Nicole Henry sings jazz’s female greats at 2016 Vail Jazz Gala, July 11 | VailDaily.com

Nicole Henry sings jazz’s female greats at 2016 Vail Jazz Gala, July 11

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VAIL — When Miami-based vocalist Nicole Henry was tasked with isolating a handful of jazz's female greats, she spent days ebbing the tally to Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone and Whitney Houston. As if this weren't enough of a challenge, she then spent months narrowing down a set list of songs by these legendary ladies.

"It was definitely a 4.0-level of difficulty," said Henry, who will star in the upcoming Vail Jazz Gala, The Great Ladies of Song on Monday. "These women released 20 to 40-plus albums of their own. It really boiled down to picking my favorites, as well as considering what might be considered their signature songs."

Each is inspiring

Each of the great ladies of song did her part in inspiring the world and establishing a sense of connection, Henry said.

"Dinah had sass for days. I appreciate the blues inflection in her voice, and she always seemed to be in control of the situation. I also liked her selection of songs during the '50s. That's why Dinah really ruled the jukeboxes," Henry said.

Even in her early years, Holiday's voice had a maturity that seemed unimaginable and set her apart, Henry said.

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"Her heartache was palpable, her overall affectedness undeniable," she said. "Her note choices were organic and original. Those things created something mysterious and compelling. Her delivery always seemed to be full of intention."

If Henry stumbled across a time machine, Fitzgerald would be one of the first people she'd try to meet.

"I hear that she was just one of the sweetest, most easy-going and pleasant personalities ever," Henry said. "She had an amazing ear, vocal control and ability. She could swing and sing the heck out of anything."

There is some sparkle about each iconic singer that resonates with Henry, but as a child of the '80s, Franklin and Houston are her absolute favorites.

"Of course, in some way I relate to all of the vocalists, but I must say, I most naturally relate to Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin," she said. "I grew up singing along to their recordings and relating to their stories and styles."

Henry said she loves Franklin's gospel, soulful tone and truthfulness, and as the most award-winning female artist of all time, Henry describes Houston as "blending color lines and genres."

"She changed the face of music with her gorgeous balladry," Henry said. "I loved Whitney for that."

Henry at Vail Jazz

According to Henry, it was these ladies who paved the road for all women in music and for the jazz genre as a whole.

"It's wonderful to put a spotlight on their contribution to music and to learn how great their careers elevated the genres of jazz, soul, even gospel and popular styles," she said.

"It will be fun to share facts about their careers that people may not have ever known before. I'm excited that we have alumni of the Vail Jazz summer program joining me on stage for the performance. I've heard a lot about their talents and can't wait to collaborate with them. As always with Vail Jazz, it will be a great time for a great cause."

Henry has a way of accruing impromptu fan clubs. After every show, a steady string of audience members accost her, wanting a photograph or to impart their personal gratitude for her moving performance.

"That's the reason that I sing," she said. "We, in our own little way, want to either save ourselves or save the world as artists. We want to make a difference. The reason we want to inspire people is that we know we're connected."

If you go …

What: 2016 Vail Jazz Gala, featuring Nicole Henry’s tribute to The Great Ladies of Song, with Peter Wallace (piano), Eric England (upright bass), David Chiverton (drums) Jumaane Smith (trumpet), Kyle Tilstra (trombone) and Hailey Niswanger (saxophone).

When: 6 p.m. Monday, July 11.

Where: The Lodge at Vail, 174 Gore Creek Drive, Vail.

Cost: $250, includes high-end auction, cocktails, three-course dinner and performance.

More information: Visit vailjazz.org, or call 888-VAIL-JAM.