Nancy Wilson easing out stylishly

August 19, 2002|By Owen McNally | Owen McNally,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Vocalist Nancy Wilson, the great pop/jazz diva, is slowing down from the once frenetic tempo of her performance schedule to spend more time with her family.

Wilson is never going to set any definitive retirement date, she says, nor will she ever make a "comeback" because she's never going to formally announce that she has left.

The Grammy-winning singer feels fine physically, has a lush voice unmarked by the passing years and retains her regal looks and striking stage presence, her stylistic hallmarks for almost 50 years.

But at 65 and with her 50th anniversary in the music business coming up in October, she says she feels it's time to start bowing out gracefully and at her own pace while she's still at the top of her game.

It's not going to be an abrupt departure, since there were a number of dates lined up long ago that she still has to play. Also already in place, she says, are two new albums that will be released during the next two years.

"I don't want to make an issue of it. It's just a natural thing. But when you get in your 60s, you don't want to be always reading about how `These are Nancy Wilson's last years,'" she says from her home outside Palm Springs, Calif.

"I remember looking at my schedule and seeing I was working 56 nights straight, two shows a night in Nevada, plus going out doing promos as well.

"No one even asked me how I feel about that. I said, `This is not living, and I will not do this. This is not what I'm here for.'"

Even at the height of her hectic touring and recording schedule, Wilson never stayed away more than two, or, at most, three weeks at a time from her children, she says. When she wasn't home, she says, her ever-patient husband was there with their kids. Now they can all be together in a home where love and togetherness rule, rather than rigid contractual rules.

Wilson says she won't miss the celebrity aura associated with being a famous song stylist.

Even when she made her recording debut in 1959, at age 22, and became one of Capitol Records' best-selling stars - second only to the Beatles - the rush of fame and fortune didn't turn her head. "I guess it's because I'm a Midwesterner," she says, laughing to herself.

"I haven't led my life as a celebrity. I perform and then I go home. And no one has a clue about my private life. I really have a home, and really have a life away from all that."

Part of the reason for choosing to remove herself from the music scene is that there are only a tiny number of small clubs, or cabaret venues remaining for her to perform in. Wilson has always thrived in intimate club settings where she can use her warm, sensuous style to connect with her audience.

What is Wilson's secret for establishing such tight, even visceral rapport, whether singing pop, jazz, rhythm-and-blues or steamy torch songs?

It's all about keeping focused and gathering her energy for that moment of truth.

"Backstage, there's no one in my room with me. I do my own hair and makeup. I don't do any pre-concert, dressing-room rituals, like some performers, or even do warm-up exercises. I wouldn't know how. I just focus. Then I go out on stage and become me," she says.

Owen McNally writes for the Hartford Courant, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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