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CIM graduate returns to Cleveland with jazz, cabaret aspirations

Adam Spektor

Issue date: 11/20/09 Section: Focus
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Stephanie Nilles, a CIM graduate who abandoned classical music for jazz-influenced songwriting, will perform a set at the Barking Spider this Sunday evening.
Stephanie Nilles, a CIM graduate who abandoned classical music for jazz-influenced songwriting, will perform a set at the Barking Spider this Sunday evening.
[Click to enlarge]
Young singer-songwriter Stephanie Nilles isn't particularly fond of comparisons, even when names like Tom Waits and Ella Fitzgerald are tossed around.

"When people hear anything, their immediate reaction is to compare it to something they're familiar with," said Nilles, "and I'll be described as the 'female version of so-and-so,' which is unfortunate. But that's fair, I'll take whatever comparisons I can get."

Considering the direction that her music takes, combining resigned, smoky jazz with dark, Brechtian cabaret, the comparisons are not entirely unmerited. Even so, the manner in which she effortlessly fuses these two distinct moods results in a specific atmosphere, captured in her most recent album, 2009's The Off-White Album and Waltzes in the Key of Gypsy McGee.

Nilles didn't always picture herself a singer-songwriter, though. Having grown up in Chicago and taken piano lessons since the age of six, she eventually found herself studying piano performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music. While she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in piano performance, the experience left her wanting more out of life.

"I was just unhappy playing piano in this classical setting that revolved around merely recreating works from a specific community of old, dead, rich people," said Nilles, "and being in a socially and politically active place like Cleveland gave me a real need to be a part of the current world. I felt a great discomfort as a citizen."

Even as a CIM student, there were still few signs that pointed Nilles toward songwriting as a viable career option.

"I taught myself guitar at 18, just a few Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Ani Difranco songs," said Nilles. "Every now and then, a few of us would spend a weekend night in a practice room, playing songs on the piano. It was really a great release and time off from serious practicing."
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In This Issue


  • Can you name this place?
  • Class inspires students to start CSEC
  • CWRU's Eco-Party
  • Eyewitness: Editor-in-chief for a day
  • Have you heard about Grupo de Capoeira?
  • Spectrum's sixth annual Drag Ball takes place Saturday
  • The college student's guide to credit cards - Part 3
  • USG creates transparency committee to improve communication
  • USG Brief


  • Colts and Saints are NFL's teams to beat
  • Five thoughts on the '09 season
  • Football's success is built on this senior class
  • Men win Veale Classic
  • Spartan Spotlight: Erin Hollinger
  • Spartans cap perfect 10-0 regular season
  • Spartans get first-ever win against B-W
  • Women's basketball drops lidlifter

Fun Page

  • Combo Scramble Solution
  • Crossword Solution
  • Sudoku Solutions


  • Discriminating against smokers again
  • Editorial: CWRU athletics' accomplishments praiseworthy
  • It takes two to have unsafe sex
  • Nothing much humane about humanity
  • SEC referendum deserves impartial consideration
  • The gap year: volunteering
  • Where is your favorite campus spot to chill, nap or relax?


  • American Music Masters Series wraps up week with Janis Joplin tribute
  • CIM graduate returns to Cleveland with jazz, cabaret aspirations
  • Delta Gamma swims for sight
  • Green is the new black: eco-friendly fashion
  • Hitting the spot: Atlas Sound
  • Holiday season with a cranberry craze
  • Latest installment in popular Call of Duty series improves on already high quality franchise
  • Sigma Psi hosts Mr. CWRU competition to benefit local communities
  • Starving Student: simple grub
  • The Buzz

Cross Country

  • Women finish third in region, qualify for nationals


  • Bracket Breakdown
  • Football Gameday: Case vs. Trine

Sex and Dating

  • Passive pregnancy prevention plan


  • Crooks UAA's Coach of the Year
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