Jazz prodigy Nikki Yanofsky sets Olympic standard

Fri May 28, 2010 7:41pm EDT
 
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By Paul Sexton

LONDON (Billboard) - As Nikki Yanofsky prepared to sing the Canadian national anthem at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver -- just four days after her 16th birthday -- it wasn't so much the global TV audience of 3.2 billion that was preying on her mind.

"The only thing I was nervous about was tripping," she says with a laugh. "I was wearing 5-inch heels and I had to walk down steps, and I'm an inexperienced heel-walker. So, yeah, one step at a time."

Since then, however, the Canadian jazz starlet's career has progressed in leaps and bounds. Her debut studio album, "Nikki," released May 4 in the United States by Decca, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Heatseekers Albums chart, No. 3 on Jazz Albums and No. 105 on the Billboard 200, with first-week sales of 6,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The album has so far peaked at No. 5 on Top Canadian Albums.

The set mixes her takes on such standards as "Take the 'A' Train" and "God Bless the Child" with original compositions like "For Another Day," penned with Jesse Harris. All feature Yanofsky's mature and versatile vocals, which seem to channel jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald through a pop/R&B sensibility.

Despite her age, Yanofsky is already a veteran. She was the youngest headliner at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, playing her hometown event when she was 12. Alongside her February 12 Olympics performance, her "I Believe" single received massive coverage as the theme of broadcaster CTV's event coverage. It topped the Canadian Hot 100, as did Young Artists for Haiti's version of K'Naan's "Wavin' Flag," on which she was a featured performer.

"To be honest," Yanofsky says, "any recognition is great, but the real motive of this is the art of the music. I used to wake up when I was 4 or 5 and say to my parents, 'OK, make me famous.' But it became a lot less about the fame."

Decca general manager Paul Foley says the label is supplementing its initial jazz-orientated marketing with a "slow build" on triple-A (adult alternative album) radio for "For Another Day," while Yanofsky will hit the summer international jazz festival circuit.

"We know breaking the U.S. takes time, especially in the jazz genre," Foley says. "But the road to success (for her) is jazz. She's such an amazing vocalist, the crossover and singer-songwriter (aspects) will come later."

"I'm always going to be singing jazz, but I can't neglect pop or R&B," Yanofsky says. "If I choose one genre, I'm almost shooting myself in the foot, because I'd be missing out on all the other great genres."

(Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters)