Singer Nicole Zuraitis '03 has accomplished many dreams in a very short amount of time. The Manhattan-based musician has collaborated with several artists, released multiple CDs and toured nationally and internationally. However, most recently, she achieved one of the top honors that any musician can aspire. She and her husband Dan Pugach were nominated for a Grammy Award in the arrangement category for their version of Dolly Parton's classic song, "Jolene."
"It still feels a little surreal," said Nicole. "We are just happy to be nominated."
Nicole was one of the last people to find out about this achievement. On the morning of Grammy nomination announcements, she and her husband slept in. She woke up to numerous text messages. She assumed the texts were related to a holiday party that she was supposed to attend later that evening.
"I didn't answer back," she said. "Finally, a friend of mine screenshot and sent me a photo of my nomination. I'm still in shock."
"Jolene," a famous country music standard, holds a special place in Nicole's heart. Her mother is a huge fan of the song. In 2009, Nicole recorded the song with her own jazz-influenced arrangement. Husband Dan later re-orchestrated and rearranged it for a performance at Waterbury's Palace Theater as a surprise to both Nicole and her mother. The husband and wife team have been performing the song ever since. The Grammy-nominated version of the song can currently be found on the record, Plus One by the Dan Pugach Nonet. The piece is currently arranged for nine pieces including six horns.
Nicole recalls the first time she heard the song. "I was living on Martha's Vineyard after college," she said. "My friend, Mary played it for me while we were riding in the car. The lyrics really spoke to me. I listened to it over and over again. I went home to my piano and pumped out my own version of it."
Nicole always had a love for music. She came to Holy Cross because of its excellent music department under the direction of then music-directors Joseph Jacovino and Carol Gustafson. Both made a huge impact on Nicole. "I found my people with the music and theater kids," she said. "The music department was so strong and supportive. I always felt at home there. Pursuing a career in music didn't seem like such a crazy idea. It brought me joy." Nicole went on to study opera at New York University. However, her true passion was jazz.
According to her official website, Nicole "blends clever songwriting skills, an effervescent presence and dazzling vocals in a consummate package that has thrilled audiences across Manhattan and across the world."
"I'm proud of myself," said Nicole. "Making music is what I aspire to do. To survive as a musician in New York City, you need to have little steps and goals to fulfill. At first, I wanted to land some pay-to-play gigs. Then, I wanted to play weddings. I was eventually hired as a keyboard player and learned how to play on the job. Then, I wanted to do a residency at a jazz club. I headlined at the Blue Note and currently maintain residencies at the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village. From there, I wanted to tour, Then, I wanted an agent. Then, I wanted to play Birdland. Then, I wanted to play internationally. This year, I wanted a Grammy."
Nicole and Dan need your help during the Grammy voting season. If any members of the Holy Cross High School community are Recording Academy voting members, please consider listening to the recording at www.nicolezmusic.com/grammy