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Cookie Coleman

At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to become a musician?
I was in 7th grade and I asked the person in charge of the community Christmas pageant at the Town Hall if I could sing a solo. I wasn’t content to sing in the chorus. He asked me to sing something right then and there and then he had me sing a solo of O Holy Night in the pageant. I was so scared I shook halfway across the room but I was definitely bitten by the performance bug.

What was the first concert you ever attended, and what kind of impression did it leave on you?
My first concert was to see the Beatles at Chicago’s Amphitheater. The excitement and energy (for a 13 year old girl) was almost unbearable. Dusty Springfield opened for them and I wanted to be her.

My first jazz concert was Peggy Lee at the Empire Room in the Palmer House in Chicago. That was a big deal! Big piano, white fur, white hair an orchestra complete with a tympany. She was very cool. I remember being a little disappointed in how she handled the audience and vowed to have a good rapport with my audience should I ever have one.

Do you remember your first gig as a Pro?
When I was 20 I was hired to sing with the house band at the Circle in East Dubuque, Illinois. This is a river town and George Gobel got his start there. I worked six nights a week with a quintet (organ, bass, drums, Hawaiian guitar and saxophone. I worked from 7:00pm to 1:00am for $65/week. This is where I began learning a lot of repertoire. There was a big dance floor and a pretty regular crowd.

One of the most important aspects of being a Jazz musician is what they can learn that will help them out musically. What did you learn from your various gigs outside North America?
I haven’t performed that much outside of North America, however, I did perform in Tokyo this January. I was asked to perform with Chevre Relax, a Japanese band performing Cuban Salsa music. They didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Japanese but we were able to communicate by naming standards that we both recognized. I sang popular standards such as Autumn Leaves and Girl from Ipanema. They were excellent musicians and so we were able to communicate through the language of music. The audience was very enthusiastic.

Do you remember any key events during your childhood that left a profound impression on you from a musical standpoint?
I moved a lot as a child and was never able to maintain any kind of musical education. I was raised as a Catholic and went to schools that did not offer much or anything in the way of the arts and culture. I think the need and desire to sing mostly came from within and gave me an opportunity to express feelings that I wasn’t able to otherwise express.

While listening to your recordings, my first impression is that you are having fun and this seems to infiltrate the session like osmosis resulting in a satisfying listen?
I love singing and performing. I like to talk to the audience, make them comfortable and make them a part of the experience. I also like to work with talented musicians and creating something right on the spot. If you are supported by good musicians and change something or an idea comes to you on the spot it is really fun to have it resolve successfully.

Do you have any vocal coaches who assist you with your singing, practicing etc....
I have gone to vocal coaches in the past to learn something new or to work out a new idea. I still have things I would like to learn to do and, in fact, am planning on going to LA for a jazz vocal workshop in the next month. I find listening to other singers, well-known or local helps me think about what I want to do and I can learn from them.

Any musicians you would love to play with but have not had an opportunity to?
Last year I was performing at the Dakota in St. Paul and Wynton Marsalis came in with his band. They watched a set and then joined us at the end of the set. That was very exciting. There are many musicians I would like to work with as I find each instrumentalist brings a different idea to what I am doing which inspires me to go to new places.

What inspires you when you are composing a piece as well as performing?
I don’t really consider myself a composer. I have written a few songs over the years which are based on personal experience and emotions. In performance I am inspired by the words, the music and the audience. I love the energy I get from a live audience.

The 1940's was a great period for Jazz. So many players and ideas being discussed on the bandstand. A transitional period for sure. Do you ever think of what it would be like to go back in time and sit in with some of the key musicians of the day?
Yes, I would want to work with the Count Basie Orchestra, Louis Armstrong.

Was your voice your first instrument of choice growing up?
Yes. Playing an instrument and lessons wasn’t offered in my school and paying for lessons wasn’t an option. In 7th grade I was asked by the music director of the local public school to stop by for some lessons and he just gave me some pointers. He had me learn a few art songs and taught me a more classical approach.

Who are your main influences in regards to singing and composing?
I learned most of my early repertoire through movies and records my grandparents had, Anita O’Day, Roberta Sherwood, Julie Christy, Julie London, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson, Shirley Bassey.

What is one of your favorite song from your album One Night In Paradise?
One of my favorite songs on this CD is My Foolish Heart.

Why do you like this arrangement?
This may be a strange choice for this album which is rich with string arrangements and many talented musicians but I like listening to this song because of Adi Yeshaya’s sensitive comping behind my singing. The first time we worked together I was inspired to ask him to arrange the music and direct my first CD. Now we have completed three! His accompaniment is like breathing.

I'd like you to talk about a beautiful song from your Live CD. It's called "You Are There". What is this song about?
This song could be about a lost love but for me it was something different. I began working on this CD in August and in November I lost my father. I recorded the CD in early December and over Christmas, my father-in-law who was very special to me died very unexpectedly. I sang this song at his funeral. I love it because it speaks to how we don’t really lose people in death but rearrange where they are in our life.

What music did you listen to growing up?
Judy Garland, Tonight Show Orchestra, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee.

Do you look for situations that may be musically challenging to you?
Many times I go to a gig and meet some of the musicians on the bandstand. This is always challenging. I am going to a jazz workshop in California in a few weeks to listen to other singers and work on improvisation techniques. I add new material frequently so that neither I nor my audience gets tired.

If you had to form a dream band [consisting of musicians past and present], who would it consist of?
Marian McPartland, piano; Toots Thielman, harmonica; John Pizzarelli, guitar; Kenny Horner’s drummer and bassist don’t know their names and Louis Armostrong!

If you were stranded on a desert island, what ten recordings would you bring along?
Duke Ellington Most Requested Songs
Nancy Wilson But Beautiful
Carmen McRae Alive!
Frank Sinatra Live At The Sands
Jimmy Scott Lost and Found
Toots Thielman (French CD, can’t remember the name)
Stan Getz
Chet Baker Let’s Get Lost
Louis Armstrong & His Jazz Allstars
Bill Evans Waltz for Debby
Chevre Relax Japanese Cuban Salsa

With the emergence of the internet, how has this new paradigm affected your relation with your fans?
CD Baby is a great way to sell CD’s. If I am appearing somewhere and I send out an email notice via email. If I appear on radio or tv I receive emails from fans and they can just go to the web and purchase them.

How do you manage to juggle your music life and your work life?
Sometimes it’s hard but my adrenaline kicks in when I’m performing and it feeds my soul. It’s the day after that I pay.

What plans do you have for the future in terms of recordings and various projects?
My next CD will be piano and vocal later this year. I have a band that plays for events and I am updating that. I just finished a show at Orchestra Hall and will perform there this summer during their Day Of Music.

How long does it take to record your music? More specifically are you the type of person that spends hours on end recording or do you go into the studio and record quickly?
Generally, yes but it varies. Cookie Coleman Live was recorded in two nights. I Thought About You took a week of recording. However, One Night In Paradise took about two months as I was sick with laryngitis during the sessions and had to keep coming back.

Do you usually record live in the studio?
Yes

Do you practice a lot?
Yes, but not daily. If I’m working on a project or learning new material I work it until I am comfortable with it.

What music are you listening to these days?
My cousin’s daughter has a folk CD and they tour colleges in the US. I really like her voice and how she sings. I have also been listening to Dusty Springfield, Ella Fitzgerald and Chevre Relax.

Here are some names that I would like you to reply to with the first thing that comes to your mind.

Rosemary Clooney
Love her easy style and she sang great tunes!

Diana Krall
I like her Nat Cole Tribute and early recordings. I saw her at the Dakota early on, before she was selling out concert halls. I wish she wasn’t so over-played.

Count Basie
Great rhythm section, love Benny Green. He played more emotion in one note than it would take others a whole song to relate.

Frank Sinatra
Great song stylist

Charlie Parker
Unbelievable talent, tragic figure

Sarah Vaughan
Deep, strong

Duke Ellington
Wonderful songwriter, great bandleader, timeless music

Norah Jones
I like her, I think her music is natural

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Cookie Coleman
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