Hilary Kole, Duets


Featuring Duets with Monty Alexander, Kenny Barron, Dave Brubeck, Alan Broadbent, Freddy Cole, Benny Green, Hank Jones, Steve Kuhn, Michel Legrand, Mike Renzi, and Cedar Walton

You Are There marks the second album on Justin Time for Hilary Kole, the New York- based jazz singer (and pianist, arranger, and composer). Even though hundreds of singers are releasing what seems like hundreds of CDs these days, it’s fair to say that no vocalist – in either the classic or the contemporary era – has done an album like You Are There. This is a set of voice-and-piano duets, and though that fact by itself may call to mind Ella Fitzgerald’s famous meetings with Ellis Larkins and the iconic Tony Bennett-Bill Evans collaborations, no one has done what Hilary does here: she has teamed up with eleven different great pianists – each of them true legends of the keyboard – and recorded thirteen spontaneous piano-vocal duo tracks with these amazing musicians.

The project got underway when Hilary met the late keyboard colossus Oscar Peterson in 2005. She was, then as now, singing frequently at Birdland (then as always, “the Jazz Corner of the World,” and her New York base of operations). Peterson made his final New York appearances at the Times Square venue, and Kole was always there (and so was every musician in Manhattan who wanted to learn from the master). The two became friends, and on one set, to her astonishment, Peterson invited her to sing with his quartet.

Coincidentally, Hilary and her producer for this project, Gianni Valenti, had already been putting together ideas that led in the direction of a voice-and-piano project. “There was something very intimate, very moving about singing with just the piano,” she says. “It became my deepest desire to work with and record with the great masters, to challenge myself, and learn from these giants.” Valenti encouraged Hilary to move forward with this unique concept, and his long-standing professional relationships with several of the pianists were a key factor in the initial development of the recording.She actually began the sessions that eventually became part of You Are There with another late legend, the brilliant Hank Jones. “Hank was so amazing in the studio,” Hilary recalls, “he knew thousands of tunes, and though every take was virtually perfect, he always wanted to do it ‘better,’ so we did eight or nine takes of each song.” Jones actually worked with Kole on two sessions (resulting in “If I Had You” and “But Beautiful”), and on the second of which, she was in for a major treat. Scheduled to record with Michel Legrand and Jones on the same date, the session with the ingenious French composer ran late and Hank arrived early. “When Hank and Michel saw each other, they started spontaneously playing four handed piano together!”

“I grew up listening to Michel Legrand’s music,” Hilary elaborates, “He is my parents’ favorite composer.” Kole and Legrand had performed together occasionally and informally since 2007, so they were accustomed to each other, even though here, as on the rest of the album, there was no actual preparation or rehearsal before the recording date itself. “It’s always a special honor to sing a composer’s music with him, especially (the Oscar-winning) ‘How Do You Keep the Music Playing?,’ and Michel is so passionate about the music.” Although, as Hilary notes, “Michel is one of the great vocal accompanists in the world today,” it should also be made clear that he doesn’t accompany singers very often.

Kole and producer Valenti kept in close touch with Peterson throughout the production, until his death at the end of 2007 (Kole also performed in a tribute to the legendary pianist in June of that year). “We would talk about song choices,” she remembers, “and it was Oscar who recommended we get in touch with Benny Green and Monty Alexander.” The youngest of the piano giants on the set (and the one with the best hair), Green suggested the jazz standard “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise,” and as Hilary recalled, “although I had never sung it before, I liked the challenge of trying something new in the studio.” Noting Monty Alexander’s long relationship with Frank Sinatra (years before he played with Milt Jackson and Ray Brown, Monty had been the house pianist at Jilly’s, The Chairman’s personal hangout), they selected “All the Way,” a classic song (and another Oscar-winner) written for Sinatra. “Both Benny and Monty are powerhouses as far as chops go, and both were incredibly sensitive to me as a singer.”

As is consistent with the rest of his career, Freddy Cole‘s role on the album is unique in that he was the one pianist on the project to also sing with Hilary. “I have always been a huge fan,” says Hilary (who despite the similar last name, is not related), to me he is a singer’s singer – nobody phrases like Freddy. It was my idea to ask him to sing with me.” Even though she had never heard “It’s Always You,” she “fell in love with it” as you can tell from the shared warmth of their vocal duet.

Hilary also came up with the idea of doing “Lush Life,” an iconic song if ever there was one, and a perfect choice for the voice-piano format, and she realized instantly that Kenny Barron would be the perfect collaborator for it. She also notes that Steve Kuhn, another legendary modern jazz pianist, actually got in touch with her and with her producer, requesting to be part of the project, and his enthusiasm is evident on “Two for

the Road,” another exquisitely perfect song for such a tête-à-tête. Cedar Walton, who, like Kuhn, famously played early in his career with the legendary John Coltrane, accompanies Hilary beautifully on the melancholy “Every Time We Say Goodbye.”

Dave Brubeck was also a very special choice for the project. “I still can’t believe he agreed to do it,” she says, “his lawyer said he gets thousands of requests like this and never even looks at them.” (The one stipulation was that Hilary travel to Florida so they could tape it in a studio there. The Brubeck numbers are the only tracks not recorded at Nola Studios on West 57th Street.) Of course, even Mr. Brubeck’s attorney had to agree that his client had made the right decision when he heard what Dave and Hilary came up with in the studio. They had agreed up front that Hilary would sing a Brubeck classic, “Strange Meadowlark” (with a haunting lyric by Mrs. Iola Brubeck). But when the jazz icon started warming up with “These Foolish Things” it turned out to be one of Hilary’s favorite songs, and producer Valenti asked him to record with her – making Mr. Brubeck the only pianist on You Are There (in addition to Hank Jones) to be heard on two tracks. Hilary reports that the engineer was even more surprised than she was that it was really happening – “He couldn’t believe that Dave Brubeck was actually in his studio.”

Piano students will be especially thrilled with the work of two brilliant musicians, Mike Renzi and Alan Broadbent, who are sometimes described as east and west coast counterparts of each other. More than the other giants involved in the project, Renzi and Broadbent have spent the bulk of their careers playing for singers, and both are unrivaled masters of the art of accompaniment – while being spectacular soloists at the same time. “I Remember” and Dave Frishberg and Johnny Mandel’s title song, “You Are There,” are two particularly outstanding collaborations. “To sing with the world’s greatest vocal accompanists was a master class for me,” says Hilary.

Hilary Kole, who attracted major media attention with the release of her debut CD, Haunted Heart in 2008, has been a major figure on the New York jazz and vocal scene even before she co-created and co-starred in the ground-breaking revue Our Sinatra 10 years ago. The heiress to a richly musical family (her father sang the lead in West Side Story on Broadway), Ms. Kole studied classical music composition, piano, and eventually voice, at the Manhattan School of Music, but learned much of her craft as a singer of jazz and standards at the Rainbow Room. “For a year and a half I was literally the last big band vocalist in New York,” she says. In addition to her frequent performances at Birdland, she has also headlined at other New York clubs, including the Jazz Standard and the Iridium, and she has played major clubs around the country and festivals around the world.

Despite having racked up lots of experience at a very young age, Hilary has never done anything like You Are There before – but neither has anyone else! “I am so grateful to these artists, for sharing their music, their time, and a piece of themselves with me. Over the last four years, I have learned so much about singing, so much about interpreting a lyric. It’s through working with the very best that you become better. The

wonderful thing was that each and every pianist was so anxious to be a part of this, to listen to each other’s tracks, to pick their favorite songs. That was the real joy for me.”

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