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Clara City native, now a noted jazzist based in NYC, to perform in Willmar

Nancy Harms grew up in Clara City and developed a love for jazz while attending Concordia College in Moorhead. In 2006, she relocated to the Twin Cities to focus on a music career and spent some time as a much teacher. She later moved to New York City, where she is currently based.

Nancy Harms spent the first months of the year touring Denmark and Italy, before returning for a number of stateside performances in support of her new recording “Ellington at Night.”

The album, her take on some of famed composer Duke Ellington’s most-celebrated numbers, is the latest entry into a creative period of impressive repute for the New York City-based jazzist and offers a glimpse into a life worlds removed from the church choir in Clara City where she first cultivated a passion for song.

In a New York Times review last September of a performance ahead of the release of “Ellington at Night,” noted critic Stephen Holden called Harms “a complicated enigmatic woman of mystery forging her own path.”

And this week that path will detour ever so slightly from the bright lights of the big city, when Harms returns to her former haunts for two performances.

On Friday, she’ll sing during the 10th annual Hope for Tomorrow gala and fundraiser for Safe Avenues, a Willmar-based shelter for abused and battered women. The following night, she’ll perform with a trio of noted jazzists at The Barn Theatre in downtown Willmar, a concert that doubles as a CD release party.

The Tribune spoke to Harms last week via email about her tour and what it means to come home.

Q: Looking at your tour schedule since the release of “Ellington at Night,” it would appear things are going well?

A: Yes, things are going very well, thanks. The CD was actually first a show that was put on at New York City’s Metropolitan Room and it got a wonderful review in the New York Times. So, this project got a very positive response from the beginning and continues to do well. Recently, I had the great fortune of performing a CD release show at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola (in New York City) to two packed houses. That was an unbelievable honor.

Q: So how did it feel to step into the shoes of one of jazz’s most-revered composers?

A: Although I don’t feel I could ever step into Ellington’s grand shoes, it has been a joy to get to take a journey through his music with my voice. He’s such an intriguing person and legendary musician/composer that it is a feast of a subject to dive into. I’m so happy that people are enjoying the album and that they feel they are hearing his music in a bit of a different light. A luxurious man and a luxurious music that offer endless gifts.

Q: Europe obviously had its own large role in the free jazz movement. What was it like touring there?

A: I’ve really loved touring in Europe. In general, there is more support for jazz over there and I’ve loved traveling over there. So it’s been a bit of a dream for me.

Q: So how does it feel to be back stateside and soon to be coming home?

A: It’s wonderful. It’s always so heartwarming to hear from the people who watched me grow up and that they are excited for me and my musical journey. It’s also a bit surreal for my two worlds to come crashing together. But it’s definitely a beautiful experience.

Q: You’ll be performing at The Barn Theatre with Lee Blaske, Gordy Johnson and Jay Epstein, all respected within the genre’s ranks. What can fans expect from the performance?

A: Yes, Lee, Gordy and Jay are fantastic musicians based out of the Twin Cities, and I’m really thrilled to get to perform this show with them. The show is a celebration of the new album, “Ellington At Night,” so we’ll be doing the repertoire from that which includes well-known gems from the Ellington songbook and lesser-known gems, as well, to keep Ellington fans surprised. I like to think of it as a journey through the places and the experiences of night-time: from loneliness to luxuriousness, from flirtation to melancholy, with Ellington’s music as the vehicle.

For more on Nancy Harms, visit

If you attend Nancy Harms' Willmar shows

The Safe Avenues gala will be held Friday at the Willmar Conference Center, 240 23rd St. S.E. A social hour is scheduled for 5 p.m. with a dinner, program and live auction scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Cost is $70 per person, with proceeds from the event providing advocacy, parenting time services and shelter to victims of domestic and sexual violence. According to its website, Safe Avenues has been providing programs for victims of abuse under a variety of monikers for more than 35 years.

For more information, call 320-235-0475.

Doors and a wine bar open at 6 p.m. Saturday for Harms’ performance at The Barn Theatre. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets for the show are $20 and can be purchased at the theatre’s box office or by calling 320-235-9500.

The Barn is located at 321 Fourth St. S.W. in Willmar.

Dan Burdett

Dan Burdett is the community content coordinator at the West Central Tribune. He has 13 years experience in print media, to include four years enlisted service in the United States Air Force. He has been an employee of Forum Communications since 2005, joining the company after spending two years as the managing editor of the Redwood Gazette and Livewire in Redwood Falls. Prior to his current position, Dan was the presentation editor at the Tribune.

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