Hilary KoleSophisticated LadySelf-Released

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“Kole is about as polished as they come without losing a whit of warmth. Her vocal range and control remain astonishing.” Theater Pizzazz

Consummate vocalist and New York City jazz staple Hilary Kole is thrilled to announce the release of Sophisticated Lady. Adorned by Kole’s soulful vocal sensibilities and a stellar band of first-rate instrumentalists, Kole’s latest release is a collection of mature, nuanced renditions of jazz classics which retain a spirit both heartfelt and adventurous. For nearly two decades, Kole has been heralded for her intimate piano and vocal performances, themed shows with her jazz ensemble, special concert hall symphony performances and critically acclaimed recordings showcasing her compositional prowess. With Sophisticated Lady, Kole lends her voice to 11 archetypal songs from the jazz idiom. Accompanying Kole on this auspicious release is her longtime rhythm section made up of guitarist John Hart, pianist Adam Birnbaum, bassist Paul Gill, drummer Aaron Kimmel, vibraphonist Tom Beckham and woodwinds player Chris Byars who created the thoughtful arrangements for the vast majority of the album’s tracks. Sophisticated Lady will be available worldwide on July 23, 2021, following a special release in Japan on June 25th, 2021 via Japan Victor.

The celebrated lady of song launched her performing career as the youngest singer ever to grace the stage at NYC’s legendary Rainbow Room. For a year and a half, Kole performed 6 nights per week at the storied venue, cutting her teeth as a working musician alongside a slew of great players. Kole notes “When I was contemplating making a new record, I thought back to my days as a young singer at the Rainbow Room. Most of the standards I sang then were the songs one could always call with a pick-up band. Every musician at the time knew them. As I transitioned into more headline work and the worlds of jazz and cabaret, it became clear to me that it was important not to sing the ‘same songs’ that everybody knew. Nevertheless, the idea of going back to the basics has been calling to me lately. They are standards for a reason, after all. So, I decided to do a record of classic standards – songs I might have done at the Rainbow Room 20 years ago, or my father (acclaimed Broadway singer Robert Kole) might have done on his club dates at historic venues such as the Copa or the Maisonette Room 60 years ago.” With a refined musical sensibility, Kole returned to the very songs that marked her musical upbringing.

“Ms. Kole soars…with a voice that is at times powerful and self-assured while other moments she brings a vulnerability that touches the soul.” The Associated Press

Kole decided that she wanted to create a tapestry of sound that made this record different and unique even in its familiarity. Long a fan of Chris Byars’ playing and arranging, Kole knew that Byars would be up to the task. “When I realized I wanted a classic but unique sound,” Kole exclaimed, “I immediately thought of him – and I’m so glad I did. What Chris came up with is dark and beautiful and challenging – not your average small group charts, and just what I wanted.”

The album begins with the title track “Sophisticated Lady”. The unhurried swing is propelled forward by the rhythmic anticipation created by Kimmel’s brushes, the flawlessly executed hits orchestrated by Byars, and Kole’s passionate refrains. A masterclass in dynamics, the melody gives way to a tasteful solo by Byars and soli section from the instrumentalists. The bright-tempoed “The Best Thing For You (Would Be Me)” is delivered here with an unrivaled zeal and exuberance. The rendition showcases Kole’s immense melodic facility while scatting as well as wonderful solo sections from the full ensemble.

Somebody Loves Me” and “Make Me Rainbows” provide stellar examples of Byars using the full breadth of the instrumentation to compliment Kole’s soaring vocals. Hart’s guitar and Beckham’s vibes add a softness and a fullness to the soundscape, while Birnbaum’s comping provides the perfect harmonic and rhythmic underpinnings to Kole’s voice, locking impeccably with Gill’s bass and Kimmel’s drums. Kole notes “Aaron Kimmel’s sense of swing and restraint gives the record its retro feel – he is a drummer from another time.”

Kole adds new dimensions to Ellington’s classic “In A Sentimental Mood”, and “‘Round Midnight”, melding notes of wistfulness and resolve. “Round Midnight” offers a shift of dynamic with a pared-down instrumentation. Kole’s striking delivery of this Thelonious Monk-penned standard is complimented by guitarist John Hart’s masterful harmonic support, harkening back to the classic guitar-vocal duo of Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass in both interplay and timbre. The ensemble concludes the album by exploring a cleverly-orchestrated and musically-demanding rendition of Richard Rodgers’ “The Sweetest Sounds” featuring gorgeous soli performances from Byars and Beckham and soulful improvisation from Hart, Birnbaum and Kole.

Kole’s highly-anticipated Sophisticated Lady follows several critically-acclaimed releases by the renowned vocalist including 2014’s A Self Portrait which received 5 stars from The Associated Press and glowing reviews from USA Today, JazzTimes and Downbeat Jazz Magazine. 2016 saw the release of Hilary Kole: The Judy Garland Project which received high praise from Downbeat Jazz Magazine and JazzTimes as well theater publications such as Talkin’ Broadway and CabaretScenes. Sophisticated Lady goes far to cement Kole’s stature as a preeminent interpreter of song within the jazz idiom.

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Hilary Kole – Sophisticated Lady:

Produced by Hilary Kole

Engineered and Mixed by Christopher Sulit

Mastered by Kevin Blackler

Recorded at Sound On Sound recording studio in Montclair NJ in 2020

Manufactured by Disc Makers

All Photos by Bill Westmoreland

Graphic Design by Joe Varca

The Band:

Hilary Kole: Vocals/ Arrangements for tracks 2 and 8

Chris Byars: Arrangements for all tracks except 2 and 8/ Orchestrator tracks 2 and 8/ woodwinds on all tracks

John Hart: Guitar

Adam Birnbaum: Piano

Paul Gill: Bass                             

Aaron Kimmel: Drums

Tom Beckham: Vibes

The tracks:

  1. Sophisticated Lady (4:26) by Duke Ellington lyrics by Mitchell Parish & Irving Mills
  2. Old Devil Moon (5:47) by Burton Lane lyrics, Yip Harburg
  3. The Best Thing for You (would be me) (4:09) by Irving Berlin
  4. Somebody Loves Me (4:56) by George Gershwin lyrics by Buddy DeSylva & Ballard MacDonald
  5. Make Me Rainbows (5:12) by Johnny Williams lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman
  6. Love Dance (5:46) by Ivan Lins, Gilson Peranzzetta English lyrics by Paul Williams
  7. In A Sentimental Mood (5:00) by Duke Ellington lyrics by Manny Kurtz, Irving Mills
  8. Let’s Face the Music and Dance (6:01) by Irving Berlin
  9. Round Midnight (5:52) by Thelonious Monk lyrics by Cootie Williams, Bernard D Hanighen, Thelonious Monk
  10. It’s You or No One (5:07) by Sammy Cahn lyrics by Julie Styne
  11. The Sweetest Sounds (5:37) by Richard Rodgers
  12. Knock Me a Kiss (6:06) by Mike Jackson lyrics by Andy Razaf

Thank you: I could not have created this record without the unflappable support of my husband, Michael Chad Hoeppner. This record is dedicated to him, and my amazing band mates; John, Paul, Aaron, Adam, Chris, and Tom. You never cease to amaze me with your talent, and you constantly inspire me to be my best on stage and in the recording studio. Chris, your beautiful and unique treatments of these songs still haunt me in the best possible way. It was my honor to record these songs with all of you.

My thoughts:

I have procrastinated for a long time about writing these notes. Usually I like to let the music speak for me as an artist, but this year has seen a lot of changes, and it feels right that at the tender age of 45 (yes, I am 45 now) I learn to write my own liner notes. I started singing well before I remember. My father, Robert Kole, was a Broadway singer long before I came along, and had twelve uninterrupted years singing on hallowed Broadway stages before transitioning into the world of “night clubs.” When I started in the business in 1998 a club date meant you were singing a 4-hour gig (usually 55 minutes on and 5 minutes off) and it was either a wedding or a corporate event. Most people didn’t care who you were as long as you were keeping things lively and singing songs they knew. I wasn’t very good at that last part. I remember once being on a club date and having the leader turn to me angrily while one of the other female singers was singing an R&B song and yelling at me to sing backup. So, I started harmonizing (something I absolutely love to do) and he looked at me like I was crazy….I was just making it up and not doing what was on the 1970s record…..I didn’t last in club date bands very long.

When my dad did ‘club dates’ he was talking about headlining the Copa or the Maisonette Room. Although things had changed A LOT since he was hustling as a singer in New York, I was lucky enough to land one of New York’s last old-fashioned club dates as my very first entre into professional singing – performing at the Rainbow Room six nights a week while completing my degree at Manhattan School of Music in composition. It was the perfect gig for me: I got to learn my craft without fear (nobody really watched the singer – they were dancing after all!); I worked with top-notch musicians who taught me the ropes (and rolled their eyes when I made mistakes); I learned hundreds of standards and how to call tunes with 1 measure to go, how to use my ears to transition into the new key without waiting for the 2-5-1 progression from the pianist, and how to sing trumpet 2 parts (that was just for fun). I worked at the Rainbow Room for a year and a half. I knew then – but know even more now – how lucky I was to have had that learning experience. I think about young singers today and how few gigs there are and how many gigs and hours you need on a stage performing, trying, learning and failing to actually become good. I look back on that time as a magical moment in my life.

When I was contemplating making a new record, I thought back to my days as a young singer at the Rainbow Room. Most of the standards I sang then were the songs one could always call with a pick-up band. Every musician at the time knew them. These weren’t exactly hidden gems. As I transitioned into more headline work and the worlds of jazz and cabaret, it became clear to me that it was important not to sing the ‘same songs’ that everybody knew. In fact, I felt a pressure to find songs that almost no one knew. Now that was and is a fun and wonderful endeavor. Nevertheless the idea of going back to the basics has been calling to me lately. They are standards for a reason, after all. So I decided to do a record of classic standards – songs I might have done at the Rainbow Room 20 years ago, or my father might have done on one of his club dates 60 years ago. And although this would have been a very simple and inexpensive record to make – get the band together and just improvise on these classic tunes – I really wanted to create a tapestry of sound that made this record different and unique even in its familiarity. I wanted a record that could have been recorded 60 years ago. Enter Chris Byars.

I have always been a fan of Chris as both a player and as an arranger. When I realized I wanted a classic but unique sound, I immediately thought of him – and I’m so glad I did. Candidly, I must share that I can be really problematic for arrangers – I know just enough to be dangerous in terms of writing charts, so pleasing me is no easy task. What Chris came up with, in my opinion, is dark and beautiful and challenging – not your average small group charts, and just what I wanted. We decided on using vibes instead of an additional horn because it adds a softness and a fullness to the soundscape. And as far as the band is concerned, I have been playing with the same rhythm section for years, and wanted to give them something to really bite into. I am so excited to have Adam Birnbaum on this record – we have been playing together for over five years now, but this is the first time we have recorded together. His flawless technique adds an elegance to this record that I love. Whenever I play with John Hart it is an honor. I am so glad we did a duet on this recording – we do one whenever we perform together, and this was done in one take, like always. John challenges me to be at the top of my game. Paul Gill has been my band mate for almost 15 years, and his perfect feel and clean lines were crucial to bringing the charts to life. Aaron Kimmel’s sense of swing and restraint gives the record its retro feel – he is a drummer from another time. They all keep me honest. This was the first time I had ever worked with Tom Beckham, who showed up and played the challenging charts perfectly and added so much to the session and to the music.

Even as many of these songs are well known to those who know the genre, most are challenging for a singer. For example, I would rank In a Sentimental Mood as one of the most difficult tunes I have ever attempted to sing or record. Such long lyric lines, at such a slow tempo, and moving throughout different registers, there really isn’t any way to breathe at all without risking collapsing the line and damaging the intention of the lyric. Quite honestly I listened to Ella’s recording before allowing myself to breathe where I needed to. If Ella can breathe in the middle of a thought, so can I, I figured.

They aren’t all well-known songs. Some I chose because they just simply swing so hard and are thrilling to me as a composition geek. And then there are the other standards that I had always assumed I shouldn’t sing for a whole variety of reasons: I wasn’t ready for them, I was too young (ha!), there was a definitive version already, there were too many versions, etc. etc. After a year of really sitting in who I am as an artist, woman, human, maybe staying away from songs isn’t something I want to do anymore. I am 45 after all.