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Judy Niemack

"If you want to know what real jazz singing can be (but rarely is), listen to Judy Niemack...She is a musician in the truest sense, having mastered her instrument (a beautiful one), and her chosen language and crafted her own style" —Dan Morgenstern

Throughout her career, Judy Niemack has accomplished a great deal as a singer, educator, lyricist, composer, and inspiration to younger jazz vocalists. Yet with all that she has done thus far, one gets the impression that the best is yet to come. “I love standards and have performed them all of my life but this is a new era and it is time to create new music,” she says. “I’m open to all forms of vocal improv and I’m very interested in mastering the art of music and pushing the art form forward to new places.”

Born and raised in Pasadena, California, Judy gained experience singing in her church choir. 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 behind her brother, who played guitar and sang lead. As a child and as a teenager, she sang in a wide variety of settings including musical theatre, rock bands, with folk music groups, and in a jazz vocal quartet.

Judy studied classical singing 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 like a horn player. He assigned me solos by Charlie Parker, Roy Eldridge and others to learn. I learned about improvising from him. He called it instant composition.” Judy attended Pasadena City College where she had lessons with alto saxophonist Gary Foster, and studied classical singing at the New England Conservatory and the Cleveland Institute Of Music. When she returned to the Los Angeles area, she continued studying with Marsh and, after moving to New York in 1977, her first important gig was performing at the Village Vanguard for a week with Marsh. She made her recording debut, leading the first of her ten CDs, By Heart for the Sea Breeze label, which documented her association with the saxophonist.

“During that period, I was strictly an improviser, with no thought given to entertaining or paying attention to the audience. But eventually I started focusing on the lyrics, and how to communicate with them, and then I grew as a singer.” Starting in the late 1970s, Judy became a talented composer, and a lyricist who wrote words to such pieces as Clifford Brown’s “Daahoud,” Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso,” Bill Evans’ “Interplay,” Richie Powell’s “Time” and Duke Jordan’s “Jordu,” and songs by the likes of Lee Konitz, Pat Metheny, Dexter Gordon, Gigi Gryce, Elmo Hope, Kenny Dorham, Curtis Fuller, Bob Brookmeyer, Idrees Sulieman, Richie Beirach, Don Grolnick, Steve Slagle, Mike Stern, Johnny Griffin and many others. One of the driving forces behind her writing is the desire to have lyrics that are more modern and relevant than many that are part of the famous but overly familiar songs of the 1930s and ‘40s.

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"Her creative odyssey provides a fascinating illustration of the high road to mastery that transcends the limitations of genre...a vocalist of theatrical depth and consumate syllabic invention. Ever since her debut with (Warne) Marsh at the Village Vanguard, audiences have marvelled at the grace with which Niemack scats."

— K. Leander Williams, Downbeat

"To hear Judy Niemack's immaculate delivery of poetic romance and lilting spirit from the classic American songbook is to believe she was weaned on it...She didn't merely dabble in folk, opera, jazz, avant-garde and the great American standards; she studied and explored them... Few singers have a better grasp of melody, harmony and phrasing, or such a rich instrument with which to express them."

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Photos

Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

New York Stories

Sunnyside Records
2018

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Listening to You

Sunnyside Records
2017

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In the Sundance

Bluejazz
2009

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