Vocalist Gayle Kolb is having a very busy Summer/Fall. She is celebrating the release of her new recording Getting Sentimental and will be performing at the 40th annual Chicago Jazz Festival on August 31st on the Jazz & Heritage Stage.
We thought we would talk with Gayle about her life in music, the motivation behind the new recording and the exciting project she will be presenting at the Chicago Jazz Festival.
Growing up what was your initial introduction to music?
Growing up my mother and father were both musical. My father's dad sang in the German Singing Society and before the war they were broadcasting on the Chicago radio stations. My paternal grandmother and grandfather and their siblings were from Germany and performed in light opera. My Grandpa had a beautiful baritone/tenor voice and my brother Glenn inherited that voice as did my nephew John.
My folk were great dancers and followed all the big bands around Chicago. Dad knew every band leader and would play his records on Sunday afternoons while he danced with the kids. We learned to love those sounds at an early age. Mom played the piano and until she died could still sit down and play “Stairway to the Stars”. Our Irish relatives were all great singers as well and my cousin Kay would always be the designated singer at family parties. Music was just a major influence in my life and always there. I also played piano. I wanted to play so that I could be in the Mrs. Lambright's recital, she was someone that put on a major show with singers and piano students. My mother said yes to piano lessons and no to singing lessons. What did we know? I also sang in church and school choirs up until college.
Was there a certain experience or person who influenced you to start singing rather than playing an instrument?
I always liked to sing. My girlfriend and I would sing songs on the front porch and at the park on the swings. In college my brother Gary started to play guitar and I would always hang around so that I could sing with him much to his chagrin. He was and is a good musician and loves the blues and folk genres of music. We had a lot of fun at family picnics with the guitars, friends, and my dad would play brushes on the wash bucket. Fun times........No one ever said “Gayle you should sing” or “you are really good”, I guess my folks wanted me to pursue other things. They would say “Be a secretary, a teacher or a nurse” well I tried the first two but finally I walked into a piano bar in California with a girlfriend who sang folk music and they handed me the mic and I sang “My Funny Valentine”. That was it! The musician I sat in with was Mel Norfleet who played piano, B3 organ and sang. I never heard anyone play jazz on the organ and loved his style and performance. He invited me to come back the next week and sing more tunes and before I knew it I was meeting musicians, singing jazz, and finding out a whole other side of myself I didn't know existed. I do believe in fate.
Did you go to school for music or were there other experiences that helped you start your career?
From there I started going around to jazz clubs and listening to some of the greats such as Lorez Alexandria, Nancy Wilson, Ray Brown and others. It was so exciting. I worked two jobs, secretary by day and singer by night. When the alarm went off I was so tired I didn't know which gig was which. Finally I gave up the day job and went into singing full time. I ended up moving to a beachside apartment in Playa Del Rey and bought an orange Chevy Vega. Life was good and it lasted quite some time. Mel Norfleet continued to be an influence in my musical career. He and I didn't work together but I could always rely on him for musical advice and he always seemed to steer me in the right direction.
I started working steadily with a show group at the Hyatt Hotel. We were there six nights a week for a couple of years and it was fun however rock and roll was never my thing. I would always try to include some jazz tunes when I would be featured. It worked because I balanced out the band. We had good musicians in the group but in order to work it was hard to do the jazz thing and I was afraid of not paying the rent. I also had the opportunity to sing at the Bel Air Hotel, what a place. It was always filled with movie stars and legends. I remember working with June Christy's pianist but I can’t remember his name.
Tell us about your time in LA, is that where you decided you could make performance a career and if so why?
Los Angeles was a tough place to start in the music business because it seemed like everyone who was somebody was already there. I did see many different artists perform and I had the chance to work with various musicians which helped me to learn the ins and outs of the music business quickly. I learned a lot in a short amount of time by being in LA during that time. Vocalist Lorez Alexandria was one of my favorite people to see perform when I was in LA. When she sang not only was her voice incredible but her phrasing and emotions were all right there. She was a great influence on me.
When you moved back to Chicago from LA did you immediately start performing?
After living in LA for quite some time I decided that I wanted to return to the Midwest for variety of reasons. One was a guy, the other was a need to change my lifestyle. My folks were glad to see me come home and thought I would return to my former job working in an office, basically doing the 9-5. Instead the minute I got back in town I called the musician’s union and asked if there were any groups looking for a singer. They sent me out to the Hamburger Hamlet in the suburbs where I met up with Miles Green and his group.
They hired me and we started working steadily right away. The group was doing well and then I met the owner of the Terrace, a 250 seat showroom and restaurant. The owners name was John Daniels and he asked me to meet him to discuss a proposal he had for me. I had no idea what the Terrace was at that point but when I met him he handed me a contract and told me to find a group because he wanted to hire me to perform regularly at his place.
It was too good of a deal to pass up so I had to quickly put a band together. I didn't really know Chicago guys so I went to the Blue Max and asked the drummer, Greg Sergo, if he knew anyone. He was so helpful and immediately hooked me up with some wonderful musicians who could perform jazz but also Broadway, Pop, R&B etc.
It ended up being a wonderful time in my life. I had a steady gig, steady money and I was playing great music. My parents would come to the Terrace every Saturday night and would bring dozens of folks with them. Finally, they agreed with my choice of profession. I remember my dad would wait until later in the set and then would say “Gayle sing ‘Midnight Sun’”. His timing was always perfect. Our group also performed in Las Vegas and the Playboy Club in Chicago as well as the Blue Max. We even filled in for vocalist Lanie Kazan one time because she was ill. That was a treat!!!
You took some time off from performing to raise a family before jumping back into music. What drew you back initially?
When I was married, I was living in Laguna Beach California and while my husband traveled for business I went back to school and finished a degree. My daughter was in grade school at the time. I also ended up teaching middle school for a short period of time which I enjoyed but finally I decided to pursue a career in Interior Design which is my other passion.
Single again, my girlfriend Jinnie urged me to get back up there and sing. I didn't know if it could work regularly after all of that time away. But somehow when I did get up and sing I got a good response from the audience and the musicians. One of whom was Rusty Jones. He was such a great guy and he was always complimentary. That's Rusty. He told me about a jam at the Serbian Village and said he would be on the drums, Tom Mullener on piano and Nick Tountas on bass. I decided to stop over and sit in. Well I guess you can say I sat in and now here I am. Back performing and excited about my new recording!
On August 31st you will performing at the 40th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival, celebrating the release of your new CD Getting Sentimental. Let’s talk about how you first decided to put this project together and what role did Dennis Carroll play in the project?
It all came about because a few years ago I started working a full-time position in the furniture/design industry. I call it my "no life" period. I was miserable with the demands and the quotas. One day I saw something on the internet that said "When you are stuck, get feedback". I was definitely stuck and had lost my mom earlier that year and wasn’t sure what my direction should be. For some reason I decided to call up Dennis Carroll. I always admired his artistry and knew him to be a person who only would tell you the TRUTH. I was ready for the truth and asked him if he would listen to me sing and tell me if there was reason for me to continue. Simple as that. He told me later that he almost said no but instead decided to give me an hour of his time. We ended up working out for about 3 hours and he asked me about my background and loved the stories about my parents and the music. Then he said “well Gayle I think you should make a CD and I'm going to produce it. Practice every day in the car when you go to work and start thinking of songs”. The next thing I knew, Dennis and I started rehearsing tunes for the new recording. Soon after, on the recommendation by Dennis, pianist Joey Skoch joined our rehearsals. Joey is launching his career and has never recorded officially nor have I. He's a young and brilliant musician and has really added to the project.
What is the meaning behind the title “Getting Sentimental”?
Dennis really liked the idea of pulling together my history with mom and dad and the music. So, when we would rehearse I found myself pulling out tunes that they loved. For example, songs like “Serenade in Blue”, “Stairway to the Stars”, my mom played that one on the piano, “Getting Sentimental”, “The Second Time Around”. I loved “Wichita Lineman” and used to sing it back in the day. We decided to use it on the recording because Glen Campbell passed away and we wanted to honor him. Bobby Broom also recorded that tune and his work on that song is brilliant. It was George Fludas who recommended Joey Skoch and I do a duo tune and suggested "My Ideal". Neither of us ever performed it but within a half hour we put it together and it made the recording. I couldn't express myself any better than those words. Funny how songs just start to come to you when you do a project. A friend of mine Jim Cooper suggested "If You Went Away" after hearing Sarah Vaughn’s version. Dennis added a waltz tempo to change it up. I think it really works wonderfully. Dennis arranged every song so that it could stand out on it's own. He also added his own song "Wing" which was really a challenge for me. Doing an original means, you have to be original and it took some doing. With his guidance, we made it happen because he knew exactly how he wanted it to sound.
You are performing at the 40th annual Chicago Jazz Festival on August 31st at noon on the Jazz and Heritage Pavilion. What can people expect to hear and will you have everyone who performed on the recording with you that day?
We will all be at the jazz fest and performing songs from our CD. It’s sort of a release party but not an official one. To me it's a thrill to be there and I must give all the credit to Dennis Carroll and the wonderful musicians who came together on this project. That is the reason I was given this opportunity. I am so excited and I am looking forward to the Jazz Fest.
Where can people get more information on your upcoming performances and the new release?