Hilary Kole: Versatile, Sweet and Jazzy
Communication is key in jazz, particularly in a duet setting. "That's why I love this music so much. As long as you're speaking the same language with these songs, you can go anywhere. That was made clear to me each and every time. There were certain songs I had never, ever sung all the way before. I had never sung 'Every Time We Say Goodbye' before," she explains. "I had never sung 'Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise.' Most of these songs were not in my standard repertoire of songs that I would perform. They're standard tunes everyone knows, but I've never really performed them before. So I was learning in the studio as this was all happening. It was a little overwhelming, I do have to say.
"A lot of times, especially after meeting Dave Brubeck and Hank Jones and Michel Legrand and Kenny Barron ... to play with those guys, I definitely had to psyche myself up a little bit. As soon as I got in, they made it so comfortable and easy. They were only after the best take. They only wanted to make me comfortable. That was really wonderful."
The idea for the project started about five years ago. Peterson was playing at Birdland, where Kole performed a lot. She was helping the pianist, then using a wheelchair, between sets and they became good friends. Kole also traveled to Canada to see Peterson, and when he returned to Birdland the next year, he asked Kole to sing with him. The resulting "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" suffered a bit from lack of rehearsal time. "He played beautifully, but the band wasn't used to accompanying a singer. He got off the stage and said, 'I owe you one.'"
Gianni Valenti, owner of Birdland, quickly suggested they record together and the musicians wanted to do it immediately. Jim Czak of Nola Studios also happened to be in the club, and the studio schedule was promptly cleared for the following day. Four tracks were cut over the course of a few hours, with no rehearsal and no sheet music. But it was enough for a whole record. Gianni liked the way Kole was showcased with just piano and suggested the idea of contacting other jazz pianists. Jones was one of them, and two of four tracks recorded are used on You Are There.
"We did two sessions," reveals Kole. "One about six months after the Oscar tracks and then we did them much more recently. In the meantime, I had recorded Haunted Heart. So this whole record, the duets record, took about four years, from the time with Oscarthose are recordings that are not on this CD. We decided they [the tracks with Peterson] were so special we just want to keep those separate and we're going to release them at later date." Other pianists were recruited, the last being Brubeck.
"It's been an incredible journey for me, to be able to work with and sing with these great pianists. Every one of them is different. The thing I love about it as a musician is that you can hear the different styles within each context. You can hear Kenny Barron being Kenny Barron when he does 'Lush Life.' You can hear Freddy Cole. The fluidity of Michel Legrand when he accompanies a singer. It was a big challenge and a concept that Gianni and I both came up with, inspired by the Oscar tracks."
Not only was it a challenge, but a great musical experience, one that gave Kole the opportunity to meet great musicians and deal with them on personal level. That's something she values.
"When I was in the studio with Oscar it was such a surreal experience because ... I'm as ambitious as any of the singers, but that's something you don't think in your wildest dreams you're ever going to do. In a way, I was unprepared and went through it not really nervous. It was so easy because he was so wonderful and he put me at ease ... We were winging some of my favorite songs, some of his favorite songs. And I have to tell you, each and every artist was like that with me.
"With every single one of them, they were so professional and into the music and into doing this project. They all wanted to listen to each other's tracks. They were all interested. At one time Hank and Michel Legrand ... Michel was late and Hank was early for the studio session, so they ended up playing piano, four hands, and talking to each other, and listening in on each other's session," she says, her voice still injected with a sense of excitement.