BY ERIC SCHELKOPF
At the age of 16, Chicago singer-songwriter Nina Ferraro already has a music resume that many seasoned musicians would love to have.
Her first original single, "Let It Go," features drummer Kenny Aronoff, who has played with the likes of John Fogerty and Eric Clapton, and was co-produced by Tommy Byrnes, Billy Joel's longtime music director.
In addition, her five-song EP "The Promise," was produced by Will Golden and Al Sgro, known for their work with Eric Hutchinson, Meiko, Michelle Branch and others.
The multi-talented Ferraro www.ninaferraro.com, who plays several instruments, including the piano, guitar, and ukulele, will perform from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday, June 28, on the Illinois Lottery Taste Stage at the Taste of Chicago in Grant Park.
Admission is free. A full schedule can be found at www.explorechicago.org.
I had the chance to talk to Ferraro about her upcoming show and how she got her musical start.
Q - Is this the first time you've played at Taste?
No, last year I played there, as well as a couple of years ago. It's a great festival, and it's just a great place to go hear music as well. You get food and you get music. It's a great combination for me.
Q - I see that you have already worked with some heavy hitters. How did you get connected to these people?
Basically, I sent my music around and I was really looking for the right people to work with. I really wanted people who understood where I was trying to go with the recording process.
One thing led to another, and I ended up working with them. It was a great experience, and turned out really well, I think.
Q - And I suppose those experiences are part of the learning process as well. What did you learn meeting with those people? Did they give you a lot of good ideas?
It was definitely a learning experience. The people that I worked with, they've been doing it so long, and they've seen all kinds of different things.
They get it because they're around it all the time. I definitely learned a lot about the way things go. I write the music and play it, but everything else that surrounds it I'm kind of disconnected from.
I learned so much that I probably wouldn't have learned otherwise. It was a lot of fun.
Q - As far as what you wanted to do with the EP, did you have any specific goals?
It wasn't like I just gave them the songs and said, 'There you are. You can mess with them however you want.' That was definitely not how it went.
Q - So they didn't take over the process.
Q - "The Promise" seems to be a pretty eclectic mix of songs. Did you want the EP to show off your different sides?
Yeah. Basically, I had a lot of stuff to sort through to decide what should be on the EP.
Obviously, when I play live, like when I'm playing at Taste of Chicago, I'm playing a lot of songs that aren't on the EP, but I'm also playing the EP songs.
It's so hard to edit through your own songs and kind of figure out which ones should be out there at the moment, and which ones to keep for live shows. I definitely had a little bit of help from the producers to decide what should go on the EP.
All five tracks were written at very different times in my life. They're very different. You're absolutely right.
Q - I understand that initially you weren't thinking about becoming a musician, but then as time went on, it was really something that you were committed to do.
That's right. I started playing piano when I was 4 years old, just because my brother played piano, and I just wanted to be like my brother.
I begged to start piano lessons, and I took piano for five years. I liked piano, but I was just like any other kid. I didn't like to practice.
I started playing guitar, and it was a completely different experience for me. It was awesome. I really loved it.
And that was around the time when I started singing as I played guitar. I would come up with little 30 second songs and different things like that.
As time went on, I just kept playing music and I kept doing it more often. I started playing at local coffeehouses, and it went from there.
Q - You learned how to play guitar at Old Town School of Folk Music. Was that a good place to learn to play guitar?
Yeah, absolutely. At Old Town, there were a lot of different people who were all really passionate about the same thing, which is music, primarily folk music.
There are great teachers at Old Town. It's like a community, and it was a great place to learn.
Q - When you were 11, you performed KT Tunstall's "Other Side Of the World" at your school talent show and received a standing ovation. Did you expect that?
You know, I didn't. I was so nervous.
But it felt really good. It was like, 'Wow, I actually enjoyed that.' I think that was probably the turning point when I decided I wanted more of that.
At that point, I went to different coffee shops, and said, 'I want to play here.'
Q - Things seem to be moving pretty fast for you. Is it overwhelming or are you just taking it in stride?
It's not overwhelming I think because I have kind of taken all the control. It was never something that my parents wanted and I never wanted to prove anything to anyone.
I think that because I have all that control and it has been my own doing, that kind of takes away anything that would be overwhelming.
There's nobody pushing me to do anything. There's no stage parents or crazy manager that wants me to do 10 concerts a week, or something like that. It's all basically my doing. It's just really fun. I'm having a really good time.
Q - How have your fellow classmates reacted to what you are doing?
My friends are really supportive. They come to my shows and they like my music and think it's fun. I don't really know what anyone else thinks about it.
Q - So are you trying to play a lot of shows this summer before you have to go back to school?
Probably. I think the Taste show will be pretty awesome, to see everybody out there. That's always a really, really fun one to play.
Q - Are there venues in the area where you like to play?
You know, I just played at the Beat Kitchen. It was amazing, and it was a really good show. I'm definitely going to play there again.
I've also played at the Abbey Pub. That show was also really fun, and also at Uncommon Ground. Those three venues I definitely frequent.
Maybe somebody I will perform at Subterranean, which is a great venue too.
Q - What are your short-term and long-term goals?
I like what I'm doing right now. It's been really fun. I definitely want to keep going on this route.
Hopefully, I can go on tour sometime in the future, and play even bigger gigs. I also am going out to L.A. sometime soon to record a full-length album.
Q - What should people expect from the full-length album?
It might be more in the alternative route. Everything I write is a little bit different from the last thing that I wrote.
People should expect lots of fun surprises.
Q - Do you plan to go to college?
Yeah, definitely. I think it's possible to go to college and get an education, and simultaneously tour and do everything you want with music.
I've seen it done before, and seen it done successfully.