Paula Cole: Courage
“ I have always known that I wanted to do a jazz album. In fact, I have been waiting to do a jazz album. ”
Paula Cole is perhaps one of the greatest jazz voices caught in modern-day times. What most vocalists hope to achieve within their art, Paula Cole can do in one song and, more often than not, in one take. With an ability to showcase seemingly effortless and incredible range and control, Cole has achieved mainstream success, winning the Grammy Award for "Best New Artist" in 1997, and garnering several platinum records. Cole is back and better than ever with Courage (Decca, 2007).
Cole entered the Berklee College of Music at age eighteen, where she studied jazz singing and improvisation. On her collaborations with such famed musicians as Chris Botti and Jeff Lorber, she has demonstrated the jazz sensibility and ingenuity of a truly great jazz singer.
Courage is somewhat of a departure from her past albums in that there is a definite jazz air to it, and the result is impressive both artistically and personally.
All About Jazz contributor Katrina-Kasey Wheeler spoke to Cole about how the songstress' life has changed, and her plans for the future.
All About Jazz: You have had an incredibly successful career. You took a hiatus because you found yourself to be disillusioned with the music business as a whole. How has your perception of the business changed since then? Have you found that it makes all the difference to have that element of camaraderie?
Paula Cole: That is a good question. I really feel differently. I feel very humbled and in some ways very grateful to be more rooted now, to be a mother. I am a lot closer to my parents. I think that I made some poor personal life choices. I was estranged from my family because I was working constantly, and I didn't have a support system around me which caused me to make poor choices.
I have been going through a divorce for two years now, and my family has rallied around meI am essentially a single mother. That has been one wonderful outcome. I am humbled to see that parenting never really stops.
AAJ: Every experience even the negative, builds character and is a building block to greatness if one can hold onto the lessons along the way. Courage is deeply personalit resonates on a whole other level with listeners. Your experiences have helped you to create a fine piece of work.
PC: I need music very badly, because I think I am quite bad at knowing what I am feeling. I had been non-stop for eight years and felt very overworked, and so I needed to take time off when my former career was feeling inauthentic. I wanted a child and I wanted a personal life.
AAJ: When you listen to an artist in as brief as one word or one note, there is something that captures the listener and instantlyyou know that the artist is fulfilling his/her destinyto be an inspiration to all those who listen. You have the ability to communicate what the lyrics are really saying. If you are singing about heartbreak, the listener can feel that same heartbreak.
I must say I did watch Dawson's Creek as a teenager, and I felt that your song, "I Don't Want to Wait," lent the series more than a tinge of artistic relevance.
PC: I was very grateful to have my song chosen for the program. I had written it because I was contemplating the death of my grandfather, since he had such a great influence on me, and so I was just looking back on his life.
AAJ: In your press release you say that [producer] Bobby Colomby saved you. He is now managing you, and produced Courage. What has it been like to work with Bobby again on this project?
PC: Bobby and I met in 1994, and there was an earthquake. Literally! He always teased me like outrageously, embarrassingly. I would have to leave the room because I just couldn't take the compliment. I realized who Bobby Colomby was later, that he was the drummer from Blood, Sweat & Tears. I realized later how talented he was, what an ear he had, and how many people he knew.
We had collaborated on a jazz record, The Best Of Times (Concord Jazz, 2003), for Gary LeMel. I sang, "Call Me Irresponsible." I arrived at the studio and familiarized myself with the song, and I was told to improvise at the end. I did it rather fast, but of course, I went to the Berklee School of Music and so I lived jazz for many years. I didn't know that Bobby was a jazz fan. We both worship at Miles Davis' alter, which connected us. Bobby was blown away by my jazz singing. Fast forward years later, he found out that I had left Warner Brothers and I was languishing in the crevices of my depression and caring for my asthmatic daughter. I have been the recipient of this love from Bobby and the whole recording process was just so much fun. It has been so much fun to perform live music again.
AAJ: When you were at Berklee studying you were offered a contract with a jazz label. At this point in your career, is doing a jazz album something you would like to do?
PC: I have always known that I wanted to do a jazz album. In fact, I have been waiting to do a jazz album. I am such a frustrated artist in that respect, in these modern times. I should have been in the singer/songwriter era of the late '60s and '70s. I am very frustrated that I have only released four albums and I have been on three record labels [including an additional album, 2006's Postcards From East Oceanside: Greatest Hits compilation on Rhino]. I would love to make a jazz album.
AAJ: That is something to definitely look forward to. You've done such brilliant collaborations with Chris Botti. The brooding tone of his trumpet and the phrasing and range of your voice makes for a wonderful duo that translates beautifully.
PC: The thing about Chris is that our love for Miles Davis unifies us, and Bobbywhose brother managed Thelonious Monk. Bobby grew up in Washington Heights, and used to watch Miles Davis as frequently as he could; and of course Chris has been heavily influenced by Miles Davis, as have I. I actually took a Miles Davis music appreciation class and I would sing along to his solos. I just love the person that he was and how he performed. He is absolutely one of my musical idols.
Chris and I record at Capital's "A" room, which is historically and acoustically great. Nat King Cole, who is one of my heroes, recorded there. In the spirit of Miles Davis, when Chris and I record we usually get it in just one or two takes. It is fun and I am able to air my influences. Singing jazz ballads is one of my strengths. It is something that I do, and yet for so many years it has been unknown. I think Bobby wanted to unearth that. I have songs already planned in my mind that I would love to do on a jazz album.
AAJ: I think whenever a vocalist takes on the classic songs of the Great American Songbook, it is important to be able to communicate to the listener what the lyrics are really sayingto really connect with the music. Life experience plays a crucial role in the vocal interpretations.
PC: That is certainly my hope. The voice is transparent and you can hear a person's soul in a way. My favorite singers aren't derivative. They arrive as themselves, especially when they can communicate the lyrics. Someone like Billie Holiday, people imitate her, and her peers did as well. Even Miles Davis, he was copying Dizzy Gillespie originally, but it was when he found himself that he arrived.
AAJ: In your case, I would say that your interpretation of the lyrics always rings true. Paul Buchanan has said of your voice that "the angels listen to it and weep." To be held in such high esteem by your peers is an accomplishment in itself. On Courage you have employed some outstanding musicians, including Herbie Hancock and David Foster.
PC: When I left Warner Brothers, I was contractually obligated not to do any [original] songs. So with this album, it all came together relatively quickly, we all collaborated.
AAJ: There are some excellent collaborations. "It's My Life" is a profound song. There is something almost anthem-like about it, in terms of empowerment and taking control of one's life. I think it is a great representation the message of the album and of what listeners can expect to hear. What do you hope that the listener gains?
PC: When I made this album I was struggling with my mantra to find my strength, and I knew that one day in an interviewlike I am doing right nowI wanted to be able to say that word: courage. It is a reminder of where I have been and proof that you can get through any struggle.
Paula Cole, Courage (Decca, 2007)
Various Artists, August Rush Soundtrack (Columbia, 2007)
Chris Botti, Italia (Columbia, 2007)
Jeff Lorber, He Had a Hat (Narada, 2007)
Chris Botti, Chris BottiLive with Orchestra and Special Guests (Columbia, 2006)
Chris Botti, To Love Again (Columbia, 2005)
Chris Botti, When I Fall In Love (Columbia, 2004)
Gary LeMel, The Best Of Times (Concord Jazz, 2003)
Various Artists, Sweet November Soundtrack (Warner/Sunset, 2001)
Various Artists, The Other Sister Soundtrack (Hollywood, 1999)
Paula Cole, Amen (Warner Bros., 1999)
Various Artists, City of Angels Soundtrack (Reprise, 1998)
Various Artists, Midnight In The Garden of Good & Evil Soundtrack (Malpaso Records, 1997)
Paula Cole, This Fire (Warner Bros., 1996)
Paula Cole, Harbinger (Warner Bros., 1995)
Peter Gabriel, Secret World Live (Geffen Records, 1994)
Top Photo: Courtesy of Photorazzi
Bottom Photo: Fabrizio Ferri, courtesy of Decca Records