Q&A with Jazz/Blues vocalist Mercedes Nicole - rich, expressive voice deepened by a refreshing vulnerability and ardor

"Music is truly the Universal Language of the heart. The timeless themes of Love, & Being loved, embodies every song ever written. Jazz ushers in a world of fantasy…Blues the agony of defeat, but both the delight of laughter! I feel music opened my eyes to see we are all the same…no matter the Country, Nationality or age for that matter.  I am more connected as a human being, than ever before."

Mercedes Nicole: A Genuine Music Gem

An extraordinary vocal jazz stylist and interpreter of standards, blues, original compositions, and New Gospel music, Mercedes Nicole brings to her performances a unique personality and vocal quality. Her rich, expressive voice is deepened by a refreshing vulnerability and ardor. She reveals an unending passion for probing the lyric, melodic and rhythmic nuances of her material. Mercedes has performed at numerous venues and festivals, including: Demetrio’s Jazz Alley, The Triple Door, Egan’s, 88 Keys Whidby Island, Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, SAM, Microsoft Auditorium, Shoreline Jazz Festival, Ballard Jazz Festival, Panache Jazz Festival, Westport Blues Festival, Bumbershoot Music Festival, Intiman Theatre, Amojah Festival and Tacoma Bite. Her Tribute Shows include Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Etta James.                                                                            (Photo: Mercedes Nicole)

The first time you hear Seattle songstress Mercedes Nicole sing, you may wonder if you are hearing a newly-discovered track from a legendary singer of yore-Sarah Vaugh, perhaps? Or Dinah Washington? But soon it becomes clear that, while this long-gloved, bare-shouldered singer evokes visions of a world of cocktail gowns and cabarets, her music and vision are fresh, creative, and all her own. “Constellation” (2020), her fourth release, takes the regionally well-known jazz singer in a new direction. This is the blues album she has wanted to make for years, and she spared nothing on the recording of it. This album features the best artists of Seattle’s formidable jazz and blues scene. This album is well-named, a constellation of talent, a constellation of brilliant songs sung from the heart. A sultry blend of Blues Jazz, & Soul! With outstanding musicians Jake Sele, Evan Flory-Barns, D’Vonne Lewis, Brian Kirk, Kevin McCarthy Jay Thomas, Thad Turner, Jerry Wirkkala, & Yun-En Liu.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Jazz music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Music is truly the Universal Language of the heart. The timeless themes of Love, & Being loved, embodies every song ever written. Jazz ushers in a world of fantasy…Blues the agony of defeat, but both the delight of laughter! I feel music opened my eyes to see we are all the same… no matter the Country, Nationality or age for that matter. I am more connected as a human being, than ever before.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

Every engineer that has worked with me in the studio, on the front end or the back I end during mastering, tell me my sound is soothing, rich, and grabs their attention. I enjoy lingering. Sometimes, I think we as a people, are in such a rush to get things done, we forget to savor the moment. That’s what I enjoy most…savoring the moment.

My creative drive comes from many places, but in particular three places, from watching performances of the late greats: Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, Peggy Lee, Nancy Wilson, & believe it or not from nature. The Pacific Northwest has everything, lakes, mountains, rivers, incredible beaches, and endless evergreens. I love walking, ferry boat riding, and overlooking the sound on a high plateau like QueenAnne Park. You can see forever.  Lastly, I love great biographies, you can always find intimate stories of love & Triumphant.

"I think of this often…always debrief after a show. Treat people with utmost respect, starting with yourself.  Believe you are worth being valued and value others, if you don’t you’ll have sleepless night, & attract more negativity that will continue to perpetuate the problem." (Photo: Mercedes Nicole)

Are there any specific memories or highlights of your career that you would like to tell us about?!

2014 I headlined at the Westport Blues Festival. I had never done a entire mix of Jazz & Blues & I sang my heart out! When my set was over, I was soaking wet, even my hair was plastered to my head, but I have never felt more alive! B.B. Kings daughter Claudette King was also there, and told me, “damn girl, that was really good! People came up tome and said “you can really sing!” Since then I had this emotional break through that it’s never them & us, we are all one! In 2018, I was one of the Winners of the Female Composer Awards… Instead of hiding my own songs, afraid of rejection I entered two original compositions and was deeply overwhelmed when I was declared one of the Winners. Now I sing my own songs as much as I can.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I truly believe the music of the past left more to the imagination! I miss that innocent wonder. Does she or he really love me? I am not one of synthesized sound either. I love acoustic instruments. Although, I do like any type of guitar. Give me a set of drums, any type of Bass, and some guitar, and I am good to go. Tell me why you love me… make me laugh or smile...promise me the world… Or tell me why you broke my heart… I love that.

What is the impact of Blues and Jazz on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

You know the guys I gig with, or any Singer will bare witness to the fact that people have a lot on their minds, this Pandemic has shaken all of us to our core! When we’re on stage you can see a shift happening right before your eyes. People begin smiling, nodding their heads. Couple move a little closer to each other, the music levels the playing field.  It brings people together in a way, logic, or lectures can’t. We all have been in love, we all have had heartbreak, we all have been afraid to try, and been full of self-doubt, I want my music to validate life, and assure the listener that whatever they have gone through, they are not alone, & just maybe love will be sweeter the next time around. I guess give them hope.

"My creative drive comes from many places, but in particular three places, from watching performances of the late greats: Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, Peggy Lee, Nancy Wilson, & believe it or not from nature. The Pacific Northwest has everything, lakes, mountains, rivers, incredible beaches, and endless evergreens." (Photo: Mercedes Nicole)

What does to be a female artist in a Man’s World as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

Women in this business must work with men & women they can’t trust, who know why they are on stage together. I work with men who for the most part have loving homes, healthy relationships, and who take pride in their talents. Women must always be cognizant that trust in the band is equal to or greater than trying to save a few dollars. That the relationships they form on & off the stage will either help or harm them. Always value your band & they will value you. In this day & age, I believe women are highly valued. They are seen as not only beautiful, but intelligent. There may be old attitudes out there that de-value a woman’s worth, but that era is quickly dying.

Why do you think that Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Etta James songs continues to generate such a devoted following?

Nina, Sarah, Dinah, sang with passion.  They loved their messages in the song, & they were supreme story tellers! Sarah had the ability to whisk you away from every care in the world. Diana made you erupt with laughter, and look a trickster in the eye, and confess that they “messed up!” Nina put a magnifying glass on injustice, and long before James Brown ever took the stage, she made you proud that you were a woman, & proud you were Black!

What would you say characterizes Seattle music scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

We’re a big city, but we’re also pretty small. Everyone knows everyone here, and that can feel good sometimes.  We don’t have a lot of choices, but we’re very loyal, the fans are very loyal to the Artist they love, & honestly enjoy discovering new talent. We are a city that sleeps early, & who are conscious of mindfulness, healthy eating, healthy living, great music. The Orchestras are wonderful, the venues that support live music, really care about the Artists, & do their best to keep things affordable, but it’s not easy.  This is a teaching city, most of the men & women I know in the business care about the “art” itself. They teach, give workshops, and encourage all those up & coming protégés, but even with at, they sometimes have to travel to make money.

"I truly believe the music of the past left more to the imagination! I miss that innocent wonder. Does she or he really love me? I am not one of synthesized sound either. I love acoustic instruments. Although, I do like any type of guitar. Give me a set of drums, any type of Bass, and some guitar, and I am good to go. Tell me why you love me…make me laugh or smile...promise me the world…Or tell me why you broke my heart… I love that." (Photo: Mercedes Nicole)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

I think of this often…always debrief after a show. Treat people with utmost respect, starting with yourself.  Believe you are worth being valued and value others, if you don’t you’ll have sleepless night, & attract more negativity that will continue to perpetuate the problem.

Big lesson - you are not competing with anyone but yourself! Celebrate when someone gets a dream gig, or wins an award! Comparing yourself to others will only lead to your unhappiness. We all have our own path. Walk yours & be grateful you are on it. Marian Anderson said it best: “As long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you otherwise might.”

“I want to Soar …& love up on everybody!”

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