Carla Cook (Pizza Express, March 2, 2022) – London Jazz News

Carla Cook, Detroit-born singer made a rare visit to London. She will be at Pizza Express Dean Street on March 2 with the trio Matyas Gayer (piano), Mark Hodgson (bass) and Stephen Keogh (drums).

Carla Cook. Photo © Antonio Porcar Cano

Nominated for a Grammy for her debut album, Carla Cook’s extraordinary career has encompassed performances with the Count Basie Orchestra and Lionel Hampton’s Big Band. (full bio link below).

She originated the lead vocal role in Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The Cotton Club Parade. She recently joined the faculty of the Juilliard School.

John Murph of the Washington Post wrote:“She has a sass that drives her impeccable diction and a tremendous soul that allows her to boast with gutbucket finesse, but it’s all underpinned by a sparkling optimism and innocence.”

We reproduce here an interview with her from 2019. The interviewer was singer Nel Begley:

Carla Cook. Photo © Antonio Porcar Cano

London Jazz News: When did you start singing? Are there other musicians in your family circle?

Carla Cook: I started singing in my church choir at St. John’s Methodist Christian Episcopal Church when I was five years old. There it was a mix of hymns, hymns, spirituals and the occasional Carole King tune. Several of my siblings have sung in church choirs, but there are no other musicians in my family.

LJN: Detroit has produced so many great jazz musicians and so much great music. Are there certain musicians in particular who have inspired you?

CC : Well, there was an extremely vibrant music scene in Detroit while I was growing up. Trumpeter Marcus Belgrave was a local favorite among several others. However, my main source of jazz education as a kid was a great radio station WJZZ – I listened to that at first because my older brother was a fan. I became an early fan of the station because it bought a lot of recordings from Miles, Nancy Wilson, Jazz Crusaders and Wes Montgomery and wanted to hear those artists on the radio. It opened my eyes and ears to so many other artists that it didn’t take long to get totally hooked!

LJN: Being from Detroit, you must have been surrounded and influenced by Soul and Motown music. Who are the people you have listened to and who have had an influence on you?

CC : wow. I like this question because I truly believe all music that I loved as a child influenced me as a jazz artist. If I can be so bold to speak for all Detroiters, (Ha) all music that came out of Hitsville (Motown) was influential. Also, bands like Parliament/Funkadelic were the soundtrack to my high school days. I have to thank the Detroit Community Music School where I also studied European classical voice. My formative years were full of good music of many genres and it never occurred to me to stray from it, even though jazz is what I love the most and that’s where I screw.

I listened to Sarah, Miles, Eddie Jefferson, Ella, Betty, Wes a lot. I think the first singer I started listening to was Nancy Wilson. A ton of his recordings were in my house because of my brother.

LJN: Were there any musicians who supported, helped and mentored you?

CC : I left Detroit and moved to Boston for North Eastern University at 18, so I had only done a few gigs in Detroit before I left. When I was in high school, there were several kids like me who had plans for a career in jazz and we would get together and jam and turn on new music quite often. We were basically a stand-alone support system. Our parents paid for private lessons and we were already enrolled at the prestigious Cass Tech High in Detroit – so we really thought we would become jazz artists one day.

LJN: Among jazz singers, did you have any particular favorites, and if so, what caught your attention?

CC : This is a difficult question. I had favorites in different phases. I went through a Betty phase, an Eddie phase, etc. I figured if I had to identify a few that have remained my favorites.
1. Sarah Vaughan for the warmth, range, beauty and courage in her use of her instrument.
2. Ella – I still remember being amazed by the idea of ​​improv. Me: “You mean it’s different every time?
3. Eddie Jefferson for his way of scattering! He made it all sound that way Amusing!
4. Betty Carter, because she was such an innovative voice and made her mark in vocal jazz history.

Thinking about it, all these singers could blow their brains out and that had a huge influence on me.

LJN: You write songs and arrange your own material. Do you think it’s important for a singer to be able to do all of that in addition to singing.

CC : Absoutely. From a practical point of view, it’s nice to have some songwriting royalties, but more importantly: fresh ideas! Even if your “strong point” is performing songs, you should be able to articulate musical ideas to add to the pantheon. If you’re alive, you have something to say. We may not write like Ellington, but some listeners want and even need to hear you express how they feel.

LJN: You are going to Barcelona and you will be featured in the Global Music Foundation GMF Barcelona ’19 week of workshops and concerts next August. How did it happen?

CC : That’s exciting. I was invited to attend by my dear friend and drummer Stephen Keogh with an international group of musicians. It’s always something groovy when jazz musicians from different parts of the world come together – professionals, students. It seems to me that the healing properties of jazz have never been more needed. Personally, I can’t wait to get together with cats and catwomen to share stories, workshops, jams and break bread!

LJN: What three tips/advice would you give to young aspiring musicians?

CC : I would say learn history of this music. It’s good to love and be influenced by more contemporary artists, but this music has roots. Like a tree that you would like to see continue to grow healthy and strong, its roots must be nurtured or you will soon be left with an empty, dead trunk! If you want add something to jazz conversation, you can’t start in the middle – you have to know the whole story. So train like your life depends on it! In short, learn red and blue before trying to go purple.

Second, I would say keep in mind that this is still a business. That project you put your heart into might be your “baby,” but if you want to make a living doing this, remember that your “baby” is still a product.

Third, it’s supposed to be fun! If you don’t love making music with all your heart, find something else to do because life is short.

Carla Cook. Photo © Antonio Porcar Cano

LJN: Are you writing anything now? What projects do you have for the future?

CC : I’m working very slowly on a project that I hope will honor my former hometown radio station, WJZZ. That’s all I’ll say about it because it takes a long time to put things together. In the meantime, I’m doing what I always do – touring, teaching and any number of exciting new projects that come my way. Sometimes it’s scary, but it’s also how I measure my personal growth – taking risks.

LJN: Do you have something to say to Londoners before your appointments at Pizza Express?

CC : I can’t wait to go back to Pizza Express. I remember it so well because the audience was warm and receptive! I hope to see faces old and new so we can swing in good vibes to ward off all the bad things going on on both sides of the pond!

LINKS: Pizza Express reservations for March 2

Biography of Carla Cook

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