There’s a feeling I get listening to Nadje Noordhuis’ music that perhaps everything will be OK after all. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's a reassurance that feels sorely needed.
This band is irrepressible, a masterclass in tone, clarity and precision. Fred Hersch, Thomas Morgan, and Rudy Royston need little introduction, but it’s a revelation to hear them in this context. Nadje wrote most of the music with this particular ensemble in mind and it shows. The generosity of spirit and the effortlessness in Nadje's playing and writing positively glows. During the session, Nadje sang a quick example to Fred that made it immediately clear to me that she has perfect pitch. Not just an uncanny ability to recognize and reproduce notes, but something even more exceptional. On the second day of this session, we met to go over the mix. Nadje arrived saying there was something in one of her solos that she wanted to fix. Something that struck her when she was "listening back." I thought. "OK no problem," before remembering that she hadn't yet heard any of the rough mixes from the day before. She was "listening back" from memory, to an entire day's worth of improvisations. So yeah, she comes by that effortless sound honestly.
Nadje grew up in Sydney. Her first instrument was the piano, which she started playing at the age of two. By the time Nadje was seven, she was giving lessons to other kids before school. In the third grade she picked up the trumpet during band at school and was able to play a C Major scale the first time she laid a finger on the instrument. This usually takes months, or sometimes years. By the next year, she was recruited by the director to play in the adult community band.
Despite her remarkable natural ability, Nadje found herself drifting in and out of music, quitting both piano and trumpet studies in high school. Looking back now, Nadje says she didn’t even consider becoming a trumpet player. There weren’t any female trumpet players for her to aspire to, and it never seemed a viable option. However, her love of music brought her to major in music engineering at a school in “a little hippy town” 400 miles north of Sydney. Graduating with a musical engineering degree she found limited opportunities for female engineers. When the head producer left the studio that she ended up working at, she was told she needed to find a new job because “a woman can’t run the studio.” After losing that position, and almost on a whim, Nadje applied to the undergraduate program in trumpet performance at Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne. At that time she hadn’t played trumpet in years, and had a very limited background in improvisational music. She prepared for the audition by playing trumpet along with the only jazz albums she knew, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, two of the most popular instrumental jazz records of all time.
Nadje was in the program for a full year before her “aha” moment arrived. Assigned to transcribe “Kind Folk” from Kenny Wheeler’s 1998 masterpiece Angel Song, Nadje suddenly encountered the world of music that she wanted to create. It was then that she started writing music and starting her own bands.
Nadje was later accepted into the Masters program at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music. But after years of struggling to make ends meet and feeling people didn’t want “to hear what I had to say,” Nadje quit music again, taking an administration job at Manhattan School. Eventually finding that path unfulfilling, Nadje decided to give music one more chance. She found space still limited for female horn players but she pressed forward, creating her own bands and making her own opportunities. This time finding a home (and touring the world) in some of the most lauded and successful ensembles in NYC.
For me, the music Nadje writes has all of her history in it. There’s a very clear point of view in this music. A perspective hard-earned but not at all jaded. Suffused with the knowledge that things will be alright. If we bring beauty to the world, the world will come and greet it.
– Elan Mehler