By Deardra Shuler
It was all about love when Carla Cook stood on the stage of the Tribeca Performing Arts Center putting her own unique spin on songs like "Sea Lion Woman" and Aretha Franklin’s "How I Got Over." Her repertoire that evening had a nice blend of jazz, scat, R&B, gospel, calypso and blues. Cook belted out each musical genre with consummate precision and incredible mastery.
There is no doubt that Ms. Cook is an artist of tremendous depth and eclectic musical vision. The Detroit native calls herself a jazz singer and songwriter but she can take any song and put a jazz flavor and tempo to it -- songs that otherwise, would not have been, considered jazz orientated music. She is a versatile artist whose songbook is ripe with elements of R&B, European classical, Blues, Gospel and Motown.
"I am into a lot of different kinds of music, but jazz is what speaks to me. Early on, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald and Eddie Jefferson spoke loudest. So did Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery who were the musicians and singers that had a big influence on me. Although, I didn’t come from a family of professional singers, they were all able to sing. I got my love for jazz from my oldest brother. My brother used to buy a lot of jazz records, and because I was 8 years younger than him and not in control of the radio, I got indoctrinated into jazz. I started singing with the church choir at 5 years old. I grew up in the Black Methodist Church so I was church influenced. I sang a lot of anthems and spirituals at my church so didn’t’ come up singing the Aretha type of gospel there." explained Carla.
A Northwestern University graduate, Carla earned a degree in Speech Communication. She also studied piano and string bass privately. She trained for voice at the Detroit Community School and later played in an orchestra. Carla knows how to interpret songs from the rock, R&B, pop and classic worlds. Songs such as Simon & Garfunkel’s "Scarborough Fair," or Marvin Gaye’s "Inner City Blues," Bobbie Gentry’s "Ode to Billie Joe and Neil Young’s "Heart of Gold," take on a vibrant color under Carla’s vocal interpretation. "I think my ear appreciates a lot of different sounds and colors and I never had a reason to make a real distinction growing up other than what I like. I was a big Rolling Stones fan and a Temptations fan and yes, I listened to James Cleveland, too. I think it’s important for young kids to get exposed to music very early because when you are young, you are not influenced by peer pressure. Young kids are not necessarily interested in what is hip and what everyone is doing. They simply like what they like because it appeals to their ear. I would like to think that is what happened to me. I just liked what I liked. I like to think I put my own signature on my music. I like to think of my sound sometimes as raw and as a reflection of all those people that I can be. I like to think of myself as somebody vulnerable, somebody humorous, sometimes crass, soft and sensitive. I like to think my sound is a bit of all of that," claims Clara. "I learned European classical music because it’s important to learn technique. I say European classical music because I personally believe that jazz is American classical music, so I like to make that distinction. I teach voice and when I do teach it, I use the techniques I learned from European classical music. I question whether I can teach anyone to sing jazz. That remains a question for me and I leave it up to the Berklee College of Music to argue that point. Half of my repertoire is Tin Pan Alley or Broadway songs. I just apply a jazz sensibility or give it a jazz approach. However, I do believe if an artist studies the European classical techniques, it helps them use their vocal instrument better."
Cook signed with MaxJazz, a small independent jazz label. In 1999, she put out her debut CD "It’s All About Love." She received a Grammy nomination in the Best Jazz Vocal Performance category. She also received the AFIM Indie Award for Best Jazz Vocal in 2000. "About 6 months after my CD "It’s All About Love" came out, I was nominated. Some people say it’s just great to be nominated. In my case, it was a total shock. A complete pleasant surprise," remarked Carla. The enchanting singer’s second CD "Dem Bones," came out in 2000. It is her tribute to her love affair with the sound of the trombone section. She recorded "Simply Natural" in 2002. "I have some Brazilian on that and some lesser known Ellington on that one as well," explained Carla. "In fact, I have a bit of Ellington on all my CDs. I have managed to put two originals written by me on each of my recordings. However, I do believe I am a stronger singer at this point than a songwriter. Fortunately, most of my material has gotten good response. The song "A Lover’s Lullaby" comes to mind and the song "Can This Be Love"" is another song I wrote that was received well."
Cook was a Social Studies teacher at a Junior High School in Brooklyn up until 1993. "In 1994, I went to Europe and taught in two music schools for 7 months and when I return to the United States, I subbed for a few months but since 1995, I have been able to earn a living by my music alone. I have appeared at Sweet Rhythm, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, the Iridium, The Blue Note and every club that would have me in both Manhattan and Brooklyn," giggled the talented artiste.
Single, Carla loves to read and cook. "Show business takes up so much time that is can be difficult to meet someone for a relationship. I mean you can meet people but unless they are in the business, they may have a difficult time understanding the show biz lifestyle. For example, some men who work in corporate America, may not feel like what I do is work. They do not understand all the administrative stuff that goes into music and do not understand that singing is only a tenth of what goes into the process of performing music. I will be in Central Asia on tour shortly but I know that I need to tour more. I am sure my creditors think I need to be out on the road more, too" chuckled Carla.
A woman of many different appetites, Carla spoke of her philosophy in life. "I believe one should work hard, laugh loudly, eat really well and love wastefully," claims the jazz vocalist.
Interested parties can check out Ms. Cooks website at www.CarlaCook.com
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