Nancy Harms: From Clara City to the Big Apple

  • Article by: JON BREAM
  • Updated: August 31, 2013 - 8:00 PM

Minnesota-bred jazz singer Nancy Harms is flourishing after a move to New York.


Jazz singer Nancy Harms on her move to New York: “I loved living in Minneapolis, and I would have never thought to leave except that jazz is such a small field and I just wanted to try to tour more.”


CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger


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.


  • nancy harms

    What: Album release party for “Dreams in Apartments.”

    When: 7 p.m. Wed.

    Where: Dakota Jazz Club, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.

    Tickets: $10; 612-332-1010.


  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters