My heart is a work in catastrophe, lens light of apathies closing in
This city’s working out the best of me, can’t have what’s left of me
This girl wants to see some brighter days, too many yesterdays with no sun
I’d like to see how the story goes, see if the moral holds
Can I just slide, slide, slide
Why can’t I just fly, fly fly
Let’s go for a ride, ride, ride
Shake it off and start all over again
— “Weight of the World”
If you ask singer Nancy Harms about her singing, she’ll tell you that she has a small voice, one that she has learned how to amplify.
But when Harms performs, her voice sounds anything but small. Indeed, to listen to her sing is to be embraced by warmth and feeling. Whether delivering a delightful take on an old standard, or letting her guard down on original songs of frustration and struggle she does so in clear and alluring tones.
Her talent was apparent in 2008 when she recorded “In the Indigo,” an album of beautifully interpreted standards. But on the newly released “Dreams in Apartments,” co-produced by singer Arne Fogel, Harms aims much higher, with a mix of standards and originals that show vulnerability — and an increasingly tough skin. In a show tonight at the Dakota Jazz Club, she will sing numbers from both, accompanied by pianist Tanner Taylor, guitarist Zacc Harris, bassist James Buckley and drummer Jay Epstein.
With “Dreams for Apartments” Harms documents her life in New York City, where she has become a popular performer and a regular at Birdland and Smalls Jazz Club. But for all her success, life hasn’t been easy.
“There’s just amazing opportunity there and I love a lot of things about it,” she said. “But it’s very wearing especially on a kind of sensitive personality type that’s trying to make a go of it. There’s all these things about it that just kind of keep pounding down. [I think] ‘Why can’t I just have a break here for a minute. Why can’t I just have that relieved.
“You just have to say, ‘alright here we go. We’ve got to again.’ You just keep pushing at it. It’s sort of like just pushing myself along. That’s what it is. It’s about my whole experience living there.”
Harms has clearly come a long way Clara City, Minn., where, even with her “small voice” she was still the loudest singer in her quiet Lutheran church. She first heard jazz as a teen through the music of Harry Connick Jr. and sang a little with the jazz band at Concordia College in Morehead, where she studied choral music.
Even she finds it surprising that she would eventually land in New York, where she has absorbed a rich variety of new musical influences and performed with great musicians.
“That’s one of the great mysteries about the story,” she said. “This doesn’t make any sense, you know. It shouldn’t be in my genetics that I would sing jazz.”
But she does sing, and remarkably so, in a way that examines her move and its ramifications: how she would become a skeleton of a person and build her life in a new musical community.
On stage at the Dakota, she is certain to deliver intriguing interpretations of standards like “Mood Indigo” and “Never Let Me Go.” But her original tunes may well allow her to best explore her emotions, to sing louder than the small voice she hears in herself.