Manhattan-born and raised Rachel Nicolazzo (aka Rachel Z) had music practically ingrained in her genetic code. Groomed to follow in her mother’s operatic footsteps, she began voice lessons at two, started classical piano lessons at seven and attended the opera by age nine. “My first dollhouse was a Metropolitan Opera House complete with the stage and dolls which were the performers,” she recalls. “Then I heard Miles Smiles when I was 15, started rebelling against the classical by improvising, and played with a band that covered Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan songs.”
Listening to Herbie Hancock’s harmonies over Wayne Shorter’s compositions helped her bridge the gap from her classical training to jazz.”The way my jazz chops developed was twofold. I developed acoustic straight ahead and electronic fusion playing equally over time,” she says. After launching a quintet called Nardis, she studied with Joanne Brackeen and Richie Beirach.