Based in New York but originally from Detroit, Carla Cook is an earthy yet sophisticated jazz singer who has strong R&B leanings. For Cook, being a jazz singer doesn't mean being a jazz purist or a jazz snob--there are elements of R&B, blues and gospel in her singing, and she is willing to put a jazz spin on songs that weren't written by jazz, traditional pre-rock pop or Tin Pan Alley composers. When it comes to popular music, some jazz vocalists limit themselves to the great Tin Pan Alley standards of the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s. Cook, however, has been able to find the jazz potential in songs from the rock and R&B worlds--songs that have included 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". Cook doesn't exclude Tin Pan Alley standards--as a rule, she will offer a few of them on her albums and live performances--but she isn't the sort of artist who believes that worthwhile popular music ended with composers like Harold Arlen, George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin.
In her native Detroit, Cook started singing when she was a child. Growing up, the Midwesterner sang in a Protestant church--which explains the gospel influence--but her family did not discourage her from listening to secular music, and the secular music that she enjoyed ranged from R&B, rock and country to European classical. Cook, in fact, has been quoted as saying that her favorite artists range from John Coltrane to Chaka Khan to Johann Sebastian Bach. Nonetheless, jazz eventually became Cook's primary focus. After leaving the Motor City, Cook moved to Boston to attend college and earned a degree in speech communication. 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 included working in a book store and teaching social studies in a junior high school. By the late ‘90s, 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 that is based in St. Louis and has been very singer-friendly. In 1999, Cook recorded her debut album, It's All About Love for MAXJAZZ; the CD enjoyed generally favorable reviews and received a Grammy nomination in the Best Jazz Vocal Performance category. In 2000, Cook recorded her second album, Dem Bones, for MAXJAZZ, and her third MAXJAZZ album, Simply Natural, was recorded in 2002. ~ Alex Henderson