Alexis Cole Keeps Saluting Jazz

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“I get to play around with these arrangements and be part of the band throughout. Having an opportunity to be in the middle of those rhythmic interactions makes my singing that much more fun,” Cole said.

(Photo: Jeremy Kim)

Vocalist Alexis Cole has a confident understanding of how to interpret music in a manner that enthralls an audience. It was evident last fall during a performance with her longstanding trio at the Jazz Forum in Tarrytown, New York, that featured music from her 12th album, Sky Blossom: Songs From My Tour Of Duty, released late last year. Although she performed mostly at the piano, singing centerstage, she launched into a long, scat-filled “All Blues,” which received a rousing ovation and left her bassist David Finck and drummer Kenny Hassler shaking their heads in amazement.

The “tour of duty” Cole references harkens back to 2009, after the then-33-year-old decided to audition for the West Point Band’s Jazz Knights. She got the job, enlisted in the U.S. Army to seal the deal and completed basic training. Later, Staff Sergeant Cole rehearsed in the morning each day at West Point, then hit her desk job on the Hudson Valley campus until evening, when she would head back to her arts housing flat in Peekskill and run into New York City for gigs.

When Cole’s first tour of duty was finished, she re-enlisted for another three years in 2012 — around the same time she headed into a studio to start working on the solo album A Kiss In The Dark. After her discharge, Cole dove back into jazz full-time, but her years singing at West Point left her with the idea of someday putting together an album of big band arrangements, like those that Scott Arcangel of the Jazz Knights had written specially for her.

While at the Jazz Education Network Conference in January 2018, a fortuitous meeting with trumpeter Jeff Jarvis, who leads the California State University at Long Beach Concert Jazz Orchestra, jumpstarted the big band project. Cole and Jarvis started recording tracks, and though the pandemic stalled studio work for several months, the album was completed in early 2021.

“Working with the Jazz Knights was a special experience for me,” Cole said. “Scott’s writing is so gorgeous. I loved being part of that overall texture. There was no way I was just going to say goodbye to those arrangements.”

Along with a busy performing schedule, Cole has intertwined work as an educator with a sweep of entrepreneurship. Currently, she leads the jazz vocal programs at the Conservatory of Music at SUNY Purchase College, William Paterson University and Western Connecticut State University. She launched JazzVoice.com, an online educational community with more than 1,200 members and teaching help from the likes of Sheila Jordan, Catherine Russell, Tierney Sutton, Cyrille Aimée and Kate McGarry, in 2020. The following year she co-founded the annual Virginia Beach Vocal Jazz Summit.

Pete Malinverni, veteran pianist-composer and chair of the Jazz Studies program at Purchase College, noted that he resurrected the school’s Jazz Voice concentration in tribute to his late wife, the jazz singer Jody Sandhaus, and now it is the “crown jewel” of the jazz program because of Cole, whom he calls “a monumental force.”

“Alexis takes care of her students’ voices as well as their hearts, while making sure they can write great, professional-looking charts to bring onto the bandstand,” Malinverni says. “In short, she has been perfect for us.”

Cole finished her 10-song set at the Jazz Forum with her bravura arrangement of Cole Porter’s “Night And Day,” flashing piano skills that matched her winning vocals. The tune will be found on her next recording, she says, a trio date planned for release at the end of this year.

“I like being in charge with the trio,” she says. “I get to play around with these arrangements and be part of the band throughout. Having an opportunity to be in the middle of those rhythmic interactions makes my singing that much more fun.” DB



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