This past fall, vocalist Alexis Cole returned to her alma mater, William Paterson University, to succeed her mentor, Nancy Marano, who is stepping down after 25 years as Chair of the Jazz Vocal program. The opportunity, Cole said, “came out of the blue. Nancy Marano retired and got me in place. I was in her first class at William Paterson in 1996. She’s been teaching there since and really created the vocal program there. I’m really excited, but I was sad to hear about her retirement.
“Nancy and I share a lot of aesthetic preferences, and I’m honored to carry her legacy on because I believe in what she taught. I’ve had her teaching on JazzVoice.com, the online jazz educational platform I started last year. She’s done some small group lessons and some master classes based on her book Musicianship for the Jazz Vocalist. We’ve been in touch a lot over this last year. It really helped me make that transition, and for us to feel good together.
“We had a staff meeting at William Paterson, and a pianist that graduated in my class is teaching there now, too — Dave DeMotta — so it feels like I never left. I feel I’m taking my place in the natural order of things: you’re a student then you go off in the world and do what you were trained to do. Then you come back and contribute by helping other students to grow and learn. And of course, we have great students at William Paterson.”
Cole has reinstituted a class that existed when she went to school at WPU. “It’s a class with singers and a combo. It’s a great place to go over how to work with a band, how to make good lead sheets, how to use the microphone, how to create a set list, all things singers need to know. It’s a weekly vocal masterclass.”
Despite her new position at William Paterson, Cole will continue to teach Vocal Jazz at SUNY Purchase. “I feel very grateful to be at the two greatest local conservatories close to my home, SUNY Purchase. and William Paterson. The focus of both schools is on small group playing, and real classic jazz; whereas many larger schools focus on big band and swing era playing. I’m at William Paterson on Mondays teaching that combo master class and private lessons. Then I’m at SUNY Purchase on Tuesdays and Wednesdays teaching private lessons.”
Cole also spent six months in South Korea earlier this year. “I made a lot of new contacts, played some really great concerts and festivals and made professional friendships that I think will be long lasting and fruit.” Jazz in South Korea, she added, is “more popular than in America but less popular than in Japan. It’s much more common for families, for younger couples — and even teenagers and people in their 20s — to go hear jazz.
“One more thing I wanted to mention,” she continued, “is that I’m the artistic director of The Vocal Jazz Summit. It’s a conference aimed towards jazz vocalists across the spectrum from amateur enthusiasts to students and professionals alike. It features a weekend of workshops and jam sessions and performances. It’s hosted by Zeiders American Dream Theater in Virginia Beach, April 8-10, 2022. Last year was virtual, this year it’s in person. Kurt Elling is our headliner; I’m playing the second night; and Samara Joy, a graduate of my program at SUNY Purchase, will perform on our last day. Some of the teachers include Dominique Eade, Greta Matassa. René Marie, and Jane Monheit.
“So, I’m at William Paterson and SUNY Purchase, I’ve got JazzVoice.com and The Vocal Jazz Summit. I have a bunch of gigs coming up — Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis. And, I’m releasing my CD, Sky Blossom (Zoho), the big band recording I’ve been working on for a few years. We’ll be getting it out by mid-November. All these wonderful things are bringing a lot of joy to my life.” –SCHAEN FOX