Late Blooming Jazz Man
Late Blooming JAZZ MAN Gene Cook likes to describe himself as a 'late bloomer.' Well, yes, this CD is his first major recording since his introduction to the world of music a number of decades ago. However, this unassuming orchid has been quietly blossoming for some time, carefully honing his craft in some high company, such as the three musicians who appear with him here. Gene has been fascinated with 'good music' since he was a child. He grew up in the Leimert Park area of Los Angeles and had an opportunity to hear Harry James, which convinced the youngster that he needed lessons. But his older sister won that prize and so Gene contented himself with listening intently to such singers as Sinatra, Perry Como, Peggy Lee among others, and many of the big bands he heard on radio and occasionally live. Finally, when he was 20, he bought his own Martin guitar, found a teacher and for the next four years studied the instrument. He began visiting the numerous piano bars that proliferated at that time, sitting in whenever possible. He was advised to contact Wini Beatty, a jazz pianist and voice coach (whose reputation was well known) and thus began Cook's sojourn into the realm of vocalizing. Beatty invited the fledgling singer to sit in with her at such places as La Marina in Playa Del Rey and the Hungry Tiger in Westchester. During his apprenticeship with Beatty, Cook recalled that she made him quit smoking. 'That's probably why I'm able to sing the way I do today,' he acknowledges. In 1991, when Beatty came out of retirement to work at JP's Lounge, she invited him along, and he showed up there regularly for the entire year of Beatty's incumbency. He then moved on to the Round Table on Santa Monica Blvd., staying there for the next eight years. Cook told me: 'I really started singing with some authority, and did my homework to learn the tunes correctly, and always came in prepared.' You'll really see how this paid off as you listen to ten songs herein. Leaving the Round Table, he and bassist Jack Bruce and pianist Dick Leslie moved to the Westside's chi-chi Bicycle Shop Cafe, remaining as regulars until the place closed in 2001. Then Bruce recommended Ben Di Tosti to Gene, who says 'It was the best thing that ever happened to me.' This CD is the result of that meeting. Di Tosti's piano is like a second voice, sometimes eloquently echoing Cook's phrases; at other times intricately weaving in and around the words. Listen especially to the almost impressionistic nuance Di Tosti accomplishes in his solo on 'You Don't Know What Love Is.' One realizes that he's always concerned with the song's identity, always coaxing more out of the melody. His participation in the choice of music is evident: they both are enamored of the timeless standard. Even the quirky 'There Used To Be A Ballpark' is given a sophisticated treatment, as is the old Jimmy Webb pop song, 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix.' Cook's voice is unique; he has entirely his own sound and style, offering allegiance to none other. His delivery is basically unadorned, yet compelling. He is at home with a lovely slow ballad, such as 'You Don't Know What Love Is,' as he is with an up tempo song like 'I Get A Kick Out Of You.' for which he offers us the seldom-heard verse (the same is true of another beautiful song, 'When The World Was Young.'). Vocalists these days tend to want to show the listener how clever they are (sometimes successfully, sometimes not); but Cook simply interprets the words he's singing in a way one imagines the composer meant them to be. His diction and enunciation are just about perfect, and his phrasing quite original. He always seems conscious of his accompanists who provide subtle and empathetic support throughout. Bassist Jack Bruce's musical history began in the Army, where he played string bass. When he moved to Los Angeles he studied jazz on the instrument with the legendary Red Mitchell, and has since become an ubiquitous presence on the southern California jazz scene. Dick Weller is a drummer of extraordinary depth and breadth at home in the demanding setting of a big band (he appears regularly with the Bob Florence aggregation and the Phil Norman Tentet) as well as in the equally demanding but totally different needs of a sensitive singer. His own CD. 'NewWest' can attest to this diversity. Although this collection of beautifully rendered songs was originally intended simply to satisfy the many fans and friends Cook has accumulated over the years, there's no doubt his work could reach a much wider audience in due time. Maybe then Cook's own description of himself as 'late bloomer' will be more appropriate, given the overcrowded field of younger artists. The proof of the pudding is in the eating - so dig in and enjoy this sumptuous repast. -- Frankie Nemko, Jazz Now; Jazz Times; Down Beat; Music Connection 'As a pianist-accompanist, I'm always happy when a singer stimulates me, as did Gene on this project - he was always surprising me. Interestingly enough, I used to go and listen to Wini Beatty during her heyday (I was a big fan): so Gene and I have that connection.' -- Ben Di Tosti 'I had always felt that Gene had potential that was unrealized. Participating in this project has been a special pleasure because of this. And the way the group melded together so well. Ben's arrangements are so good. -- Jack Bruce 'I enjoyed the fact that Gene was really singing and swinging great: it made the whole project a lot of fun for me. It was a pleasure to work with him.' -- Dick Weller.