Adrienne Nims: A Musical Chameleon
Written by John Philip Wyllie

At an early age Adrienne Nims began absorbing and imbedding the sounds she heard around her like a giant sponge. Her gift for music was recognized, cultivated, and expanded upon from the first piano lesson she received while still in kindergarten through her mastery of the 30-odd woodwind instruments that capture most of her attention today. Born in Colorado, but raised in the Northeast, Sims experienced and performed a wide variety of music as a developing musician, taking a little bit from each musical foray and adding it to her ever-expanding bag of tricks.

"I dove into the world of jazz and was playing in big bands in Massachusetts by the time I was in the eighth grade. Some of these were local groups with elderly guys that were in their '60s and '70s. I was the only youngster in these groups. It was a really exciting way to experience jazz. That is where I learned to improvise."

Nims learned even more during her stint with the New England Conservatory Ensemble.

"They had composers and conductors from the Middle East, Africa, and all over the world, so at a very young age I got to play a lot of very exciting music. That's where my interest and exploration of world music took off. From there, I began collecting many unique instruments from all over the world."

She made her way to the West Coast in 1995 and toured for a time with the Larry Mitchell Band, playing saxophones and flutes. She currently performs as a solo artist, with her dynamic contemporary jazz ensemble Spirit Wind and with the Celtic/jazz group Raggle Taggle. She can be heard in one form or another all over San Diego County and beyond. In fact, if you have visited the zoo or your local library in the last few years, you may have already heard her. She has been performing there regularly for years.

My first introduction to this incredibly versatile and talented artist occurred in April while she was sharing the stage with percussionist Warren Bryant and pianist Jim Lair. They, along with guitarist Jimmy Patton (who was absent on this day), are known collectively as Spirit Wind. It was a Sunday afternoon concert at the Point Loma Public Library and for the small crowd that was wise enough to take advantage of what was a delightful, free afternoon concert, it was a very memorable experience. Playing a combination of originals and covers the individual members of Spirit Wind combined their talents to lift my sprits and set my toes to tapping.

Knowing very little about Nims beforehand, I was initially surprised by the large number of saxophones and flutes that she had resting on the music stands before her. There must have been at least a dozen. I became impressed when she went down the line and played each one as if it were her primary instrument. She bobbed and weaved while filling the air with her sweet sounds as Bryant pounded out the rhythms on his conga drums and Lair tickled the ivories and traded licks with Nims. Drawing from a wide range of material, the trio imprinted their own unique sound on pieces as different as Beethoven's "Für Elise" and Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin'."

From a versatility standpoint, what multi-instrument virtuoso Dennis Caplinger is to bluegrass, Nims is to jazz.

When connected last month in a phone interview, she said, "When somebody attends one of my jazz performances they may think that it is the only thing that I do, but it's not. I give classical concerts and world music concerts as well. Jazz is a high priority for me, so that is why there is a lot of focus there, but I am classically trained and I play quite a few classical venues. In fact, I have one coming up on August 8 at Greene Music on Miramar Road. I don't really have a strong sense of boundaries. I am an all-around musician. I've been playing classical music my whole life and I have been playing jazz for most of it too. I have always wanted to explore it all. I started out on piano and learned to read music at a very early age."

With the fundamentals she learned on the piano Nims set out to become a one-woman orchestra or, at the very least, her own woodwind section. She has actually gone beyond that. She spices up the mix with a number of rarely heard exotic flutes from faraway places like Africa, Asia, and South America, playing them all with passion and skill.

That skill is especially demonstrated with her "Flutation" Concerts.

"I bring my collection of 16 or more flutes from all over the world, present them, and play compositions that I have done. It's a really different thing from the jazz or the classical music shows, but I integrate aspects of jazz and classical into them. A lot of times people find flutes they have never seen exciting."

Concerts involving Nims can be as different from each other as they would be from one artist to the next.

"When people come to see me in a performance they know they are coming to see and experience a passionate multi-instrumentalist who plays with all of her being," Nims said.

That can be as a soloist or as part of a jazz, classical, or world music ensemble. With Spirit Wind, they can expect an interesting and exciting repertoire ranging from elegant melodies to intense, edgy jazz with intricate and surprising arrangements featuring sax, flutes, keyboards, guitar, percussion, and occasional vocals.

Nims has been thrilled to open for such artists as Al DiMeola, Fourplay, and Spyro Gyra, all of whom influenced her; she was honored to be asked by Tony Gwynn to play at his Hall of Fame Induction Gala. While Nims can do it all, she also loves to collaborate. The regular collaboration she does with her Spirit Wind bandmates is something she treasures.

"This is where my passion lives! Music is a universal language and it is very important for me to share music that will have a positive influence on people. I attempt to offer a musical banquet for body and soul. Although I am equally at home playing other music genres such as classical and world music, I currently place my greatest focus and emphasis on performing and recording as a jazz artist with Spirit Wind. It's inspiring and rewarding to play the music I love with these great people who are also great musicians."

Just as most mothers would be hard pressed to name their favorite child, Nims does not play favorites with her ever-expanding family of instruments.

"I would hate for anybody to make me choose. The reason I play them all is because I love all the instruments that I play. I don't want to choose. [On any given day] when you see a performance, it is pretty obvious as to which ones I am gravitating toward."

The important thing for local music lovers is that Nims continues to play. We will leave the instrument up to her. 

In addition to the aforementioned Green Music concert on August 8, Nims will appear August 1 at the Vista Library and in an ongoing series with the Del Mar Foundation's First Thursday Program. For more detailed information visit