Two months ago, Santa Cruz jazz songstress Nicole Wilson was performing in front of Costa Rican president and Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Oscar Arias. “He was definitely the most prestigious audience member I’ve ever sung for,” the 31-year-old says, letting out a laugh at the randomness of the momentous experience. Frequenting the country each year and having forged a strong connection with Costa Rica’s vibrant jazz community, Wilson was asked to join the premier Tico Jazz Band as a guest for a special event. The performance posed her breathy pipes against the big band’s robust sound—but with a full horn section and drums commandeering a loud, blaring set-up, it had her belting out as hard as she could to try and compete with the instrumental onslaught. “I’m used to singing with a small combo with guitar, so I had to almost shout into the mic,” she remembers. On Thursday, Feb. 25, Wilson’s classically trained vocals are being showcased the way she prefers—with 3-year-old jazz trio Hold Tight. An intimate show at Kuumbwa Jazz, with special guests Barbara Lopez on piano and Michael Medwid on drums adding buoyant energy to the set, Hold Tight will procure your usual jazz standards amidst original songs and some numbers that don’t often find their way into a jazz setting; a lounge version of “Tainted Love,” Bonnie Raitt’s bluesy “Angel from Montgomery,” and Jonathan Coulton’s ’30s style rag tune, “Tom Cruise Crazy.” “For me it’s about the music and the emotional message behind the music, whatever genre that falls in,” Wilson explains. With guitarist Brian Fitzgerald helming technical arrangements (“He’s our theory guru”) and bassist Patrick North providing a go-with-the-flow pulsating backbone (“He’s Mister Mellow”), Hold Tight manages to seduce with a sultry jazz appeal while leaving the door open for pop aficionados. And then there’s that Latin influence. Wilson reveals, “We’ll also perform the bossa nova ‘Corcovado’ and ‘Sway,’ a Latin tune I did with the Tico Jazz Band.” Noting the distinctly milder arrangements this time around with Hold Tight, she adds, “But this time it’ll be a little different.” | Linda Koffman
INFO: 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25. Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. $12/adv, $15/door. 427-2227.