Nancy Ruth does not waste any time. Even when she’s at her most relaxed, introvert state, she sings with a particular kind of urgency, making sure that her audience does not miss out on her life-affirming message. With every little breath she takes – barely audible as it may be – before she delivers a typically impeccable musical phrase, she seems to be sucking the marrow out of life, making each song into a celebration of being and of passionately embracing the whole range of human emotions and experience.
This may have to do with her personal journey from her native Canada to Spain and her adopted hometown, Malaga. To say that the bright Spanish sun and the Mediterranean sea breeze have affected her approach to music-making would be an understatement.
A classically trained pianist, and a singer of impressive vocal range, she cut her teeth as a performer singing in rock bands in Canada, before delving into jazz, thus finding her voice as a singer and pianist with a penchant for lyricism, a natural sense of swing and a love for latin rhythms. Her 2004 album, ‘It’s Got to Be Love’ found her singing a series of well-known and beloved standards, with a deceptive breeziness, delivering the lyrics as if every word was part of her intimate diary. Once in Malaga, she used the same approach to blend jazz with flamenco, in a vivid celebration of life.
There is a gem of a video in Nancy Ruth’s Youtube channel, in which the singer makes a home visit to a friend, who cooks for her a traditional paella. The video is a step-by-step tutorial on the dish, offering much more than a recipe; it is a celebration of each ingredient and its significance as it blends with the others to create a unique taste; it is also a celebration of friendship and hospitality, of people coming together to connect through a feast. This video does not just offer rare insight into Spanish culture, but it is a perfect allegory of Nancy Ruth’s own music-making, of the way she combines different elements – her classical training, her dramatic flair, her adventurous spirit, her sense of ‘duende’ – to create a sound where genres such as pop, jazz, flamenco and latin co-exist and dissolve into each other. In the end, what she has created, is a genre tailor-made to best allow her narrate her stories, reflecting her own personal journey.
Her latest venture, ‘Sangria Jam’, captures Nancy Ruth at her best. In a way, the album is a status update for her, a collection of songs describing her life in Malaga, how she absorbs the energy of the place to return it to the community through her music. It is also a perfect example of the way she balances two traditions – jazz and flamenco – passing them both through a pop prism, without worrying to adhere too much to any of them. The only thing she cares about, is to stay true to her own passion – and that oozes out of every song.