"Melody Cole"Meet Melody Cole, Woman in Jazz Musician and More!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in music.

I remember trying to get up on the stool to play the piano at home. I was about 3. I began classical lessons at 5, and began actively playing at church, school, and for weddings by 9. My teen years helped me blossom as a musician one event in particular was being guest pianist with the Jamaica Philharmonic Orchestra at 15.

What do you enjoy most about your profession and why did you choose it in the first place?

I would just as readily say it chose me. I love the piano. Music is at the heart of me – a significant way in which I communicate and express myself. It speaks to me, and I speak through it. Simply, it is who and what I am, and what I do or be. My hand knows and loves the instrument (piano); I hear music and my soul sings.

When did you know you want to be a jazz musician?

I didn’t want to be jazz musician. I didn’t know there was such a thing as jazz music or a musician! I grew up in the church, studied and sat classical music exams annually, and never ever heard the word jazz, or the songs in my immediate world. I had never even been to a nightclub. But when a cousin of mine, Les Cole, who had traveled to the US for college returned one summer, he began showing me some beautiful chords and introduced me to this music called jazz! I just loved it! I wanted more of it in my music. I decided then that when I went to the US for college, I would explore jazz, and include it in my sound in the contemporary music of the church!

I really wanted to go to Berkely School of Music to learn more. So years later as President of the Atlanta Jazz Society, and a member of the International Association of Jazz Educators, I attended a dinner at the home of the President of Berkely (during the annual IAJE convention in Boston) I was immensely thrilled!

What is the first tune/song you learned?

I really don’t remember – maybe “Summertime.” But the first song I performed was “Oh Danny Boy.” I didn’t think at the time I knew any jazz pieces, but was determined to participate at the Barry Harris workshop/evening jam session in New York City during a visit I felt sure I could play “Danny Boy” and I did.

What is the most amazing thing that has happened to you on your musical journey?

Same evening at Barry Harris’, I took the risk to get up and play (deciding not to sit on the sand at the beach!) To my surprise, I got a standing ovation – big risk, BIG surprise!!! Although I had just begun the journey, I felt validated as an artist and welcomed. These are all beautiful points in my musical journey: to become President of the Atlanta Jazz Society and to really begin expanding into the world of jazz and meeting and becoming friends with some of the jazz greats, and to meet and have as fellow musicians some of the most fabulous gifted musicians on the planet!! Wow! Indeed to have the opportunity and honor to play for the private reception for President Nelson Mandela in Atlanta in his first public appearance following his release from prison was a thrill. And to play with 11 other pianists simultaneously on stage with full orchestra in an Atlanta Steinway Society concert entitled “A Celebration of Faith” was another.

Who write your songs? What are the main themes or topics for most of your songs?

I write songs with a lyric that inspire, and celebrate the spirit and gift of life.

I like to play and sing the music of other songwriters in what I call a musical collage – painting a picture from the use of the songs and their lyrics, to see a bigger picture! I look forward to continuing to grow and expand with other musicians and songwriters who want to raise the consciousness of our communities and the planet through music.

What is the typical day in the life of a musician?

Oh, I don’t know. It’s so very personal. I come from a big family and we all love music, and each of our lives is sooo very different! I think it makes for interesting harmony though! Us being different “typical”! The sky is really the limit for the artist.

What is the biggest risk you ever took professionally and/or the biggest obstacle you have overcome?

Biggest obstacle! My hands went into breakdown after a contracted engagement performing 4-5 hours daily (without breaks – well almost!). In addition, my enthusiasm to quickly add more tunes to my repertoire had me practicing for hours more. There was a big world of music out there, and I was trying to access as much of it as I could! This ongoing repetitive action brought tremendous stress to the muscles and tendons, in arms neck and shoulders. One day my hands just felt like I had taken them and stuck them in an electric socket! Yikes!! And for years, I was on hold … with lots of prayers, committed to healing, and patience. Hindsight: Adequate rest between sets, warm up exercises, as well as nutrition, is vital to hand health and stability for pianists. All artists need to be conscious of caring for their instrument – hand, voice. It was an aspect I’m pleased to say I overcame, and now have “experience” in!!

From where do you draw inspiration? Who have been your role models, mentors, etc?

I draw inspiration from God and life – when my heart feels most full and open.

Role models/mentors/teachers – the master teachers close to me who helped me grow and learn outside of what I was previously exposed to: Barry Harris (taught Master classes for pianists globally), Jimmy Owens (mentor and friend whose insight brought me to embrace my spirituality in music), Ted Johnson (who completely urged me to be authentic – myself always), Grant Reid (beautiful saxophonist who encouraged me to sing) and Ted Howe (whose brilliant guidance as a teacher was steady and clear, bridging my classical world to jazz).

What do you do to keep yourself sharp?

Listen, be open, and become a channel for the gift.

What one thing have you done in the past year that has made a significant difference in your life/your business?

Being grateful to be able to play with confidence, being open to joy, and recognizing that being fresh and authentic, is not necessarily being perfect!!

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Bringing the healing/spiritual modality to the platform of my music, and blending with my art, to make a difference in the lives of others.

What do you do for fun/relaxation/entertainment?

I now set time aside for fun – ping pong, pool, movies, and books – for now, low impact kinda fun!!

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I welcome opportunities to share my gifts, love, and insights from this journey in the arts and music.

What’s the best way for our readers to connect with you?


NOTE: Melody Cole is one of 14 women in music that WE interviewed for the WE Magazine for Women in Music Spring 2011 Issue.  You can read more about these Women in music by visiting:  http://www.staging.wemagazineforwomen.com/pdfs/2011WEMagSpring.pdf