Kicking Off The New Year In Swing Time
By Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune
"high-spirited music-making...worth savoring...fresh rather than nostalgic...a classic-swing collective...Van Nuis and guitarist Brown opened the proceedings in buoyant fashion, and when the rest of the band came roaring in, you realized how seriously they take the meaning of “swing.” The singer showed her interpretive savvy...light-and-silvery vocals and, better still, a saucy manner of delivery that emphasized the art of the double entendre."
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On Thursday night, van Nuis and her Recession Seven band launched its 10th anniversary festivities with a four-night run at the Jazz Showcase, kicking off what deserves to be a yearlong celebration. Judging by the bonhomie and optimism of this performance, some high-spirited music-making awaits.
The ingenuity of this enterprise lies in its underlying premise, for rather than featuring van Nuis as star vocalist, the Recession Seven places at least equal emphasis on its instrumentalists. With a top-notch Chicago front line featuring reedist Eric Schneider, trumpeter Bob Ojeda and trombonist Russ Phillips, the ensemble offers elegantly improvised three-part counterpoint, as well as instrumental solos of ample melodic grace. Combine this with a steadily chugging rhythm section featuring guitarist Andy Brown (van Nuis’ husband), bassist Dan DeLorenzo and drummer Bob Rummage, and you have a kind of throwback to classic, early 20th century Chicago jazz, but one that sounds fresh rather than nostalgic.
In effect, van Nuis becomes another lyrical strand in the band, the singer generously sharing the spotlight with instrumentalists who know what to do with it. So the Recession Seven stands as a classic-swing collective, rather than a conventional singer-plus-band combination.
Van Nuis, of course, calls the tunes and sets the tempos. Both her manner of introducing the songs (she gives historical context for each) and her way of delivering lyrics (each syllable rings out) attest to the seriousness of this venture, notwithstanding its mostly sunny tone. Hers is not a big or prepossessing voice, but cast as one thread among many, it serves the scores well.
How often, after all, are you likely to encounter a 21st century jazz singer who opens with James P. Johnson’s “If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight)”? From the outset, van Nuis was announcing her reverence for Roaring ’20s jazz while expressing her belief in its timelessness. She underscored the point with her characteristically light-and-silvery vocals and, better still, a saucy manner of delivery that emphasized the art of the double entendre. Trombonist Phillips answered with a plunger-muted solo so deftly managed as to very nearly make you believe he was articulating the words, too.
The Recession Seven showed its rhythmic elan early in the set with “Swing That Music,” a piece that Louis Armstrong made famous (and from which he derived the title of his first autobiography). Van Nuis and guitarist Brown opened the proceedings in buoyant fashion, and when the rest of the band came roaring in, you realized how seriously they take the meaning of “swing.” Schneider’s hard-charging statements on tenor saxophone, Ojeda’s profoundly lyrical phrasemaking on trumpet and Phillips’ copious melodic invention on trombone were worth savoring individually and all at once.
Not everything about this set emphasized the upbeat, however, Van Nuis transforming “Tea for Two” into a lovely ballad. The singer showed her interpretive savvy in a slow-and-plaintive reading of “A Cottage for Sale,” notable, too, for Schneider’s big-and-blue tenor solo, his most formidable expression of the set.
Trombonist Phillips added another dimension to the proceedings when he sang “Azalea,” his combination of soulful vocals and radiant trombone solo evoking memories of Jack Teagarden.
In all, what better way to mark the Recession Seven’s anniversary and the start of a New Year?
The Americans Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown lend the All Saints holiday in the Neustadt Jazz Club a really special note
By Henning Gaiek, Die Rheinpfalz (Germany)
"No ordinary jazz duo, like the ones you see everywhere...sometimes she sounds like an early Billie Holiday...she sings very poetically...completely free of sugar-coating...musical magic."
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All Saints Day in the Neustadt Jazz Club: somewhat fewer guests than usual are there. Maybe because the names Petra van Nuis or Andy Brown are still scarcely known? That might have changed after this concert.
That’s because the two of them—who incidentally first appeared five years ago in the “Steinhäuser Hof” —are no ordinary jazz duo, like the ones you see everywhere. Back in 2011, the magazine “Jazzpodium” wrote about these two Americans with Dutch and German roots: “Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown have found their own path to the magical musical dialogue, which can only inadequately be described as blind understanding.” That absolutely hits the nail.
Petra van Nuis has an agreeable alto voice, which she revealed in conversation had a classical vocal training, along with studies in musical theater and dance. However, she much prefers to sing jazz. Sometimes she sounds like an early Billie Holiday, her voice resembles recitative, she moves the microphone away from her mouth to modulate dynamics. Her approach is quite different from what one expects, you must and can get into it quickly.
Brown plays a classic Gibson jazz guitar, so he plays a melody line, which he frames with chords and arpeggios. That’s somewhat reminiscent of Joe Pass, but Brown is faster and has more drive. Technically he is brilliant.
As an introduction, “There's A Small Hotel” is a programmatic song for the venue, whose vibe van Nuis finds “gemütlich,” as she says. And she is flexible. A vintner happened to be celebrating his 87th birthday in the restaurant. The duo has different “wine songs” at their disposal: “The Days Of Wine and Roses” and a song about grapes, which we got know in a version by Diana Krall.
Van Nuis is actually from Cincinnati, Ohio, where Doris Kappelhoff lived, who later became better known as Doris Day. Van Nuis infuses her own wizardry into Doris Day’s film song “It’s Magic.” Today she lives in Chicago where, beginning in the fall, and especially in the winter, it can get very cold, and where you need to believe in spring (“You Must Believe in Spring”). She sings very poetically about that too. After all, “Lessons Lyrical” is the name of her latest CD.
After a break, it gets even more romantic, when van Nuis freshly interprets the often played bossa novas of master Antonio Carlos Jobim, completely free of sugar-coating. As a trained dancer she pays homage to master Fred Astaire with “I Won’t Dance.” And she and Brown spice up the “One Note Samba” with their own harmonies, which dissolve surprisingly.
Summary: this All Saints Day brought musical magic into Neustadt’s 1-Star Michelin Jazz Club.
Both FINE and DANDY: Petra van Nuis, John Di Martino, Nicki Parrott, and Hal Smith at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party
By Michael Steinman, Jazz Lives (blog)
"I came away from this quietly glowing set feeling that I had heard the songs in emotionally satisfying ways. This delicious interlude is the result of Petra's sensibility: her nice mix of delicate yet intense feeling and buoyant swing...I'm still grinning."
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One of the many pleasures of the recent Cleveland Classic Jazz Party was the opportunity to hear the wonderful singer Petra van Nuis, someone who has been pleasing Chicago audiences for the past decade and more. She can sing is the simplest way to put it. Although she has a fine sense of humor -- catch her introductions to songs in this set -- it bubbles out of her rather than being a rehearsed routine. She has her own sound and phrasing -- conversational, occasionally surprising, but it always honors the lyrics and comes out of her deep respect for words as well as melodies. She improvises but does not obliterate the composers' intent, and I came away from this quietly glowing set feeling that I had heard the songs in emotionally satisfying ways. This delicious interlude is the result of Petra's sensibility: her nice mix of delicate yet intense feeling and buoyant swing. I could delineate the pleasures of each chorus she sings, but I'd rather leave those sweet surprises to you as you watch and listen.
Petra's instrumental colleagues have the same spirit: a sweet focused attentiveness that delights in small details without losing sight of the songs themselves. Nicki and Hal are long-time friends, people I admire for many reasons: their generous spirits, their melodic inventiveness. John Di Martino was new to me, and he's a wonder: his beautiful touch, his wise harmonies, and his willingness to put himself in the service of the music: he is secure enough in his self to do just those things that make his colleagues shine so brightly. It's only after you get accustomed to his selfless creativity that you realize just how wonderful his playing is.
If it seems as if I admire this group and the music they make, that impression would be correct. Here, "without further ado," is a glorious Sunday-afternoon interlude. And, as Hal said to me afterwards, "You could see a lot of smiles and laughs, and none of them were forced!" I'm still grinning.
Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown: Nuance Over Flash
By Sandor Slomovits, Ann Arbor Observer
"Singer Petra van Nuis and guitarist Andy Brown could legitimately be called Chicago's First Couple of Jazz...Her vocal quality stays seamlessly the same throughout her range, and her straight-tone style, with no hint of vibrato, is highly expressive. Her naturally cool, hip, yet engaging demeanor provides the perfect foil for these suave and sophisticated songs..."
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Singer Petra van Nuis (pronounced Pay-tra van Nouse) and guitarist Andy Brown could legitimately be called Chicago's First Couple of Jazz. The married pair is a fixture on Chicago's vibrant jazz scene, frequently performing as a duo, but also working alone and together with many other musicians in a great variety of ensembles. Their focus is on swing-era music, that golden age of jazz between the two World Wars, which produced some of the most famous players and composers and also gave us many of the best-loved tunes in the Great American Songbook. Besides those standards, van Nuis and Brown have an enormous repertoire of more obscure songs, but ones with equally clever, literate lyrics, lovely elegant melodies, and rich, sumptuous harmonies.
Van Nuis's voice and stage presence perfectly project and convey these songs. Her vocal quality stays seamlessly the same throughout her range, and her straight-tone style, with no hint of vibrato, is highly expressive. Her naturally cool, hip, yet engaging demeanor provides the perfect foil for these suave and sophisticated songs, and Brown is her ideal complement. While van Nuis maintains almost constant eye contact with the audience, Brown is focused on his fret board and traverses its length and breadth with ever-inventive chords, arpeggios, and solo lines. He's adept at finger-style, cover-all-the-bases accompaniment, simultaneously conjuring moving bass lines and piano-like chords and melodies from his electric hollow-body Gibson. He also creates irresistibly driving flat-picked rhythms, and he solos with authority. Neither is into pyrotechnics, choosing nuance over flash but with an intensity that generates plenty of excitement.
It's not often that a concert is worth attending as much for the sidemen as for the main act. First of all, the term "sidemen" is a major misnomer here. "Dream Team Rhythm Section" is more fitting. Pianist Jim Dapogny, bassist Paul Keller, and drummer Pete Siers are each highly successful local bandleaders, players, and educators, and have all garnered numerous honors and many longtime local and far-flung fans. With players of this caliber, the typical distinctions between front men (and women) and sidemen disappear.
All five are steeped in this material and know its conventions so thoroughly that they can create spontaneous arrangements on stage that simultaneously sound like they are written out note for note as well as improvised off the cuff. Van Nuis leads like a seasoned air traffic controller, directing who will take off on the next solo, who will fly tandem with whom, and when and how they'll land. When they played together for the first time at the Kerrytown Concert House last year, "it worked out very well," says Dapogny. No argument there.
Petra's Recession Seven Live at the Jazz Showcase
By Michael Steinman, Jazz Lives (blog)
"an irresistible swing...phrasing that sounds conversational but is full of small sweet improvisatory surprises and a joyous confidence. Like Petra, the Recession Seven never falters but it never sounds over-rehearsed and reheated. The gratifying results come from devotion and earnest study, with musicians so expert that they thrive on risks and are happily loose."
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Make yourself comfortable.
What follows is rare and worth celebration. On the face of it, it might seem unremarkable: a young singer leading a jazz septet through seven songs, several of them venerable but sounding fresh. However, this performance by Petra van Nuis -- leading "Petra's Recession Seven" at Chicago's Jazz Showcase on July 31, 2017 -- is delightful simply because it is traditional without being dusty, original without being abrasive, simultaneously expert and free-floating.
The smiles on everyone's face tell you that they know Music is being made. Petra and her Seven exude the joyous confidence of people who know how to get inside the music in genuine ways.
The Seven is (are?) Andy Brown, guitar; Bob Ojeda, trumpet; Russ Phillips, trombone; Eric Schneider, reeds; Dan DeLorenzo, string bass; Bob Rummage, drums. Before you venture into the delightful forty-eight minutes and twenty-four seconds of this video (accuracy is always desirable), the songs Petra and her band have chosen say a great deal about a deep immersion in music that has feeling, intelligence, and buoyancy -- songs that deserve to be heard but are neither esoteric nor "chestnuts" too long in the fire.
Since women are still paid a serious percentage less than men, I applaud Petra's taking on the Tiny Grimes - Charlie Parker opus, ROMANCE WITHOUT FINANCE, for her own, making it both straightforward and witty. I don't know if there's a causal link to Morton's SWEET SUBSTITUTE, which portrays the ideally devoted male partner: deciphering is up to you. A jubilant EVERYBODY LOVES ME BABY is an even more solid affirmation, with Petra and the band essaying this Twenties romp with no condescension, no faux-Prohibition gestures. IF YOU WERE MINE is just so tender (what a fine song it is!) but Petra's approach is her own, deeply sinking into the lyrics without a hint of "homage" to Lady Day. From Lady Day to O'Day -- more pleasure in the trip UPTOWN. SUGAR used to be a true standard, performed by everyone from Louis to Lee Wiley, but it's now slightly neglected, a situation that I hope will soon be remedied. And an absolute highlight for me, Harry White's EVENIN' -- again, a song that rewards us in many ways. (And what a set closer!)
I haven't said much about Petra's singing: its virtues are evident from the first phrase: an irresistible swing, clear diction that isn't obtrusively "correct," a willingness to descend into the song rather than to make the song a showpiece for her, phrasing that sounds conversational but is full of small sweet improvisatory surprises, and a joyous confidence. Like Petra, the Recession Seven never falters but it never sounds over-rehearsed and reheated. The gratifying results come from devotion and earnest study, with musicians so expert that they thrive on risks and are happily loose.
Highly Emotional Classics - American Duo Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown at the Neustadt Jazz Club with Popular Standards
By Hans Kraus, Die Rheinpfalz (Germany)
"...an enormous vocal range...full of nuance...a lot of expressivity, which she conveys very emotionally...so great as to have been repeatedly applauded in mid-performance by the audience, who was enthusiastically swept along..."
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Neustadt - Most of the songs featured by the American duo of Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown on Friday evening at the "Neustadt Jazz Club" in "Steinhäuser Hof" were already "Oldies but Goldies" before these 36-year-olds were even born. However, these songs still today enjoy great popularity, not just with jazz fans, and are among the standards of the genre.
The musician-couple from Chicago, whose tour included six gigs in Germany after the Benelux countries, apparently had spent a long time studying the Great American Songbook and had selected many of the most beautiful tunes to present live to their European audience. It is said that Andy Brown—an absolutely exceptional guitarist who accompanied megastar Barbara Streisand, during a performance on the Oprah Winfrey Show watched by 30 million fans—commands a repertoire of over 1,500 tunes.
His wife, Petra, whose ancestors hail from the Netherlands near Eindhoven, possesses the necessary vocal volume to suitably interpret them. She succeeds not just with her wide tonal range, but she also imbues the pieces with a lot of expressivity, which she conveys very emotionally. The couple brought along a total of 24 classics to Neustadt, most of which, like "Manhattan," "The Shadow of your Smile" and "You Make Me Feel So Young," can be found on records by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra.
They started out with a composition from 1928, "You Took Advantage of Me," written by Richard Rogers. Here van Nuis/Brown used the version by Ella Fitzgerald and guitarist Joe Pass as their point of departure, which enabled them at the beginning of the show to impressively demonstrate their capabilities. It very quickly became clear what a brilliant guitarist Andy Brown is and what an individual style he has developed in the course of his life as a musician. The modesty and restraint that he displays next to the stage have also become components of his playing. His sparingly inserted solos do not appear to be add-ons, but rather develop from the rhythm work and thus present themselves rather as obvious ingredients of the particular composition, not as virtuoso, improvised solos going off on their own. Brown is capable of presenting his complicated arrangements so that the listener often has the impression that three musicians are playing simultaneously, namely a bass, a rhythm and a solo guitarist. Despite his class, he always remained somewhat in the background and preferred to place his wife Petra into the center of the action. But she too refrained from large gestures and preferred to let her vocal qualities speak for themselves.
And they are so great as to have been repeatedly applauded in mid-performance by the audience, who was enthusiastically swept along. In that respect it did not make any difference whether they happened to be interpreting Latin American rhythms, such as "One Note Samba" by the unforgotten Anonio Carlos Jobim, or the rather quiet, melancholic tones, such as those struck in the Artur Schwartz/Howard Dietz song "Alone Together." The longer the concert lasted, the more familiar were the performed pieces, which finally reached their high point with Gene Kelly's "I'm Singing in the Rain" from the Hollywood classic, "Singin' in the Rain." Nevertheless, there naturally still had to be an encore. It also consisted of a tune that became known through a film, namely "Running Wild," originally sung by Marilyn Monroe in "Some Like it Hot."
Experts in their field: Petra van Nuis commands an enormous vocal range, which she employs full of nuances; guitarist Andy Brown knows how to present his sophisticated arrangements so that one gets the impression there are three musicians are onstage.
Petra van Nuis/Andy Brown Chautauqua 2009
By Michael Steinman, Jazz Lives (blog)
"Petra is a find: she has a delicate focused voice...has beautiful lilting time and musical wit....and she’s no Imitation..."
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Petra and Andy are long-time sweethearts (now married) who make lovely intimate swinging sounds together. I caught them at their two morning sets at Jazz at Chautauqua, and they kept a roomful of people (otherwise busily dropping their heavy silverware) rapt.
Petra is a find: she has a delicate focused voice, doesn't overact or emote, has beautiful lilting time and musical wit. She honors the songs and their emotions. And she's no Imitation: when I first heard her, I didn't instantly think, "Oh, she's been listening to the Complete Recordings of _ _ _ _ _," which is a relief.
Andy impressed me immediately with his lovely chording, subtle melodies, and generous accompaniment. Many guitar players spatter the room with notes, gangster-style: Andy makes music. He can also provide incredible drive and subtlety to a band. He has a lovely tone and a quiet pulse.
And — even better — this duet shows just how well this pair of expert musicians listen to one another. They are worth listening to!
Playing a wistful SERENATA, a song I associate with big names (Sinatra and Nat Cole), Petra makes its yearning her own as Andy chimes behind and around her.
A surprisingly jaunty BLUE TURNING GRAY OVER YOU shows how well Mr. Waller's melodies work at any tempo as Andy summons up George Van Eps, which is a real accomplishment.
The leaves were beginning to fall on the grounds of the Athenaeum Hotel, so Petra and Andy performed EARLY AUTUMN in honor of the impending equinox.
And, just to show that this couple has mischief in its collective soul, they ended with RUNNIN' WILD, a performance with a sweetly wicked glint in its eye, as Andy and Petra have enough rhythm in their souls to fill the room.
Petra and Andy give us hope.
Jazz Brunch With Petra and Andy
Weisloch Woche (Germany)
"The packed Wiesloch Jazz Club...experienced international class...Petra van Nuis captivated her audience from the first song with her highly expressive and versatile singing..."
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The packed Wiesloch Jazz Club in the Old Train Station experienced an enthused musical start to the second Sunday in May with international class. Guest performers on the next-to-the-last stop of their two-week tour through Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany were Petra (vocals) and Andy Brown (guitar) from Chicago, whose latest CD "Far Away Places" is currently getting rave reviews in the international musical press.
Petra van Nuis captivated her audience from the first song with her highly expressive and versatile singing. With the subtle presentation of her performance and her charming moderation she made the great jazz and Latin standards immediately comprehensible and alive for her audience. Her accompanist (and husband) Andy Brown proved to be a topnotch guitarist, whose sensitive and varied accompaniment ingeniously supports his partner. His virtuoso solos were repeatedly followed by thunderous applause. After this performance it became clear to everyone why a mega-star like Barbra Streisand recently chose this exceptional musician to be in her band for a major television appearance.
The impressively modest and likeable duo was effusive about the atmosphere of the Wiesloch Jazz Club ("Can't we transplant the Club right now to Chicago?") and thanked the knowledgeable and attentive audience for their warm reception.
A Top-Notch Duo - Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown Win Over the Birklehof
Badische Zeitung (Germany)
"Petra van Nuis made the lyrics accessible to her audience in a loose, relaxed and entertaining manner with her very melodic and supple voice, which is both expressive and varied. As a duo, they both harmonized perfectly and understood each other almost blindly."
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Petra van Nuis (vocals) and Andy Brown (guitar) wowed their audience in the auditorium of the Musikhaus Birklehof. The likeable duo from Chicago presented such treasures from the Great American Songbook as "When the World Was Young," "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home," "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart" and "Autumn in New York."
Guitarist Andy Brown was convincing with his sensitive, technically and interpretively brilliant playing. Petra van Nuis made the lyrics accessible to her audience in a loose, relaxed and entertaining manner with her very melodic and supple voice, which is both expressive and varied. As a duo, they both harmonized perfectly and understood each other almost blindly.
With this internationally touring duo, Florian Heilman, the program director of the Birklehof concerts, has once again brought top-notch music to the Birklehof and the High Black Forest.
Songs for your supper as Katerina's spotlights jazz vocals
By Neil Tesser, Examiner.com
"Her reading of lyrics tells a listener than she knows things, with the easy confidence of someone who doesn’t have to prove that she knows things...she gets to stretch and purr."
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Saturday night, Katerina's early show stars Petra van Nuis, a name you may not yet know, but ought to hear more of in 2010. van Nuis's light, lithe voice has a touch of sweetness – but just a touch, nothing cloying – and a maturity of phrasing and expression you don't find in all that many singers under 50. Her reading of lyrics tells a listener than she knows things, with the easy confidence of someone who doesn't have to prove that she knows things. Her style allows her to fit in nicely with older genres and classic material, which describes the majority of bookings. But with just her husband Andy Brown on guitar (the format for this gig) she gets to stretch and purr.
The Two Katerinas
By Randy Freedman, Chicago Jazz Magazine
"The voice, the timing, the phrasing, the look, and everything else was all working and she was hitting the musical equivalent of a grand slam home run in baseball right there in front of me..."
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On a very cold Saturday night in January, on Chicago's Northside I was listening to the outstanding jazz duo of Andy Brown, guitarist and Petra van Nuis, vocalist play an obscure Cole Porter tune. Though, I had enjoyed their entire performance that evening, the thought crossed my mind at that one particular moment that Petra had it all going as a singer. The voice, the timing, the phrasing, the look, and everything else was all working and she was hitting the musical equivalent of a grand slam home run in baseball right there in front of me.
By Frank Mulvaney, Jersey Jazz
"The dramatic way she flawlessly interpreted the lyrics of a dozen songs without the slightest stumble was reflective of great respect for the composers...rising star vocalist..."
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The rising star vocalist Petra van Nuis and her partner Andy Brown treated us to a delightful time at our September Sunday Social. Petra is a beautiful and charming young woman with extensive knowledge and deep love of the music. The dramatic way she flawlessly interpreted the lyrics of a dozen songs without the slightest stumble was reflective of great respect for the composers. Ms. van Nuis was accompanied solely by Andy, who displayed dazzling guitar chops.