Alexis Cole - Jazz Vocalist
(October, 2009) - New York City-based jazz vocalist, musician, arranger, composer, and educator, Alexis Cole received a Montreux Jazz Voice Competition award in 2007. Following the momentum of three critically acclaimed albums, Cole's newest recording, The Greatest Gift, was released October 13, 2009. The Christmas album is a collection of old and newer favorites that blend elements of jazz and world influences.
Alexis Cole provides smooth and commanding vocals to this inspired release, and offers a nice mix of soft jazz styles that intertwine music and vocals with a sense of peace and well-being. Consider, if you will, that such a good feeling could easily transfer directly onto the listener.
- Mark D McKinley [Mark's Online Music Source]
mogswebsite.com: Let's begin with an overview of the Montreux Jazz Voice Competition.
Alexis Cole: I started attending the Montreux Jazz Festival two years before the inaugural year of the competition. I was going with some musician friends from North Carolina and busking. We were able to get into some of the shows, and set up daily to play on the boardwalk. The main comment from passers by was that we put the 'Jazz' in the Montreux Jazz Festival. Once the competition started it was perfect because I was able to access all the concerts for free, and still stayed and busked with my friends. I was in the competition two times. It was so great to get to meet and share the experience with other vocalists from around the world. It also gave me the opportunity to be featured at the IAJE conference, which I had already been attending for many years.
mogswebsite.com: Share your thoughts having served on the faculty of Berklee College of Music.
Alexis Cole: I finished my master's degree in December, and in January shipped off to Quito to work at their Berklee College of Music at the Universidad de San Francisco. I was signed up as a guest professor for one semester. Teaching there was awesome for me. I loved teaching improv and watching my students really 'get' the jazz vocabulary, which for them as latino students was maybe not the most natural of feels. Additionally, teaching was really incredible for my voice. Warming up with each of my students, and really taking the time to figure out 'what makes it jazzy?' really informed my performing at the time.
mogswebsite.com: You've an impressive resume-- time spent in Mumbai studying Indian vocal techniques... performances in Tokyo... how have these experiences enriched your life and your music?
Alexis Cole: I'm a jazz gypsy. I think it's good for every artist to see the world and understand what's going on in other cultures and places. I feel that it's made me a more well rounded and experienced artist and person. I also think all that traveling has helped me to be able to handle life's many difficult and funny situations with a more even head. I rarely feel overwhelmed. Jazz is by nature a fusion, so by traveling and incorporating foreign influences, one can be true to the genre. Plus, traveling, learning languages, and eating weird stuff is just fun (and funny!).
mogswebsite.com: Certainly expanding your horizons on many levels. You have said, "Singing is when I feel closest to God." ... here's an opportunity to elaborate on that comment.
Alexis Cole: I feel I was made to sing. Therefore when I sing, I feel I'm living out my calling. I don't think it's a coincidence that many spiritual people have been musicians and singers as well. Making music is great, but illuminating the Divine through that music just feels right to my soul. Even if the music's not about God, when I feel Spirit flowing through me, and other people feel inspired to realize themselves, that is the greatest high.
mogswebsite.com: What inspired you to enlist at West Point?
Alexis Cole: The opportunity to be part of one of the best big bands in the country- The JK are considered to be a highly elite musical group in the jazz world- was more than appealing to me! The band is so creative and open musically; they're really on the growing edge. Being part of a musical group that's really striving to express itself was very attractive. Plus the challenge of going through Basic Training was secretly appealing to me. I'm not only a jazz Diva, I also know how to shoot an M16.
mogswebsite.com: (grin) Jazz vocals with real firepower... if you would, provide our readers with a little background on West Point's prestigious Jazz Knights and, on being their lead vocalist.
Alexis Cole: The JK have been performing for over three decades, and fulfill an important function at West Point, presenting military and ceremonial music as well as the trophy point concert series in the summer. We also perform around the area and occasionally at conferences and functions around the country. The musicians in the band draw from great and well known college jazz programs. They're great readers and improvisors, and most of our arrangements come from the band's players, giving the band a very unique and identifyable sound. Fitting in as the vocalist has been easy, and I can't help but think that it's amazing what a truly great match we are. They've already written a number of arrangements for me as a feature, and also using the voice as another horn to add color and texture. It's a lot of fun for me not to have to book gigs, or worry about any of the details, I just show up and sing!
mogswebsite.com: It sounds as though you're exactly where you're suppose to be at this point in your life. Share the inspiration behind your latest CD, The Greatest Gift...
Alexis Cole: In 2007, as I sat in the audience of my father’s long-awaited college graduation recital, where he performed arrangements of hymns depicting the life and death of Jesus, I came to an epiphany. I decided to collaborate with my Dad to make a Christmas benefit album, The album title, The Greatest Gift, was the title of my Dad's recital and references Jesus’ love – “the most valuable gift that can never be lost.
mogswebsite.com: The Greatest Gift includes a track entitled, The Call-- tell me about laying that track down in the studio.
Alexis Cole: We got the main tracks down on the big recording day at Systems Two, and it was a great inspiration to use the Rhodes on that track. The real excitement came later when I got the kids from Paterson to lay down their tracks at Tedesco Studio's in Jersey. They loved the song and just did a great job with everything I asked of them. Working with these kids, from the same place I used to be an AmeriCorps volunteer with an afterschool program.
mogswebsite.com: 55% of net-profits from the CD sales are going to the World Bicycle Relief organization-- how did you become involved in this project?
Alexis Cole: I chose World Bicycle Relief to be the recipient of the profits from the sale of The Greatest Gift, as the organization’s mission resonated with my own love of bicycles and my desire to make an impact in the realm of sustainability and AIDS relief. World Bicycle Relief was founded in 2005 by SRAM Corporation and Trek Bicycle in response to the December 2004 tsunami that swept the Indian Ocean. In partnership with World Vision Sri Lanka, this project has since provided more than 24,000 locally manufactured bicycles to people in greatest need of transportation. Soon after, the organization expanded its efforts to help fight AIDS in Africa. Over 50,000 bicycles have been donated in support of disaster assistance and disease prevention. The Greatest Gift, an enhanced CD, includes two powerfully moving videos that document this wonderful work.
mogswebsite.com: About how many benefit shows are planned to promote this CD and relief cause?
Alexis Cole: We'll be doing shows at St. Peter's Church NYC Dec 4th, Shuba's in Chicago on Dec 16th and Saratoga City Center on Dec 19th.
mogswebsite.com: As an accomplished pianist, arranger, vocalist, and composer... where are you most comfortable when transforming inspirations into music?
Alexis Cole: These days my favorite place to be is singing my own arrangements from behind the piano with Ian Froman on drums and Bill Moring on bass. There's a good bit of vamping and Indian modal improvising, and this is my favorite way to express myself. We'll be playing at the Bean Runner in Peekskill on Jan 10th joined by the wonderful fusion sax player Premik.
mogswebsite.com: Sounds extremely inspiring. You're an interesting person Alexis. l wish you all the best at West Point and toward your new release, The Greatest Gift!
If people are interested in knowing me better, I hope they'll sign up to receive my updates and blogs at my website www.alexiscole.com
I wrote a blog 'Jazz Diva in Basic Training' that many people have told me they found interesting and inspiring.
mogswebsite.com: It's a very interesting blog and I encourage everyone to check it out!
(C) 2009 Mark's Online Music Source
The Greatest Gift - songs of the season
1 Joy To The World
2 Jeanette Isabella/The Call
3 God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
4 Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
5 Rise Up, Shepherd, And Follow
6 Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
7 Christmas Time Is Here (prelude)
8 Christmas Time Is Here
9 What Child Is This
10 O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
11 Away In A Manger
12 Silent Night
13 Happiest Christmas
14 Jesus Is The Best Part Of Christmas
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