'Why We Love Live Jazz': Benefit Concert, Interview with Alexis Cole


It’s always good when live music gives us a combined opportunity to celebrate the holidays, get lost in the improvisational beauty of live jazz and support a worthy cause.

Alexis Cole Holiday Benefit Concert at Schubas

Tonight award-winning jazz artist Alexis Cole will play at Schubas. The show, and her newly released Christmas album The Greatest Gift, will benefit the World Bicycle Relief (WBR), an organization which helps developing economies and citizens of these countries “go,” by providing bicycles which fulfill basic needs by making available access to healthcare, education and economic development.

Cole is an accomplished pianist, arranger, and composer who holds two degrees in Jazz voice and Jazz piano and has been added to the position of lead vocalist for the West Point Jazz Knights, the U.S. Army’s big band.  And to help prime you for tonight’s show (her first ever in Chicago), we have an exclusive interview with Cole exploring her performance and the wonders of the live Jazz experience.

I’m excited to share Cole’s insights with you because they continue a previous Live Fix conversation about Jazz’s improvisational likeness to hip hop as Cole explains why Jazz is one of the most unpredictably fun genres to experience live.

As an avid biker in NYC, she also shares her motivation for supporting WBR and takes us back to when she first decided to become a jazz player and make the transformation from fan to artist after seeing Betty Carter.

You’re invited to ask any questions about this interview in the comments. And make sure to take Cole up on her post-show offer to Chicago fans.

L F: What do you love the most about playing live Jazz? 
Cole: Mostly because Jazz is it’s own cliché.  And I think people love live jazz, like I do, because of its spontaneity.  You theoretically never hear the same thing twice from one concert to the next.  Engaging in improvisation both as player and spectator is an exercise in experiencing the present moment fully.  Jazz is very Zen.  

Can you describe your first live jazz concert as an artist ? What did you learn from it?
My first concerts were at school and I learned that I am a total slut for lights and attention.  I love to perform.  My grandmother was a singer/pianist and she always knew how to make people feel good with her music.  I must have inherited that gene.  Many good musicians and singers quit because they like playing but hate performing.  I LOVE performing, and really the goal of my whole career is to set myself up so that I can play the world’s best venues for fans who care. 

Did your live performance influence the making of your new album The Greatest Gift?
Actually The Greatest Gift is a very ‘produced’ CD.  My last CD Zingaro  was recorded live with no edits and was meant to simulate what you might hear if you came to see my live performance.  The Greatest Gift was recorded over 8 sessions over 2 years with a lot of editing and overdubbing.  It’s a different approach entirely.  More like being a painter than a performer.  Thank God for Katherine Miller, our sound engineer and co-producer who thinks more like a painter.

What do you love the most about experiencing live jazz as a fan? 
I love the way the singers tell the story.  I’m a bit of a vocal music geek, and I love the standards, so my favorite thing in the whole world is to see someone do that genere with confidence, great execution and impeccable honesty.

What live performances by your jazz heroes have inspired your live performance?

When I was in high school I saw Betty Carter  perform at the Hollywood Jazz Festival in Florida.  Her total immersion in the moment , the excitement and moods she created in that set made me say to myself if that’s singing jazz, then I want to sing jazz.’

Will you be doing anything special for Chicago jazz fans tonight? 
This is my first time performing in Chicago, so I think just organizing a show here is pretty special.  If Chicago jazz fans want to hang out after the show for a beer, I’d love to get to know them!

Do you think doing things like texting/tweeting, taking cellphone videos, etc. during live shows helps or hinders live performance?

I have a bit of an aversion to recording, though I do it, and I’m planning to tape the Schuba’s show.  When you know something is being recorded, you take less chances and are more inhibited.  And often times what you see later wasn’t what ‘really’ happened, because the person watching the video wasn’t there in the moment, and so can’t see it from the same perspective.  But I do think it helps to build an audience, and that’s great for all independent artists.  You can’t have a great show without them!

Why did you decide to help raise awareness and support for the World Bicycle Relief?
I started riding a bike about 10 years ago as an adult in New York City. It totally changed my life.  My ability to get from one place to another, quickly easily, enjoyably and with high heels on, made my life so much more efficient and cool!  If a bike could do that for me in a town as replete with public transit as NYC, I could easily imagine how it could completely change the life of someone in an area where there was no way to get around but walking.  It’s a totally simple sustainable way to improve people’s lives in a tangible way, right now.

We thank Cole for taking the time to talk with Live Fix and we hope you all have fun at the show!

If you have a question about this interview or want to ask Cole about her show at Schubas leave your questions in the comments below.

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