Once of the more creative jazz singers, Nanette Natal came to jazz in the mid-'70s, which was relatively late in a professional career that began in 1960 as a classical singer. During this period, Natal was a member of the Helen Hayes Young People's Theater Guild, and during the early '60s, performed numerous concerts in New York with that group. She then went on to work the Bitter End Coffee House Circuit, performing her own material, which developed into blues and rock, singing and playing guitar and performing at universities and concert halls throughout the country. In the '70s, she recorded for Vanguard and later for Evolution Records. During this period, she also worked with several notable contemporary artists including Mahalia Jackson, Odetta, Bonnie Raitt, and Rick Nelson, along with TV appearances including one with Barbara Walters on The Today Show. Natal was also active on the club circuit playing such venues as the Gaslight and the Au Go Go.
This apparent success notwithstanding, Natal began to be concerned about what she perceived to be a lack of creativity in her performances, as well as the unimaginative straitjacket with which record companies sometimes hamstrung their artists. In the '70s, Natal dissolved her recording contracts and set out to develop her kind of musical expression; she turned to jazz in 1977. The defining moment which established in her mind that she wanted to pursue a jazz career occurred during a demo recording session for Columbia Records, during which she was asked to record a pop record. At the session, she sang Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady," during which she dramatically changed the phrasing and was subsequently told by the engineer that she was not a pop singer, but a jazz singer. The extent of her influence and renown is demonstrated by the prominence her career and her views are given in Bruce Crowther's and Mike Pinfold's first-rate Signing Jazz: The Singers and Their Styles. From 1977 to the mid-'80s, Natal became a strong influence on the downtown loft scene. It was at this time that she started to teach privately. She also set up her own production company and label, Benyo Music Productions, which she released five albums for: My Song of Something (1980), Wild in Reverie (1982), Hi Fi Baby (1986) (which made the Top Ten radio playlist nationally of many jazz and progressive stations), Stairway to the Stars (1992) (recorded live at Birdland and picked as critic's choice of the ten best jazz albums of that year by Jazziz and Cadence magazines). Finally, there was Lose Control in 1999, a compilation of selections from the earlier albums. Natal continues to perform and teach in New York and work on such interesting and daring projects as a one-woman opera. She also writes a monthly column ("Creative Fire-Singing as a Spiritual Practice") which expresses her views on the art and techniques of jazz vocalizing. ~ Dave Nathan