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article imageDigital Journal Mavericks: Canada's 14-Year-Old Jazz Prodigy

By David Silverberg     May 26, 2008 in Entertainment
She's a jazz legend in the making: Nikki Yanofsky is winning acclaim as a 14-year-old singing star who has been storming stages across Canada. Find out how the Montreal teen approaches her craft and why she is already hungry to stretch her creative range.
Digital Journal's Mavericks of 2008 series will profile 10 trailblazers in various industries, allowing readers to learn more about the innovators and risk-takers who are making an impact in 2008. The series will run for 10 consecutive days.
Digital Journal — On “With a Little Help from My Friends,” a powerfully charged voice bursts through the musical wall. The singing takes over the listener’s ear and it’s hard not be carried by the tidal wave of the strength in every uplifting note. This is no jazz diva taking the reigns of the classic tune; it’s Montreal singer Nikki Yanofsky, a 14-year-old girl thundering into the Canadian music scene with all the composure of an industry vet.
Yanofsky is making a good case for her jazz success: she shared the spotlight with the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall in February. Last year, at the Toronto Jazz Festival, she wowed audiences with her contribution to a Verve Records album, We All Love Ella: Celebrating the First Lady of Song. On the album, Yanofsky had the auspicious honour of singing Fitzgerald’s “Airmail Special” with music mavens Diana Krall and Michael Bublé.
The Montreal Gazette wrote Yanofsky exudes an “effortlessness that divas twice or three times her age would kill for.” Maclean’s Magazine called Yanofsky a virtuoso who “can sing jazz with stunning maturity and scat better than some who've been in the business for decades.” Those are high accolades usually reserved for breakout artists, so it looks like Yanofsky is due for a busy year.
In June, she will perform at two of Canada’s most prestigious jazz festivals: she plays the Toronto Jazz Festival on June 22 and then the Montreal International Jazz Festival on June 25 and 26. She will also warm up Toronto when she opens the Luminato Festival with a free concert alongside the celebrated Count Basie Orchestra. And she’s also planning to release a debut album in late 2008 or early 2009.
There is an admirable maturity in the way Yanofsky is approaching her newfound success, which only makes her more attractive to both promoters and audiences. We've all seen young stars ascend to impressive heights and then flame out, but jazz observers are hopeful this is just the beginning for Yanofsky's music career.
Yanofsky is only 14, which means she must be facing mounting pressure teenagers don’t usually endure. But in an interview with, speaking on her cellphone between classes, the wonderfully expressive girl admitted she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Montreal jazz songstress Nikki Yanofsky
The Montreal Gazette wrote Yanofsky exudes an “effortlessness that divas twice or three times her age would kill for.”
Courtesy Rob Fahie Do you think you’re growing up too fast by diving into the music industry without fully experiencing your childhood?
Nikki Yanofsky: It all depends on your upbringing. In my case, I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t ready for it. I’m not being forced to being a musician. My parents don’t push me, and I really want to do this. And I’m prepared to be disciplined, since I have an amazing job. What do you find appealing about jazz?
Yanofsky: Jazz can be so simple but also so difficult at the same time, with all those chord changes. And that was interesting to me. I love the whole process of singing, from re-interpreting jazz standards to touring. You’re known as a jazz singer but I heard you want to explore other genres.
Yanofsky: It’s cool to be part of the Canadian jazz scene here but I also love singing R&B, for example. When I do jazz festivals, I like to mix it up and throw in some pop in the sets. I just came back from New York doing some recording and I enjoyed singing some crossover songs, which will add a nice contemporary feel to my album.
: How often do you practice?
Yanofsky: Because of my big gigs coming up in Toronto and Montreal, I have a routine schedule. I learn the setlist, and practice three songs a day for a week. I also do warm-ups, ear training and sight-seeing, usually taking up an hour a day. Is there something you don’t enjoy about practicing or singing?
Yanofsky: Music theory is just boring, just like school, but I know it can help me in the future. I’m an optimistic person, because you can’t go through life complaining about everything.
: You’ve done a lot so far, but what would you like to accomplish in the future?
Yanofsky: I would love to collaborate with artists like Stevie Wonder and Joss Stone. Hopefully, my status can get more international so I can do more festivals across the world. But basically, I wouldn’t want anything to change too much.
For more info on Nikki Yanofsky, her music and her tour dates, check out
Nikki, at 12 years old, singing with Oliver Jones
Nikki, at 14 years old, singing with her 12-piece band at the Air Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival

Mavericks Series

This is the third profile in a 10-part series on Mavericks of 2008, focusing on trailblazers in various fields, from Internet to photography to music. Every day, read about a new industry maverick. Tomorrow, we look at a remarkable globe-trotting photographer.
Other Mavericks:
- Ron Deibert, creator of Psiphon software: Psiphon is a censorship-fighting tool, allowing those in oppressive regimes to access any website.
- Jayant Agarwalla, the inventor of the Scrabulous game: Scrabulous riffs off the classic Scrabble board game, and it's become the center of a controversial lawsuit launched by Hasbro and Mattel.
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