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Nadine Jansen tribute CD honors remarkable talent

By Patricia Myers

Nadine Jansen, 1960's

Nadine Jansen was a super-wonder of the music world, renowned for playing piano with the left hand and trumpet with right at the same time, and for her lustrous vocals and clever wit. Now there is a tribute album to commemorate this remarkable talent that amazed and entertained Arizona listeners for nearly a half-century.

“The Very Best of Nadine Jansen” (Jantone) is a 73-minute, 16-track CD, a retrospective of her music selected from her five-decade career and recordings in various settings. The tracks were excerpted from her three early vinyl albums and a later cassette release on her own Jantone label, along with previously unreleased acetate records, reel-to-reel tapes and cassette tapings.

The opening track from a 1947 demo tape establishes her distinctly singular vocal style. Successive tracks through 1989 showcase her incredibly swinging approach to jazz and blues, always with her individual imprint and invention. She retired in 2003 and died in northern California at age 79 on Aug. 7, 2008.

Dixon, Miller & Myers

Co-producers of the CD are local music archivist John Dixon, engineer Jack Miller and Arizona jazz historian Patricia Myers. Prepaid mail orders ($18) may be sent to Patricia Myers, PO Box 4201, Scottsdale, AZ 85261-4201, with proceeds from local sales donated to The Young Sounds of Arizona, earmarked for the Nadine Jansen Scholarship Fund, 501c3, tax-deductible, ID#86-0607832. The CD, which was released as part of a five-hour musical memorial tribute staged at the Wrigley Mansion in Phoenix, also can be ordered online from

Nadine Jansen began classical piano lessons at age 4, then trumpet instruction, figuring out by ear how to accompany herself. Born in Sacramento, Calif., she entered high school at the age of 12, graduating at age 16. She was a college student in 1948 when she won a Horace Heidt Radio Show talent contest. Tours took her to New York City and Chicago as a featured act with Heidt and later with the Dick Contino Orchestra (five shows a day between movies). She also performed in California before moving to Phoenix in the 1950s.

In the late 1950s into the 1960s, Nadine performed in Phoenix at the Pump Room, and was the house pianist for eight years at Tony Hart’s Band Box, backing touring jazz stars including Stuff Smith, Shorty Rogers, Kai Winding, Buddy Collette and Frank Rossolino.

Nadine Jansen 2009 release

Soon she began performing regularly in major hotels including the Valley Ho, Westward Ho and Del Webb’s Townehouse. For several years in the 1980s, she led a Monday-night jam session at the Hermosa Inn that continues to be legend.

In 1983, she was part of an all-star female band for the Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival and performed a Gershwin tribute with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra in 1986. She was a guest on Marian McPartland’s “Piano Jazz” radio show in January 1988, and featured in a “Women in Jazz” concert in October 1988 at symphony hall with McPartland and Judy Roberts. Nadine was invited to perform on Long Island, NY, and in Las Vegas, Texas, Florida and California.

In Arizona, she performed concerts with Mary Kaye of the Mary Kaye Trio, and duets with Armand Boatman. Her last steady-gig years were at J. Chew & Co., where she packed the tiny tavern to overflow outdoors to experience her keyboard, horn and vocal magic. Many visiting luminaries stopped by to sit in with her, including Les McCann, Ellis Marsalis and Wynton Marsalis. She once said in an interview, “I’m lucky to have been able to play what I wanted, and to give the audience some of what they wanted. I don’t have much of an ego, and I enjoy making people happy. I have to communicate, not just play for myself.”