Hilary Kole: Versatile, Sweet and Jazzy
"Nearly all of them were done without any rehearsal. The only rehearsal we had at all was maybe playing it through once or twice before we started rolling tape. And most of them were done in complete takes. 'Lush Life' [Kenny Barron] we did twice. I was really happy with the way both of them came out. We tried to keep that spontaneity. I wanted to do an old-fashioned jazz record where you just went in, you were prepared, and whatever happened, you wanted capture that freshness and that magic that happens only in the studio ... I wanted to use songs that everybody knows and loves, that the pianists knew. They didn't have to read a chart. They didn't have to transpose. Just so we could get right to the music. We didn't have to worry about the mechanics of everything."
Hilary Kole, performing with John Pizzarelli
"But absolutely, it was a huge thrill for me, to be able to get to know these guys on a personal level and get to work with them. To get to have dinner with Dave Brubeck and his wife. To get to see him and sing his composition ['Strange Meadowlark']. That's the other thing I was excited about. Then I found out after we decided to do it that he hadn't recorded it in 50 years. He was so excited because I wanted to do that song," says Kole, adding, "Then we were so lucky. We were in the studio recording 'Strange Meadowlark' and as he was warming up his fingers he started playing, randomly, 'These Foolish Things.' Gianni ran in and said 'That's one of my favorite songs.' I said it was one of my favorite songs too. I used to sing it all the time at the Rainbow Room [New York City]. He suggested I sing it with Dave. ... Of course Gianni goes right into the studio and says, 'Hey Dave, you want to record it?' Dave looks at me and goes, 'C'mon.' So, that was a completely spontaneous recording of 'These Foolish Things.' It's one of my favorite songs and one of my favorite takes on the record. Just how it came together in a very loving and friendly way was wonderful."
"To be able to sing with Michel, his own composition ['How Do You Keep the Music Playing?'] ... Working with Monty Alexander is hysterical. Freddy [Cole] is wonderful. Nobody phrases like Freddy. I wanted a track with him singing. To be able to get to sing a duet with him was a real thrill for me."
Kole had her CD release party at Birdland in early August, but doesn't plan on touring by doing strictly duets. "I feel like, for a live presentation, it's kind of a hard record. It's more of a listening record than a touring record ... This kind of record is going to go throughout my career. It's more of a collector's thing than 'this is what she's doing this year' kind of thing," she says. But she's justly proud of the album. "For me, the hardest thing I have to do is listen to my own work," she says with humor. "I really feel proud of this. It kind of represents four years of me as a singer too. I did a lot of growing in the last four years, performing a lot and actually doing my other record while this was going on. Just being able to work with these guys, every track that I did made me better for the next one."
So for Kole, it's two solid jazz albums in the can and steady touring in jazz clubs and at festivals.
Haunted Heart was released first, even though the record company was high on the duets idea. But, "because I was an unknown at the time, they wanted to put out the quartet record first, so people could get a grasp of what I do. And then put out the duets record as a second record."
That record, and working with Pizzarelli, was also a fantastic experience for the singer. "He was," she says, laughing at the recollection. "It's amazing we got anything done at all. We did it in half the studio time that we thought we would need. He was wonderful. He gave me a lot of songs for the record. A lot of them I had been doing for years. But he gave me a lot of the swinging tunes like 'Deed I Do' and 'You For Me.' He had a nice clean concept. The thing I love about Haunted Heart is that it's a breezy, fun record to listen to because we had so much fun doing it. We were laughing through it and having such a good time. My entire band said to me at one time or another that it was their favorite session they'd ever done because it was so easy. There was no pressure at all. I think that's what John excels at. It was great. He's producing the next one as well."
She adds, "For me, as a singer, to work with a producer who can perform at that level and who is a musician at that level, made all the difference for me. I'm a musician first. If you're going to talk to me [in the studio], it is so much more helpful if you can talk in musical terms. So we connected in a good way. He would play guitar and I would play piano and we would figure it all out. The we would do it. I like the idea of having a producer that was also a musician."