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BWW Feature: At Home With Nicole Zuraitis

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BWW Feature: At Home With Nicole Zuraitis

The accolades and praise that have been heaped on Nicole Zuraitis over the years are enough to turn the head of any artist, perhaps even swell the head of an artist. Nicole Zuraitis, though, remains one of the most down-to-earth and level-headed of musicians one is likely to find in this or any other town. The singing songwriter and piano playing powerhouse is as affable and approachable as the welcoming committee at Freshman orientation. Whether on the stage at one of her shows, on the screen at the virtual lounge produced by she and husband Dan Pugach, or on a red carpet at the Grammy Awards, Nicole Zuraitis exudes warmth and goodwill... and a cheeky sense of humor that glints out of her eye and a cheshire grin. It looks like Nicole Zuraitis is loving her life.

And her life is loving her right back.

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced in its entirety.

Name: Nicole Zuraitis
First Cabaret Show (Title, Year, Club): Austin Cabaret Theater in Austin Texas, curated by Stuart Molton.
Most Recent Cabaret Show: Beach Cafe, March 6th 2020 on the upper east.
Website or Social Media Handles: www.nicoleZmusic.com @nicoleZmusic

Nicole Zuraitis! How are things at the Virtual Piano Lounge?

Hi Stephen! First of all, I can't believe you saw my last cabaret show. Thank you for the beautiful review. It kept me alive during quarantine. HA. Seriously.... Things at the Virtual Piano Lounge are stellar, or as stellar as they could be considering there is a global pandemic. My husband, drummer/composer Dan Pugach is pretty tech savvy so we have really incredible audio and visual, plus an interactive interface that let's us hang out with our guests in real time. I was the brains of the operation and he ended up being the brawn. Don't tell him that though.

Tell me about your journey with your rather successful venture into online live entertaining.

When everything went down the tubes March 14th in New York City and I had tours that I had spent years and hours booking/planning cancelled in a matter of moments, I felt deep sadness. Then, the survivor in me kicked in and kicked my butt into gear. I realized I had a gift for knowing an obscene amount of songs from all my years of playing piano lounges in Manhattan (Red Eye Grill, for example). Dan and I had already done a performance online of my original music and arrangements, but I saw that there was not going to be an extended audience or outreach for this type of performance. I had to be honest with myself as a performer and think, what do people want to see/hear in a pandemic that I can offer and not many others can? This spurred the idea for the Virtual Piano Lounge. I woke up at 5am and shook Dan awake and said "We need to do a request based show! Only requests. ZERO planned music unless it's a request." If I had to count I'd say we did 10 two and half hour long shows of all requests with barely any repeats... I'm not sure how many songs that is.... but it's a lot. HA! As we advanced in the weeks of Covid, so did our platform. We upgraded to paid streaming platforms to give our audience a better interactive and visually/audibly enjoyable experience. All this was thanks to the generous tips and "tickets" bought by our weekly attendees or people who dropped in thanks to catching on social media or the Broadway World calendar.

Would you encourage other artists to try the waters, and do you have any advice for the ones who want to?


It depends. If you haven't done a live stream yet, GO FOR IT! Just try to get decent sound, whether you get a starter USB mic or interface. If you are thinking of doing a weekly stream, I wouldn't unless I knew I could offer people a different set every week. That's why the request model has worked for us. Do I like the fact that there is a video now on the internet of me singing "I Will Survive" during Covid? Nope. Did it make people happy and make me happy? Yup! Worth it. I also didn't want to exhaust the ears of people coming to my shows with songs I've spent hours rehearsing and performing and arranging. I want to save those for actual paid concerts, like my shows at Birdland.

BWW Feature: At Home With Nicole Zuraitis




I hear you will be taking some time out of the city this summer; does that mean the Virtual Piano Lounge will be on hiatus?

We are considering going every other week in August to celebrate my album release (ALL WANDERING HEARTS released July 31st on DotTime records!) and also re-evaluate our strategy moving into the months to come. I have a show September 1st at the Birdland Theater... we shall see!!

BWW Feature: At Home With Nicole Zuraitis

You and your husband, Dan Pugach are both musicians - did you meet on a gig, or is it more a case of birds of a feather?

We met in 2009 at a bar right down the street from our apartment in Park Slope. I had just moved back to the city and needed to meet musicians so a mutual friend of ours said to me "Come meet this great guitarist and drummer in BK tonight!". I did. It was not an immediate love connection, but rather born from us becoming close friends and bandmates. We actually tried to avoid dating at all costs for the first 2 years.. a tumultuous ride but it worked out in the end. If you would have told me that an Israeli drummer that I met in a bar in 2009 would go on to be my husband and fellow Grammy nominee in 2019.... I wouldn't have believed you!

With all the music that happens in your home, do you ever get requests from the neighbors?

BEST QUESTION. We have a little condo in West Haven, CT that was supposed to be for vacation and NOT for music making. LIttle did our condo association know, but we showed up with drums, singing lessons and a large foster pitbull! No one makes requests yet... only request is not to play drums past 8pm. HA!

All of life isn't about the work and the art - put a picture in my head of Nicole and Dan as a couple, and please let me know if your personal billing preference is Nicole and Dan or Dan and Nicole.

Nicole and Dan. AHAH. Well, we didn't know we knew how to cook until quarantine. We also didn't realize how much we like spending time together since both of us were living out of suitcases for the past 3 years at least. Most of our life hasn't been about art or creativity so far... but rather, survival. I'm ok with that. Everytime I kick myself for not writing 20 new songs, I remember that I played 500 songs for people and made them smile and sing along instead. That's a win in my book.

What has life in isolation for four months looked like at your place?

Does being knee deep in a bag of double stuffed Oreos count for anything? Honestly, it took about 2 months for us to kick the depression monster and the existential dread. Another month and a half of exercising which we ruined every single night by copious amounts of Nutella on whatever carb we could get a hold of. We tried to train our foster dog Bella to no avail, but at least she knows love and affection now which she certainly was deprived of prior to coming to live with us. We were fortunate to have the Connecticut condo which gave us a much better quality of life than our tiny apartment in Brooklyn. It's amazing what a window can do for the soul.

You are a jazz musician; there is a kind of soft line drawn between the entities of the jazz club and the cabaret room. Do you think that there is a way to erase that line for a more cohesive arts community in small venue performance arenas?

I WOULD DO ANYTHING To make that happen! I've always sat in between genres, which has been quite the hindrance, albeit strangely authenticating and life affirming at the same time. I think the jazz community already has lines in the sand that are too strict, too cliquey. Birdland jazz club has been a home to me for 2 1/2 years now, and I think they tow the line beautifully when it comes to welcoming both cabaret and heavy jazz acts. 55 Bar is another wonderful venue in New York City that has all types of music. Small venues at this point in time need to come together and get people in the door (socially distanced of course). Good music is good music, period. Rather than judge by what box people fit it, shouldn't we judge by what music touches the soul? Damn I sound like a granola eating hippie and I'm ok with that.

How does one prepare, emotionally and mentally, to attend The Grammy Awards?

BWW Feature: At Home With Nicole ZuraitisWell it's always better to be shocked that you are attending so you don't have much time to prepare at all! We found out that our independent release of "Jolene" was nominated for Best Arrangement Instrument and Vocals in December 2018. We attended the Grammy Awards in January 2019. Not much time to prepare, and the shock was real. At first we said "Is this a mistake?? We didn't even campaign!" But the nomination gave me a lot of faith in the music industry and re-started the dreamer in me. I reached out to an incredible stylist Dennis Kenney, of Style with Den, and he decked me head to toe in glamour. I wore diamonds that were worth more than all the contents of my apartment combined. It was epic and the inner insecure chubby awkward girl who had always wanted to be in the spotlight came shining through with a vengeance. Mentally, I didn't prepare a speech because I saw the competition was stiff. Perhaps I should have so I could have kept the speech, but I would rather wait til the next time I'm there... fingers crossed!! We felt like we had already won by attending. Also I couldn't put a price on the confidence it gave me to keep pursuing music and songwriting and performance as a career. Dan and I had been talking about what else we could possibly do right before the nomination.... so it was in the stars for us not to give up just yet.

Nicole, I am so happy you agreed to chat with us today, I am such a big fan. Thank you so much.

I AM SUCH a big fan of you!!! You are one of the most incredible writers and reviewers on the planet. A kind and generous soul. THANK YOU.

Aw, shucks.

There will be a virtual show on July 31st for the release of the CD ALL WANDERING HEARTS. See the Facebook event page HERE

Photos courtesy of the Nicole Zuraitis Facebook page and Stephen Mosher


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From This Author Stephen Mosher