Nalley was raised by a musical family and studied classical voice during her childhood in New Haven, Connecticut. It wasn’t until Nalley moved to San Francisco that she discovered her passion for jazz. During her early years in the city, Nalley sang regularly at the Alta Plaza Club, where she was eventually discovered by Michael Tilson Thomas, music director of the San Francisco Symphony. Impressed by Nalley’s unamplified yet robust vocal performance, Tilson Thomas later invited her to sing a program of George Gershwin’s music with the Symphony.
Since that time, Nalley has performed globally at jazz festivals in Monterey, Umbria, and New York City. Her performances often pay tribute to her heroes, such as her Ladies Sing the Blues concert, an homage to Billie Holiday which the Mercury News named Best Concert of 2004. Nalley’s 2020 album Blues People explores the history of African-American music, opening with a growling voice-and-piano rendition of “Summertime.” Throughout the album, she demonstrates the depth of her craft and a consummate knowledge of its context.
Nalley has performed and recorded with numerous jazz legends past and present, including Rhoda Scott, David “Fathead” Newman, George Coleman, Harold Mabern, James Carter, Roy Hargrove, Hand Crawford, Jimmy McGriff, Billy Higgins, John Handy, Teri Lynn Carrington, The San Francisco Symphony, and the Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra, among many others.
In addition to her extensive performance credits, Nalley is also a jazz historian and scholar. Her 2021 dissertation at UC Berkeley is entitled GI Jazz: African Americans As Artists and Occupiers in Post-WW-II Germany.
She recently released I Want a Little Boy, which features her band collaborating with tenor saxophonist Houston Person.