Carla Cook: Just a Swingin' and a Groovin'

Mathew Bahl By

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Throughout Dem Bones, Cook sings with a confidence and command that are the byproduct of a lifetime of developing her craft. The Detroit native began studying music as a girl. Her early education centered on European classical music, and she studied piano and string bass. Cook discovered jazz through her older brother and the Detroit radio station WJZZ. "It was the kind of station," Cook notes wryly, 'that the "Jazz Police" now would have everybody arrested for. They'd play Eubie Blake in one moment and then they would play Weather Report the next. And it all worked. It was a great format."

In discovering jazz, Carla Cook found her calling. "I knew from the 7th grade that I wanted to be a jazz singer. I never said I wanted to be famous or be a star, I never used those words. I wanted to be a jazz singer." Cook chose to attend college in Boston because of that city's vital jazz scene. After graduation, she moved to New York. She spent the next several years working in small clubs and sitting in with musicians. Cook resisted the idea of recording unless she could do so on her own terms. "I think my idea of Hell would be to record something I hated just because someone was sure it would sell millions of records." The right opportunity finally appeared in the form of the independent record label MAXJAZZ. Cook praises the creative freedom MAXJAZZ allows her. "I know it sounds like I'm just saying this, but they really are special and different."

In 1999, MAXJAZZ released Cook's debut CD It's All About Love to a strong critical and audience reception. "I was pleasantly surprised that [the CD] had such a wide range of acceptance." She was even more surprised when it received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Performance. 'the label was new. I was new on it. It was just completely out of the blue."

Cook's plans for the near future include promoting Dem Bones and performing at clubs and festivals both in the USA and abroad. She would also like to carve out some time to work on her songwriting, and she looks forward to working more with large ensembles. "I don't think I have matured enough musically to pull off the great Carla with Strings yet." But big bands are a different story. "It just feels so good. When it's a really swinging big band, that wall of sound behind you, you can't replace that with anything." She will also continue her involvement with a project close to her heart. Cook has been performing in Udu, a jazz opera by trombonist Craig Harris and poet Sekou Sundiata that highlights the shocking reality that slavery still exists in the 21st Century in the Northwestern African nation of Mauritania.

As for the future, Cook wants to continue to take risks. "I believe in pushing the envelope. I believe in experimentation, which was exactly what Bird and all of those guys did. Sometimes your choices are going to be better than other times. But as long as you are exploring things, you are growing as an artist."

That's not to say that Carla Cook doesn't have career ambitions. "One day, I'd like to scat with the Muppets on Sesame Street." "You know," she muses, "you can get some kind of award and it would all be good, it would all be wonderful, but you"ve got to really be somebody deep to get onto Sesame Street. Dizzy and Joe Williams, they were on Sesame Street. I'm aiming for that."

Is there a particular Muppet that Cook is looking forward to trading fours with" "Elmo is just a cutie, but I remember I liked Snuffleupagus. Snuffie was cool."

No doubt that, when they eventually meet, Snuffie will think the same thing about Carla Cook.

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