Stelarc: Hooked on Art The year is 1984, and a crowd begins to gather where onlookers are pointing toward the sky. A man is hanging from wires woven into his skin, hanging facedown over East 11th Street in Manhattan. ...

Nicole Duffell (photographs by Jeffree Benet)
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She may be a pretty gal, but tell her that she's hot, sexy, pretty and beautiful without additional qualifiers, and she'll give you a look that can freeze your ass off, and tell you to "F off" at the same time.

Rather, Nicole Duffell is a pretty gal who prefers to be known for her amazing skills with her sax.

Australian born, she is a pretty well-known saxophonist in the Asian scene, and just celebrated another birthday in Singapore...

She was the kingpin (well, queenpin) of the band that played at Somerset Bar in the current Swissotel Stamford, and at hundreds of other performances all over Singapore these few years past. She had no intention of staying in Singapore at first. “I was on a layover waiting for a connecting flight to Europe. During the layover, I was asked to perform for a friend’s opening, Liberty Bar, and Raffles Hotel asked me if I would like to stay in Singapore to perform for them at Somerset Bar. I said yes, and never made it to Europe.”

Nicole’s love of music and performing began at an early age, with her parents pushing her to learn the flute and clarinet. They didn’t play any musical instruments themselves, but they made sure their daughter didn’t suffer from the same lack as they did.

“My grandparents loved to listen to music,” she relates, “and they bought me a clarinet, so I picked it up.” She played the flute and picked up the saxophone all by herself in high school, and with a bunch of school friends, started playing in a rock band kind of thing, performing at pubs at the tender age of fifteen, when most other girls her age were obsessing about Bonny Lipsmacker lipstick.

From then on, she performed with various bands that invited her to join them from time to time. Still, it wasn’t until her music teacher recommended that she join a jazz orchestra that her path in life became clearer. Up till then, she had considered going to art school to study fine art.

“My parents were rather keen on my going to art school because I used to draw all the time, whenever I had a chance. But then I started playing jazz with the orchestra, and after that, I went on to the conservatorium to study music.”

Nicole recalls her fear at first in joining a jazz orchestra. “Up till then, I had never performed jazz in my life before, and now I was about to perform it with an orchestra. I kept having fears that I was going to mess up.”

She has since been performing jazz for the last two decades, although she has been playing on the sax for much longer. “I had a wonderful guide and mentor, Don Gomez, who helped me along a lot and taught me so much about jazz.”

Despite having performed on jazz gigs for quite a while now, Nicole still does not think of herself as a jazz performer. Her style of music is more of a “funky jazz”, as she terms it.

“It’s a kind of mix of blues and R&B and jazz, and a little not so serious as some jazz artists can be.”

She doesn’t see herself as a purist at all of any discipline. “I lack the discipline necessary to sit down and perform one style of music all the time. I could never be a purist of any kind. Instead, I prefer to try out different styles of music, mix it around and see what comes out of it."

Having done gigs for so many years now, Nicole is surprisingly still very keen to tour. 

“I don’t ever get tired of touring. My band is great, we’re very close, and that makes touring a pleasure instead of agony. But right now, I hope to stay in Singapore for a while, and finish my album, which I’ve been putting off for a while now. Hopefully it will be completed by the year, and then I can tour Asia to promote it.” 

She also tells us about some of the most interesting gigs she has done.

“Once, we had to do the opening and closing scene for a huge surfing competition in Australia, and there were all these top surfers from all over the world, and they came up to me and asked me to draw something on their backs so when they were surfing at 5 am the next day, what I drew was still there! That was pretty cool! The other performance I’ll never forget was one I had to do for a private company, at a helipad, and I have a huge fear of heights. So the wind was blowing heavily, and I refused to budge from the centre of the pad. I still get nightmares about it sometimes.”

What’s in the future for this great performer then?

“I’m not too sure yet. Right now, I want to focus on recording. I’m very fussy about a lot of things, and a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to recording, so it’s taking forever to complete. After that, we’ll see how it goes.” 

But one thinng we’re sure of, Nicole will certainly continue to excite our senses with her great sounds.

- Nicole Duffell on Facebook
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