Petra van Nuis (pronounced Pay-tra van Nouse) is a Chicago-based jazz vocalist who has been described in Downbeat Magazine as having “a light, gorgeous and fairly delicate voice…a gift for melody and plenty of rhythmic confidence.” All About Jazz Magazine calls her music “hauntingly atmospheric and filled with creative substance…poetic, moving and subtly provocative.” Famed jazz critic and author of “Singing Jazz” Bruce Crowther says “van Nuis is not as well known internationally as should be the case although she has a devoted following in Japan. An exceptionally gifted singer, she has a light yet subtly textured sound and is always delightfully melodic….lyrics are clearly very important to her and she delivers them with admirable sincerity.”
A Chicagoan since 2003, Petra sings at all the finest jazz venues in town including the Green Mill, Andy’s Jazz Club, Winter’s Jazz Club, SPACE, Fitzgerald’s Nightclub and the Jazz Showcase. Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs has presented Petra at the Chicago Cultural Center and Chicago Summer Dance. The Jazz Institute of Chicago has featured Petra’s Recession Seven band at the Chicago Jazz Festival and Jazz City.
Nationally, Petra performs at jazz clubs/societies/festivals with highlights including Joe Boughton’s Chautauqua Jazz Party (NY), Shanghai Jazz (NJ), Detroit Institute for the Arts (MI), Cleveland Classic Jazz Party (OH), Roswell Jazz Festival (NM) and Elkhart Jazz Festival (IN).
Internationally, Petra’s five Japanese CD releases have been used as in-flight entertainment on ANA, Japan’s largest airline. Highlights from European and Canadian tours include Traditional Jazz Hall Stuttgart (Germany) Gorinchem Jazz Festival (Netherlands), Yardbird Suite (Canada), Jazz Cafe Hopper (Belgium) and Jazzhaus Heidelberg (Germany).
Germany’s Jazzpodium Magazine hails Petra’s twenty-three year musical collaboration with her husband, guitarist Andy Brown, as “a magical musical dialogue, which can only partially be described as blind understanding.” The couple’s most recent project Lonely Girl – I Remember Julie (2022), a tribute to Julie London, has received many accolades including a 4-star review in DownBeat Magazine. The CD was originally recorded for Muzak, the Japanese label responsible for introducing Petra to Japanese audiences with the re-release duo’s earlier CDs Lessons Lyrical (2017) and Far Away Places (2009).
Because We’re Night People (2019), Petra’s live recording with revered Chicago pianist Dennis Luxion, was awarded 4 stars by DownBeat Magazine and included in their “Top Rated Albums of 2019” listing. Jazziz Magazine describes the set of night themed standards as “spellbinding sonic snapshots that movingly capture the intricacies of life…atmospheres brimming with beguiling intimacy and mystery…pure magic.”
At the start of the Great Recession in September 2008, Petra’s Recession Seven was born at Chicago’s legendary Green Mill. Hailed by the Chicago Tribune for their “high-spirited music-making” this “fresh rather than nostalgic classic-swing collective” features an all-star line up of internationally known Chicago veterans including trombonist Russ Phillips, reed man Eric Schneider and trumpeter Art Davis. The American Rag, in a review of the band’s on location recording Live In Chicago (2011) praises “a killer of a band that grabs your attention and doesn’t give it back until they are finished playing.”
Selections from Petra’s debut album A Sweet Refrain (2006) regularly rotate on digital cable’s Music Choice “Singers & Swing” channel. Two songs from this CD were selected by famed Japanese jazz historian/record producer Yasukuni Terashima to be included in the compilation For Jazz Vocal Fans Only (2015) on the Japanese Disk Union label. In a review, Los Angeles Jazz Scene critic Scott Yanow notes “a sweet voice, a straightforward delivery….one hears touches of Billie Holiday, Blossom Dearie, and Mildred Bailey in her phrasing, but not in the sound of her voice which is distinctive.”
A native of Cincinnati, Petra’s first exposure to music came from her father Pieter van Nuis, a Dutch classical pianist and piano technician/inventor for Baldwin Piano and Organ Company. Her professional debut came at age eleven with the Cincinnati Opera Company and by age twelve, she was on the road in her first national tour.
For middle and high school, Petra attended Cincinnati’s School for the Creative and Performing Arts and continued her education during the summers at New York City Ballet’s School of American Ballet and at the San Francisco Ballet School. In the 11th grade, she met high school sweetheart, guitarist Andy Brown, who would eventually become her husband and musical soul mate as well. Petra then went on to receive her BFA in Musical Theater at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music.
Upon graduation, Petra spent a couple of years performing around the country in regional theater and on national tours. Some significant accomplishments from that time include a national tour of “A Chorus Line” and dancing in the “Radio City Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular.”
In 1999 at the age of 24, Petra was inspired to hang up her dancing shoes and follow her heart (and ears) into the world of jazz singing. Living in Cincinnati, she spent many nights listening to veteran vocalists Ann Chamberlain and Mary Ellen Tanner who graciously supported her early efforts. In 2001, Petra and her husband, guitarist Andy Brown, moved to New York City. In New York, Petra was encouraged by singers Marion Cowings and Barbara Lea. In 2003, Petra arrived in Chicago where she was taken under the wing of vocalist Jeannie Lambert, and singer/pianists Judy Roberts and Marc Pompe. Petra continues to gain much inspiration from these mentors.