New York Voices was born in the mid-1980s at upstate New York’s Ithaca College. Peter Eldridge, an aspiring jazz pianist who came late to singing; Kim Nazarian, who dreamed of a life on Broadway; and Darmon Meader, a saxophonist and self-described “choral geek,” came together in the school’s vocal jazz ensemble. Director Dave Reilly included all three of them, as well as Caprice Fox, in an ensemble he’d been invited to bring on a tour of European jazz festivals. “It seemed to go over so well that Darmon and I decided to keep it going, try to make something happen professionally,” Eldridge recalls. “Kim and Caprice were part of that original band, and we slowly but surely made the transition to New York City in 1988.” There they met Sara Krieger, who became the fifth member of the band Reilly had named “New York Voices.”

One of their debut performance’s as a quintet was at Preacher’s, a club in Greenwich Village, which launched the beginning of a sizable following and noise enough to start attracting the interest of record labels. They signed with GRP in 1989 and quickly made their first recording, New York Voicesa mix of acoustic and electric, traditional and crossover jazz. They then hit the road, touring America in a motor home and making their first international excursions as they worked to build a worldwide audience.

Krieger left the band after their second album (1991’s Hearts of fire), which began a long, arduous search for a new fifth voice. While that process was underway, Eldridge had what was intended as a one-off songwriting session with Lauren Kinhan; impressed with her soprano vocal, he suggested she audition. “We’d heard maybe 70 auditions and hadn’t found the right fit,” says Eldridge. “Lauren came in and sang ‘God Bless the Child’ for us, and I remember looking at Darmon and going, ‘Oh. Okay.’”

After two more years as a quintet, Fox moved on to other things in 1994. The band had hoped that featuring five voices would stave off comparisons to vocal-jazz powerhouse The Manhattan Transfer (it didn’t), but their increasing self-confidence—and their difficulty in finding Kinhan—led them to decide to continue on as a foursome. They declared their new identity with 1997’s New York Voices Sing the Songs of Paul Simon.

With the dawn of the 21st century, NYV increased its currency in the jazz world via collaborations with institutions such as the Count Basie Orchestra, Paquito d’Rivera, and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band. They also launched a jazz education initiative, inaugurating its Vocal Jazz Camp for aspiring jazz singers in 2008. (A European version of the Camp began in 2016). Each of its members has also established a career as an educator: Eldridge is a voice professor at Berklee College of Music; Nazarian is vocal jazz instructor at Ithaca College and artist-in-residence at both Bowling Green State University and Tri-C Community College in Cleveland; Kinhan is an adjunct faculty member at New York University; and Meader is an artist in residence at Indiana University.