Minnesota-bred jazz singer Nancy Harms is flourishing after a move to New York.
She didn’t really know anybody in New York City when she packed up and moved there. The small-town Minnesota woman had some names to call — friends of a friend — and her own way of networking.
Now, three years later, jazz singer Nancy Harms is returning to Minneapolis to celebrate her critically acclaimed, made-in-New York album “Dreams in Apartments.” Not bad for a late bloomer.
Since relocating, she has performed in Italy, France and Norway and at New York’s prestigious Birdland club, where she will have a CD-release party in November.
Harms, who sang in her church choir in the west-central Minnesota town of Clara City, didn’t discover jazz until she attended Concordia College in Moorhead. In her mid-20s, she decided to try her luck as a jazz singer, moving to Minneapolis in 2006 after teaching music in a Milaca, Minn., school.
Harms returns Wednesday to her old haunt the Dakota Jazz Club to showcase the self-released album, her second. It features her distinctively slow, velvety readings of such standards as “Mood Indigo” and “It Could Happen to You,” and four remarkable originals, co-written with Minneapolis jazzman-about-town Arne Fogel.
She chatted by phone last week from her Manhattan apartment.
Q: What was your “I’m not in Clara City anymore” moment in New York?
A: I was taking a shower. I tilted my head back so I wouldn’t get water in my eyes and then I looked straight ahead and there was a giant cockroach coming down the other side of the shower. [Screams.] I jumped out. Eventually, I got the giant cockroach spray. I could not squish them or kill them. I can’t do that. So I had to spray them [dead], and I know that’s horrible. The uncleanliness [of New York City] is the hardest — the smell on the streets, and the subways aren’t fresh and clean.
Q: Since you don’t have an agent or manager, how did you work your way into the jazz scene in New York?
A: When I moved to Minneapolis, too, I didn’t really know anybody there. I just started going out to gigs and jam sessions, sitting in. A lot of going out and introducing yourself to people. That’s what I did here.
The second month I was here, Wycliffe Gordon [a trombonist and longtime Wynton Marsalis associate] heard my jam session, and I was on his next CD and did some touring with him. The first time I sat in at Birdland, the owner walked by my table and said, “Wow! You’re a great singer.” So I just kept going back. I met someone there at open mic who helped me get to Italy three times.
Q: What’s your day job?
A: I teach piano classes for beginning students at a school called Piano School of NYC. I have 40 students, but it’s more in a classroom setting than individual.