Nellie McKay On Piano Jazz The eccentric young singer-songwriter and pianist joins guest host Michael Feinstein as they flip through a few pages of The Great American Songbook on this episode of Piano Jazz.

Nellie McKay On Piano Jazz

With Guest Host Michael Feinstein

Nellie McKay On Piano Jazz

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Nellie McKay. Rick Gonzalez hide caption

toggle caption
Rick Gonzalez

Set List

"I Love a Piano" (I. Berlin)

"Body and Soul" (J.W. Green)*

"There'll Be Some Changes Made" (B. Overstreet, B. Higgins)

"Do Do Do" (G. Gershwin, I. Gershwin)

"Blame It on My Youth" (O. Levant, E. Heyman)

"Bodega" (N. McKay)

Medley: "On the Sunny Side of the Street" (D. Fields, J. McHugh) / "Undecided" (S. Robin, C. Shavers)

* Michael Feinstein, solo.

Singer-songwriter and pianist Nellie McKay was born on Dec. 13, 1984, in London to an actress mother and a writer/director father. McKay's parents split when she was 2 years old, and she and her mother came to New York, where they lived in Harlem. There, McKay absorbed the R&B, hip-hop, jazz and Latin music of her diverse neighborhood. She also began taking piano lessons.

After a brief period on the West Coast, McKay and her mother moved back east, to the Poconos in Pennsylvania, where she attended high school and even took lessons with a fellow Delaware Water Gap resident, saxophonist Phil Woods. In 2000, McKay briefly attended the Manhattan School of Music, but dropped out to pursue her career as a performer. She did stand-up comedy before returning to singing and playing the piano, and her wit served her well in building a devoted following in New York.

In 2003, her opening set for the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players spurred a record-label bidding war that led to her first album, Get Away From Me. McKay's sarcastic and clever tunes, straddling influences from hip-hop to cabaret, bewildered and enchanted critics. Her second album, Pretty Little Head, was released in 2006 after months of conflict over creative control. That year, McKay also made her Broadway debut as Polly Peachum in the The Threepenny Opera; the role earned her a Theatre World Award for Outstanding Debut Performance.

McKay continues to expand her eclectic musical palette. In 2009, she released Normal As Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day, an album of 12 tunes favored by Day. For her latest release, Home Sweet Mobile Home, she worked with former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne.

Flipping Through The Great American Songbook

On this Piano Jazz session, McKay joins guest host Michael Feinstein to flip through pages both whimsical and poignant in The Great American Songbook.

McKay and Feinstein kick off the session with a four-handed piano and vocal duet of -- what else? -- "I Love a Piano." The duo performs the tune with infectious joy as they sit side-by-side on the piano bench.

McKay follows with a solo turn through "Body and Soul" that is well beyond her 26 years; her crystalline voice and phrasing are perfectly suited to this timeless standard. Feinstein presents his own solo on an alternate lyric to the tune that offers up additional notes of melancholy.

"Talk about taking the song to its essence," McKay says. "I'm so sad now. The saddest songs are really the best."

On McKay's tribute to the convenience stores of Spanish Harlem, "Bodega," Feinstein lends madcap backing vocals over McKay's Afro-Caribbean rhythm, perhaps the result of her studio time with David Byrne.

"Thank you for allowing me to chime in on the chorus in my best 'Corinthian leather' voice," Feinstein says.

McKay and Feinstein perform a cheerful four-handed piano and vocal duet of "On the Sunny Side of the Street" that shifts into high gear in the manic "Undecided," as the pair leaves the 88 keys smoldering to close this episode of Piano Jazz.

Originally recorded Oct. 4, 2010. Originally broadcast Nov. 30, 2010.