Vocalist Rose Colella has had a very busy 2018. She recently finished a tour of the West Coast that had her performing at 13 different venues in California, Oregon and Washington. This was on top of holding down a steady Tuesday night at Andy’s Jazz Club and being the Music Department Chair at The Chicago Academy for the Arts, where she teaches Jazz Voice & Piano. If you think that sounds busy just wait because December is one of her busiest times of the year because she is also the founder and owner of lolabardproductions.com, a company she started many years ago but has grown to be the top entertainment company for Holiday Carolers in the area. Her carolers can be heard regularly throughout Chicago at Lawry’s The Prime Rib, the Lincoln Park Zoo, Navy Pier and many other locations. We thought we would catch up with Rose and talk to her about first starting out in music, starting her business and what she has coming up in December and the new year!
1. Talk about your grandmother and how she first influenced you to get interested in jazz.
I was always fascinated with my Grandmother’s career, her name was Alice Muriel Barbera but her stage name was Lola Bard. She worked with and was friends with many of the 30’s and 40’s well known musicians.Her stories of Ella Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby were so exciting to me, as a young person obsessed with that culture. When she came over to our house, she’d sit at our piano and teach me how to play and sing tunes, and I’d watch her beautiful hands (with beautifully manicured nails) as they played simple, hip chords to her favorite tunes. She’d talk about how her family used to all congregate around the piano to sing songs together, and I always thought that was the perfect example of a party. I try to recreate that every Fall at my annual Thanksgiving Party, in which many jazz musicians and friends and family sing and play standards and holiday tunes into the wee hours - that’s when I’m in my happy place.
2. At what age did you first start to really get serious about performing and becoming a vocalist?
I started out as a piano player and violinist, as I was too nervous to sing in front of people, even though that was my passion. I finally performed live as a jazz singer/pianist at a high school concert with my grandmother in attendance, performing one of the songs she recorded with The Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1938, “Please be Kind”. She told me how proud of me she was after the concert and that was the beginning! I went on to sing with big bands and combos in college, and I was sunk. There was no going back for me.
3. What college did you attend and did you start out as a music major?
I originally went to college for music education at St. Norbert College in DePere, WI, as I had no idea there was such a thing as a jazz major in college. There were no jazz singers making a living where I grew up, they only lived inside records. An ex-boyfriend of mine took me on a trip to Chicago one day and we drove past Roosevelt University on Michigan Avenue. I remember him saying, “You know you can major in Jazz at this school, right?” I freaked out and applied the next day. I auditioned there as well at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and was accepted at both universities, but chose Chicago so that I could be closer to my parents. I’m so glad I did because Chicago has been a wonderful and nurturing home for my career as a jazz singer and educator.
4. After attending school did you stay in Chicago and start performing?
I actually moved to Pennsylvania to play piano for a show after graduating, and then back to Des Moines, Iowa because as I was a bit burnt out, and didn’t actually know how to make a career as a jazz singer. When I got married, I moved back to Chicago and hit the pavement. This was extremely scary, and I had no idea what I was doing. Because of my experience I teach this particular subject passionately to my students. It’s not just about learning the craft of jazz singing, it’s about learning the craft of networking, selling your brand, leading a band, hustling, etc.
5. When you were starting out in Chicago were there specific local musicians that influenced you and helped you to develop as a vocalist?
Yes, I was lucky enough to meet guitarist Dan Effland, and we started developing a repertoire together and going out to hear people together, which began the networking phase of getting onto the scene. It helps to have a buddy! We started a trio with Joe Policastro, and began playing all over town, and I then met the fantastic vocalist Paul Marinaro, who did me the favor of having me sit in on a bunch of his gigs. Whenever a young vocalist is in the audience at one of my gigs, I try to have them sit in on a tune after all that’s how you learn, and that’s how you start to make a name for yourself.
6. As your career has developed you have been able to not only perform in Chicago but also throughout the country. When you first started performing in other cities was it a conscious effort to reach an audience outside of Chicago or did it happen organically?
My current career goal is to sing outside of Chicago as much as I love Chicago, I feel that’s the next step in my trajectory. Singing is something that has taken me around the world, which is one of the reasons I get out of bed every morning. I started by singing in Montreal, then every summer at a jazz festival in California, then every spring in New York City, and this summer it extended into a 3-week tour through NYC, San Francisco, LA, Seattle, Portland and many other cities in-between. I couldn’t have been happier, singing for a brand new audience every night. I’m really excited to fly to Toronto next week for a Christmas Show at the Botanical Gardens as well!
7. Not only are you a successful vocalist but you also run one of the most successful entertainment companies in Chicago for jazz and holiday music. Talk about what motivated you to initially start the company.
I started Lola Bard Productions many years ago after I realized I could capitalize on the number of jazz musicians I had connected with, and the growing number of clients I was acquiring. The company has grown extensively, and our musicians perform regularly all over Chicagoland at weddings, corporate functions and upscale establishments
8. Since it is the holidays let’s talk specifically about your caroling groups, how you started them and the locations that they are featured at this holiday season.
I’ll be honest, the caroling business came out of nowhere, and I had to fly by the seat of my pants to make that work the first year in business. I remember a particular client asked if I had carolers, and I said “Yes!” (I didn’t.) They then asked if we performed in Victorian costumes, and I said “Yes!” (We didn’t.) I scrambled to find Opera singers and costumes, and 3 weeks later, I found myself with a caroling business. Eight years later, we now have over 100 carolers, and this year we are booking 150+ caroling gigs from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. A little fibbing, a lot of risk-taking and hustling, and some amazing singers are what landed us in this position today.
9. Speaking of holiday music you have a special show coming up at Winter’s Jazz Club on December 20th that has a holiday theme. Can you tell us about it?
I’m so excited to sing with two of my favorite jazz singers in Chicago, Elaine Dame and Alyssa Allgood, and we have a really fun show planned for December 20th! I’m also doing my “Rose Colella’s Holiday Jazz Party” at the Jazz Showcase on December 22nd and 23rd!
10. Tell us about what you have coming up in 2019.
To be honest, I turn 40 in 2019, and I am most focused on becoming my most healthy self at 40. I’ve focused on my career for the majority of my adult life, but I’ve had some health struggles over the past several years that have led me to need to slow down a little bit and spend some generous amounts of time on wellness. I also feel a strong need to pass these values along to my students at the Chicago Academy for the Arts, where I hold the position of Music Department Chair - these students inspire me every day. Oh, and I think I’ll tour again - maybe overseas this time :)
Visit RoseColella.com for information on upcoming performances, recordings and events