"Wow. You can REALLY sing!"
------- pianist Randy Porter, upon hearing Nancy sing for the first time in the studio
"In a time when I hear too many
young "Norah Jones sound-alikes"
its a pleasure to hear Nancy's luscious low mature voice'"
------- Greta Matassa
On a poignant evening in April 2004, Nancy Hamilton received an affirmation about what the rest of her life would sound like. After encouragement from two local performers -Brazilian vocalist/guitarist Edson Olivera of the group Sun Bossa and his accompanist, Eugene pianist, (flugel horn, and accordion player,) John Polese - and at the urgings of her vocal coach, this diamond in the rough, late bloomer, attended an open mic for jazz vocalists at a Eugene club.
After the evening was over, two of the band members, bassist Chris Orsinger and John Crider, asked her if she would be interested in creating a Jazz quartet with them as their singer. Four months later they debuted as the band Mercury’s Refrain. Nancy continued to hone her craft by singing at the local mecca for jazz, Jo Federigo’s in Eugene, and the other Eugene jazz clubs - Peabody’s, Oregano’s, LaVelles, and the night club Luna.
As local jazz clubs began to shut their doors, Nancy and her band saw a great need for a new place that could serve all the very promising beginners and talented pros in the Eugene area. So in 2005, she and her band Mercury’s Refrain opened the first “Jazz Station” location on Broadway in downtown Eugene. The Jazz Station was the first cooperative, member-based jazz club west of the Mississippi. Musicians made up the early membership, and worked collaboratively to provide both a concert venue and rehearsal space. The Jazz Station now attracts world class musicians and vocalists from the west coast and Canada while still hosting the amazing talent of Eugene.
“This is my proudest achievement, being a part of starting this”, says Nancy. “I was never able to have children and this helps fill that space, knowing how many people have benefited from a safe place to find themselves musically. Every time I go there I get the thrill of a live performance and seeing a venue where people from 18 to 90 are enjoying an evening out in an adult space with a dance floor, and the musicians are treated like beloved artists.”
Nancy is a classic example of how it takes time to really know who you are - gaining musical seasoning and living a full artistic life- in order to mature as a vocalist and to be able to access a lifetime of emotional feelings to inhabit a lyric. “I have been inspired by other late bloomers I have met, like Rene Marie who also started in her 40’s and who has been a great influence on me,” says Nancy. “She said, ‘Jump and the net will appear’ in one of her savvy personal essays, so I have followed her advice. Sitting with Rene in a hotel lobby, sharing wine after her concert in Florida several years ago and having her mail me one of her hand written original compositions so I could perform it– this has been one of the great inspiring moments in my life.”
Born in eastern North Carolina and raised in Newport News, Virginia, Nancy was the only child of a business man who spent his 20’s and 30’s living and enjoying the great jazz of the era, in Harlem, NY and New Orleans, and a mother who was a part-time nurse and Jazz vocalist in her early years in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Nancy grew up hearing her mother’s Doris Day style voice and her incredible room-filling record collection of jazz dating from the 40’s to the 60’s. As a child Nancy also was treated to her father’s gift of storytelling, delivered “Mark Twain” style in a deep bass voice. The house was filled with the sounds of her father’s favorites - Fats Waller, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington - added to her mother’s Ray Charles, Tony Bennett, and Edyie Gorme collections. Nancy credits the recordings of Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughn as her first music teachers.
Nancy started singing at 15 when she auditioned with 75 other applicants to join a 12 member a capella chamber music group that traveled on a yearly summer tour from eastern Virginia to Nashville Tennessee. Labeled a true contralto by the choral director from New Orleans, she learned the art of listening in order to blend seamlessly with other singers, performing sacred classical music, Gregorian chant, and spirituals. In college she studied art, music, creative writing and design in Nashville, and then later received her MFA at the California of Arts in the San Francisco area. When she moved to the Midwest she founded an artist cooperative in an old glass company near the campus of Indiana University. There she became a successful award-winning clay artist exhibiting work throughout the Midwest.
In 1990 she moved to Oregon and continued work as an artist. She also began studying voice with a classical teacher, Vicki Righettini, who finally told her “You have a jazz voice why are you singing alto pieces in Italian? - you will never get to sing the melody with a voice this low.” So her teacher had Nancy record one song at a local studio to prove the point. Nancy chooses the song “ Ill Wind” by Harold Arlen, one of her favorite jazz pieces, heard in the movie The Cotton Club. Hearing herself sing this song on a recording changed her life forever. But not until 2004 did she start to sing professionally - the years between were spent singing in local musical theater, doing set design, public speaking in the Willamette Valley, taking care of her small farm, and creating art -- and all the time building the maturity to her voice and musical choices.