Primary Instrument: Piano
One of the many women pianists who started out playing classical but went to jazz in her early teens, Carmen Stokes is a stunningly beautiful pianist of great energy, versatility and enterprise. As a Composer, Arranger, Instrumentalist, Vocalist, Educator and Music Director, Stokes incorporates jazz, gospel, blues, classical and Latin forms into her music. She has constantly sought out novel directions to express her ideas. Stokes’ multiple solo efforts and countless guest performances are recognized by both her peers and the knowing public as a first class musical artist. Stokes has performed nationally and internationally as a trio/quartet, pianist/vocalist, along with gracing the stages of legendary artists including the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Prince, and countless others. Stokes was personally contacted by Ramsey Lewis, Chicago’s own legendary jazz pianist, who requested her to perform on his behalf at the Chicago Jazz Awards because he was scheduled to perform in London. Lewis stated, “I only trust two people in Chicago to play my songs right and you‘re one of the two“. Stokes honored Lewis’ request and received roaring applauses and a standing ovation for her tribute to Lewis. In an article written by Howard Reich, arts critic for the Chicago Tribune, Stokes was tagged as being, “One of the more effective jazz pianists working in the Ramsey Lewis tradition.” Stokes’ vocal styling were compared in JazzChicago.net to the likes of jazz vocalists Nancy Wilson, Diana Krall and the late Phylliss Hyman.
Stokes started playing piano at the age of six. Stokes’ classical studies were completed at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana and her jazz studies were completed at Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York, while working with Dizzy Gillespie. Throughout Stokes’ career, she received numerous accolades and first place awards in classical and jazz and one of her more memorable accolade came when Joe Sample, one of Stokes’ greatest idols, recognized her talents and awarded her first place in the category, “Best Jazz Soloist,” at the Notre Dame Jazz Festival.
Stokes continued her solo career in traditional jazz but found herself yearning for her love for R&B, Funk and Latin forms, and began integrating them in her acoustic piano playing funky and rhythmically appealing qualities. Stokes recorded two successful CD’s entitled, “Sexy Feelin’” and “Words Of Wisdom” which were sold nationally and internationally. Stokes’ CD’s were in such high demand that she found herself with a full performance schedule which included sending her to Singapore where she played to “Standing Room Only” (SRO) audiences. Upon returning to the United States, Stokes was still in high demand continuing to perform at venues with SRO audiences.
In 2003, Stokes’ career was derailed from a tragic automobile accident which resulted in a an uncertainty as to whether or not she would be able to walk again let alone play again. After 3½ hard years of rehabilitation, Stokes proudly recovered and returned to the piano. She continues her piano/vocal career by wowing audiences through a style that is uniquely her own. Stokes’ motto, “Music comes from the heart and if what lies within your heart is true and genuine, your music will be true and genuine.