Born and raised in Pasadena, California, Judy gained her early experience singing in her church choir from the age of 7. She first heard jazz through her mother’s Nancy Wilson records, and discovered that she could easily sing harmonies when she and her sister sang background vocals on folk songs behind their brother. As a teenager, she sang in a wide variety of settings including musical theater, rock bands, bluegrass groups, madrigals and in a vocal jazz quartet.
Judy then studied classical singing and was encouraged to make it her focus, but the turning point in her young career was when she met the great tenor-saxophonist Warne Marsh (who followed in the footsteps of his teacher, pianist Lennie Tristano by becoming an important jazz educator). “I became Warne’s first vocal student. He treated me just like I was a horn player, and assigned me solos by Charlie Parker, Roy Eldridge and Prez to learn. He taught me to improvise. He always called it instant composition.” Attending Pasadena City College, she had lessons with alto saxophonist Gary Foster, and later studied classical singing at New England Conservatory and Cleveland Institute Of Music.
On returning to the Los Angeles area, she continued her studies with Marsh and, after moving to New York in 1977 on his advice, her first important gig was a week at the Village Vanguard in his band. She made her recording debut featuring him and bassist Eddie Gomez, "By Heart", for the Sea Breeze label in 1978.
“During that period, I was strictly a vocal improviser, with little thought given to entertaining. But eventually I started to focus on the lyrics, and how to communicate, and I really grew as a singer.” Starting in the late 1970s, Judy began to a compose and to write lyrics. She became the lyricist for such pieces as Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud,” Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso,” Bill Evans’ “Interplay,” Richie Powell’s “Time” and Duke Jordan’s “Jordu,” as well as songs by the likes of Lee Konitz, Pat Metheny, Dexter Gordon, Gigi Gryce, Kenny Dorham, Curtis Fuller, Bob Brookmeyer, Richie Beirach, Don Grolnick, Mike Stern, Johnny Griffin and others. One of the driving forces behind her writing is the desire to sing lyrics that are more relevant to life today than those of the standard repertoire of the 30s and 40s.
Due to her beautiful voice, fearless improvising, impressive musicianship and versatility, Judy Niemack has since sung with many of the "who’s who" of jazz, including guitarist Peter Bernstein, pianists Fred Hersch, Kenny Werner, Cedar Walton, Kenny Barron, Jim McNeely, Steve Kuhn, and Kirk Lightsey, saxophonists Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano and James Moody, the great harmonica player Toots Thielemans, flugelhornist Clark Terry, bassists Ray Drummond and Eddie Gomez, drummers Billy Higgins, Joey Baron and Billy Hart, the New York Voices, and Danish Radio and WDR Big Bands.