Of the many musical experiences throughout Billy Valentine’s five decade career, the singer/songwriter considers his adolescent years some of the most influential.
A native of West Virginia, Valentine started singing simply for fun at age 7, and was serenading audiences at talent shows by middle school. At age 15 while on summer vacation, Valentine visited one of his brothers in Hackensack, New Jersey, where the two would frequent Leon’s Cocktail Lounge. With little time, he landed a gig — and thus his first paycheck as a performer — as an opening act at the New Jersey nightclub.
“I was like a sponge, just soaking everything up,” Valentine said during a phone interview earlier this week from his home in Los Angeles.
“I believe that’s where I got some of my greatest experiences, was watching those pros do what they did. And I could just sit there and hope that one day I could be as good as them. That inspired me a great deal,” he recalled. “The benefit of seeing those artists was invaluable. I can’t state that enough.”
Valentine hopes to exude a similar spell tonight at The Little Nell, where he will perform with the Shelly Berg Trio and vocalist Niki Haris. As part of Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ Café series, the artists will play four shows between tonight and tomorrow, all of which had sold out as of Friday.
Berg and Valentine return after performing together locally in late February, while Haris performed with the Mitch Forman Quartet in Aspen mid-March.
“The brilliant jazz pianist Shelly Berg reunites with two of his (and our) favorite vocalists, who each stretch from jazz into soulful, bluesy territory,” Jazz Aspen Snowmass founder and president Jim Horowitz said. “Billy Valentine, who recalls a jazzy Ray Charles, and Niki Haris, a versatile powerhouse vocalist equally at home in jazz, gospel or soul, is known for her irresistible stage presence.”
The daughter of legendary jazz pianist Gene Haris, Niki Haris also offers a colorful dance background — from the late ’80s to the early 2000s, she recorded and toured with none other than the Queen of Pop herself.
For his part, Berg’s accolades demonstrate his success as a musician as well as an educator: A Steinway pianist and five-time Grammy-nominated arranger, orchestrator and producer, Berg also serves as Dean of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. The university partners with Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ scholarship-based academy that will commence Sunday.
Valentine said he looks forward to collaborating again with Berg. “Shelly and I together, I think, are something special,” he said.
Haris and Valentine will sing solo and together with Berg’s trio, Horowitz said, in what he anticipates will be a “knockout” performance.