Canadian vocalist Holly Cole isn't one of those artists who falls into any one category. Her smoky voice is sultry, yet she's ironically humorous and candid while reshaping traditional standards and pop classics. Jazz is her bedrock, but not exclusively.
Cole was a New Year's baby born in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1963. She was surrounded by music from an early age, for her parents were both classical musicians. As a kid, she immersed herself in pop music and classic rock & roll. Everyone in her family played piano; Cole mastered the instrument and in 1981, she took up professional singing lessons. Her older brother was talented as well. When Cole was 16, her brother took off for the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. Cole joined her brother and his pals for an eight-week stint one summer. This break would ultimately lead Cole to her musical calling.
Cole's brother had fallen in love with postwar jazz by the time his younger sister started tagging along. She was immediately taken by the intimacy and beauty of Sarah Vaughan, Anita O'Day, Billie Holiday, and Betty Carter. Jazz comprised an art that was both compelling and rich with deep emotion for Cole. She had found her base.
In 1983, Cole left Halifax for Toronto in search of a musical start. She gigged in and around the Queen Street music scene. Within two years, she formed the Holly Cole Trio with bassist David Piltch and pianist Aaron Davis. They spent the next year crafting a warm jazz minimalist style. Eventually, she and her band became a mainstay on the Toronto jazz circuit, impressing labels from all around. Alert Music's Tom Berry was taken by the trio's sharp presentation and offered the Holly Cole Trio a deal in 1989. The holiday Christmas Blues EP appeared that fall. Their debut, Girl Talk, was released in 1990 and the Holly Cole Trio were nearly stars in Canada. Two years later, they landed a contract with Blue Note's Manhattan imprint and issued the sensual Blame It On My Youth. It went on to sell 200,000 copies worldwide while also earning high praise in Japan. Nearly 500 copies were sold a day!
The Holly Cole Trio was experimenting with pop elements by the time they recorded their 1993 effort Don't Smoke in Bed. This particular record was more tangible and glossy compared to Cole's earlier work, allowing Cole to become one of Canada's musical darlings. The trio's rendition of Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" became a crossover hit and highlighted the group's changing direction. It was a great time for the Holly Cole Trio.
The edgy and unpredictable Temptation appeared in 1995. Cole's choice to cover classics by gravelly crooner Tom Waits was ambitious. The formula worked for her, and she reworked material by Joni Mitchell, Mary Margaret O'Hara, and the Beatles for Dark Dear Heart (1997). The Holly Cole Trio then went by Cole's solo moniker; Piltch and Davis remained with her, and Romantically Helpless followed in fall 2000. She released another holiday-themed album, Baby, It's Cold Outside, in 2001, but returned to her eclectic style with Shade in 2003 and Holly Cole in 2007. In August of 2011, Cole re-formed her original trio lineup with Davis on piano and bassist Piltch, with the addition of John Johnson (horns), Rob Piltch (guitars), and Davide DiRenzo (drums) for the recording of a live DVD/CD package. Steal the Night: Live at the Glenn Gould Studio was released in February of 2012. This set was a precursor to a studio collection of 20th and 21st century covers, entitled Night, in July. The latter recording featured an all-star band including bassist David Pilch, lap steel guitarist Greg Leisz, and percussionist Cyro Baptista. Cole followed this with an all new studio recording, entitled Night, in October of 2012.~ MacKenzie Wilson