't a full-blown pop song writer. And so I didn't have anywhere to land, there was no box to put me in.

Then, during the pandemic, I got a panic MBA (Master of Business Administration degree) , which is not something that people normally do. But it made me really think about being intentional with how I function, and setting goals and realizing that if there's not a time goal on something then it might not ever happen.

So, what did you decide was your intent with this album?

With this record I was like “well, I've never fit into a box before. So, let me write music that can fit into the jazz box. And let me call in all the troops of people that I love and respect to play that music with me and that's how I got (jazz bassist) Christian McBride and (Israeli guitarist) Gilad Hekselman. It was extremely intentional. So that is the difference. I was like “I would like to be seen as a jazz singer songwriter”. Not many people are writing original jazz music with vocals.

Nicole, what’s next? New album?

Yes, I’ve already written a new album, but I'm not sure what genre it fits. So there's that intention again, right? I might try and give the songs to other people to sing. That would be amazing. I also curated a new vocal songbook of living jazz songwriters, that has my music and also the music of different living jazz singer songwriters, so that we can keep the tradition of storytelling and jazz songwriting alive. I'll be touring a lot this year. I'm always, always making music, and I'm excited to put out the next thing.

Note: This conversation was edited for clarity and length.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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