Leading jazz singer Tina May and top pianist Nikki Iles appear at Nairn Dunbar Golf Club on Thursday, September 17 as part of a Scottish tour to celebrate twenty years of working together.

Tina May and Nikki Iles make Nairn debut
Tina May and Nikki Iles make Nairn debut
It’s the first time the pair, who met when the then-Leeds-based pianist’s trio accompanied May on gigs in Yorkshire in October 1995, have visited Nairn, although former Nairn Jazz Festival director, the late Ken Ramage tried to book them several times.

Gloucester-born May, whose musical experiences include performing in an Edinburgh Fringe student revue with impersonator Rory Bremner and recording Come Fly With Me as the theme song from television docusoap Airline, became interested in jazz when she was studying French at University College, Cardiff and she began singing during a year spent in Paris as part of her course.

After working in theatre companies and singing with bands around Cardiff, May moved to London and released her first album, Never Let Me Go, in 1992. She went on to develop both as a singer and lyricist, putting words to tunes by musicians including former Weather Report keyboards player Joe Zawinul and alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, and in 2002 she achieved a great honour in jazz terms when pianist Ray Bryant, accompanist to singing greats Betty Carter, Carmen McRae and Aretha Franklin, invited her to put lyrics to his compositions.

So pleased was Bryant with the results that he took May into Rudy Van Gelder’s legendary Englewood Cliffs studio in New Jersey, scene of countless recordings for the Impulse! and Blue Note labels, to record the album Tina May Sings the Ray Bryant Songbook.

Since meeting May in 1995 and moving to London shortly afterwards, Nikki Iles has established herself as one of the UK’s foremost jazz pianists, working with saxophonists Scott Hamilton, Peter King and Tony Coe and appearing with the Kenny Wheeler Big Band and the Julian Arguelles Octet as well as leading her own trio with top New York bass and drums team, Rufus Reid and Jeff Williams.

The two women hit it off from the start. “I love singing with Nikki,” says May. “We’re kindred spirits really and the first time we worked together, in Halifax, there was an immediate affinity. Nikki just seemed to know instinctively what to play and when, and that’s continued down the years. She’s also a dear friend and great fun to spend time on the road with, which is a major consideration when the two of you are in a car together and not immune to taking wrong turnings.”

The songs they’ll present at the Traverse will come from a wide range of sources, including French songstress Edith Piaf’s repertoire (May speaks French fluently and now spends much of her time in Paris) and the Great American Songbook, and will be chosen with two important considerations in mind.

“I’ve always felt that entertainment and communication are the biggest things for me and the combination of words and music is the most natural way of engaging with an audience,” says May. “Songs are really the most marvellous little stories and that’s essentially what Nikki and I do – we’re two storytellers working together.”

Tina May and Nikki Iles appear at Nairn Dunbar Golf Club on Thursday, September 17.

Ticket and further details.