As a gifted singer, skilled percussionist, and passionate advocate for arts education, Valerie Day is an artist of uncommon talent and dedication. A fourth generation Oregonian, Valerie grew up in Portland in a house filled with music. Her mother was a classically trained singer who performed everything from opera to show tunes. “Music was a constant in my life,” Valerie remembers. “My brother and I used to sit under the piano while my mom rehearsed.”
She started piano lessons early, and discovered her passion for percussion at age 16. “I was hanging around the rehearsals of a Calypso band called Felicidades,” she says. “I started whacking on a drum and the conga player said ‘not like that, like this.’”
In the early 1980s, Valerie studied music at Portland State University and the Cornish Institute for Allied Arts in Seattle, then returned to Portland and became immersed in the city's thriving club scene.
In 1984, Valerie and husband, John Smith, recorded a self-produced five-song EP as the group Nu Shooz. Listener reaction to their funky dance track called “I Can't Wait,” was strong and immediate – the kind of response known in radio jargon as “instant phones.” Airplay spread and the tune made its way to Europe, where a Dutch engineer created a remix that came back to the US and caught fire in New York dance clubs. The album, Poolside, was certified gold, “I Can't Wait” reached #3 on the pop charts in the U.S., was in the top 10 in Europe and Britain, and Nu Shooz was nominated for a Grammy as Best New Artist.
In-Demand Singer and Session Player
When the musical landscape shifted and the ride ended, Valerie and her husband John bought a house in Portland, Oregon and had a son, Malcolm.
Eventually, Valerie was drawn back into music through teaching voice and lending her talents to other artists' recording sessions. “It felt good not to be married to a particular style of music anymore. I got to play the field musically.”
She became an in-demand singer and session player, and has performed or recorded with artists ranging from the Oregon Symphony Pops to pianist Michael Allen Harrison, celebrated jazz songwriter/pianist David Frishberg, African drummer Obo Addy and many others. She has appeared, as a vocalist and percussionist, on regional and national radio and television commercials for clients such as Nike, Hewlett-Packard and Fred Meyer.
In the late 90's, Valerie began performing as one of the featured singers in the Woody Hite Big Band, an award winning group whose roots in the Portland area go back to the 1930's, when the Big Band sound began to emerge. Backed by key players from the Hite band, whom she dubbed “The Knights of Swing,” and with husband John contributing arrangements, Valerie went into the recording studio and produced “Beginning to See the Light.”
In 2005, Valerie released a recording of duets with pianist Tom Grant, one of the West Coast's best-known jazz musicians. “Side By Side” is a collection of vocal/piano duets that explores a wide range, from Tin Pan Alley favorites like “Side By Side,” to modern standards such as “Up On The Roof” and “Charade.”
Currently Valerie and her husband John Smith co-lead the NU SHOOZ Orchestra—their recording “Pandora’s Box” was released in 2010. She also performs regularly with vibraphonist Mike Horsfall, bassist Dave Captein, and drummer Gary Hobbs and The Vibes Quartet - a quartet that swings, sambas, and torches well known and obscure standards that traverse the worlds of jazz, bossa nova, pop, and soul.
Outside of her work with the NU SHOOZ Orchestra and the Vibes Quartet, Valerie’s most excited about a show called "Brain Chemistry For Lovers", a multimedia project with acclaimed jazz pianist Darrell Grant and film maker Jim Blashfield that explores, through music, the firing-on-all-cylinders magic behind the neuroscience of romantic love.