Primary Instrument: Vocalist
Carla Cook is daring. She is a jazz singer/songwriter who sings standards beautifully -- but she doesn't stop there. Cook is willing to put a jazz spin on songs not written by traditional jazz composers. Songs that, until you hear her sing them, you'd never imagine could be interpreted as jazz. This native Detroiter, who grew up in a musically rich and diverse environment, brings all her influences to bear within her repertoire. In her songbook you'll find elements of R&B, European classical, Motown, Blues and Gospel. Cook has always eschewed labels, and refuses to become a jazz purist or snob. That willingness to simply sing what she loves, bringing an earthy sophistication to every song, is what gives Cook her signature style.
While some jazz vocalists limit their repertoire of popular music to the swing of the 20's and 30's, Tin Pan Alley composers and the bebop of the 40's, Cook goes beyond the American Jazz Standard Repertoire. She reinterprets songs from the rock and R&B worlds - giving a jazz flavor to such pop classics as Simon & Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair, Marvin Gaye's Inner City Blues, Bobbie Gentry's Ode to Billie Joe and Neil Young's Heart of Gold. She sings great songs, period, be they the standards that are the foundation of her recordings and live performances, her refreshing original compositions, or a smattering of popular songs that were childhood favorites.
In her native Detroit, Cook started singing when she was a young child. Growing up, the Midwesterner sang in the Methodist Church. The secular music that she enjoyed ranged from R&B, rock, country and European classical. Though jazz has always been Cook's primary focus, she has been quoted as saying that her favorite artists range from Miles Davis to Chaka Khan to Johann Sebastian Bach.
During her formative years, Cook studied privately voice, piano and string bass, the latter of which she played in her high school orchestra. After leaving the Motor City, Cook moved to Boston to attend Northeastern University and earned a degree in Speech Communication. While in Boston, she formed the first of several jazz ensembles and set about the business of her trade. Then in 1990, she moved to New York, where she became active on the Manhattan club scene but paid her bills with various day gigs that concluded with her teaching social studies in a junior high school. By the mid 90's, however, she was singing on a full-time basis and had given up her day gigs. It was in 1998 that Cook signed with MAXJAZZ, a small independent jazz label based in St. Louis that has a reputation for being singer-friendly. In 1999, Cook recorded her debut album; It's All About Love. The CD enjoyed favorable reviews and received a Grammy nomination in the Best Jazz Vocal Performance category and was awarded the AFIM Indie Award for Best Jazz Vocal in 2000. In 2000, Cook recorded her second album, Dem Bones and in 2002, she recorded Simply Natural, both for MAXJAZZ. Her albums continue to receive critical acclaim.