"Nicole's voice is quite soulful, haunting, very expressive and often quite joyful...a wonderful singer."
--jazz critic Scott Yanow
With a sweet-toned voice and both a need and a determination to express herself through singing jazz, Nicole Chillemi is on the verge of a major breakthrough. Her recent recording, Mention Of You, in addition to featuring her fresh versions of such standards as "The Best Is Yet To Come," "You Go To My Head" and "Where Or When," has inspired renditions of Tom Waits' "Picture In A Frame," Nick Drake's "River Man" and the heartfelt "My World Is Empty Without You." Nicole shows that it is not the material that makes music into jazz but creativity and honest feelings.
Born in Florida, Nicole Chillemi remembers, "I was six or seven when I started taking piano lessons which introduced me to classical music. Around that time I saw the musical Annie, got the record and started singing along. That's when I realized that I could really sing." She sang in her high school choir, getting solos, and she performed in vocal competitions. In 1994 Nicole earned her Bachelor of Arts in Vocal Performance from Emory University in Atlanta. Along the way she sang at coffee houses and churches in addition to recitals, and while in college she discovered jazz. "One summer in Atlanta a few of us went regularly to a local club that had a jazz quartet. I enjoyed seeing jazz live and it inspired me to listen to records by Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday which led me to many other people."
But she had doubts whether she could really become a fulltime jazz singer and for five years after college she worked at other jobs. "I'd always wanted to be a singer but I admit that I wasn't sure how to become a jazz singer and make a living at it. I did other jobs for a time, but finally realized that I really needed to sing, it was too much a part of me. So I built up a repertoire, gathered my nerve and made the plunge."
Nicole put an ad in the paper that said she was looking for musicians, she found some very good players, and her career officially began. She has since built up a strong reputation in the Atlanta area, evolving from singing at coffeehouses to private parties and listening rooms while developing her own very distinctive voice. She considers Anita O'Day, Blossom Dearie, Billie Holiday, Jeri Southern, Nina Simone and Nancy Wilson to be her main influences and inspirations.
In 2003 Nicole Chillemi made her recording debut with a self-titled CD filled with a dozen of her favorite standards. Her warm voice was accompanied by a top-notch four-piece rhythm section. Her second CD, which like her first was produced by the accomplished singer-songwriter Shawn Mullins, uses a similar format but has more diversity. "Since the first album was all well-known standards, I wanted Mention Of You to be different and have songs from different genres. It only took a few days to record after discussing what tunes to include with my pianist-arranger Rick Denton for a few months. The performances are laidback, moody and take some chances; they are fun. I have a natural soprano voice but purposely sang songs in lower keys this time so as to show off my lower range more." Russell Carter, who manages well known artists the Indigo Girls, Shawn Mullins and Matthew Sweet among others, released Mention of You on his Indie Label RCAM.
Nicole Chillemi, who had the pleasure of opening for the legendary Jimmy Scott last summer, performs regularly in Atlanta, at restaurants, private functions and theaters. "Atlanta has a good music scene and it has been the perfect place for me to develop as a jazz voice. I love to sing jazz and it is my goal to personalize every song and perform for more and more people, traveling to other cities and playing at new clubs and festivals. There is so much to learn in jazz and I want to do this the rest of my life." With the release of Mention Of You and her continuous growth as a jazz singer, it seems only a matter of time before Nicole Chillemi is a household name in the jazz world.