Lainie Cooke made her first record—when she was 3. Her next recording—a 12-tune jazz CD titled Here’s to Life!—was recorded when she was 60! And now, at age 73, Cooke is releasing her third CD, The Music Is the Magic, a masterpiece of jazz vocal art produced by drummer and trumpeter Ralph Peterson and issued on his Onyx Productions label.
Cooke never stopped singing during that 57-year gap, however. She made her radio debut at 6 in her native Minneapolis, first appeared on television at 11, and sang with local dance bands during her high school days. After studying theater for two years at the University of Minnesota, she moved to New York City when she was 20 and soon began a hugely successful career as voice-over artist for commercials, documentaries and motion pictures that kept her busy for four decades.
Cooke has been a resident of New York City since she was 20, save for relatively brief periods in Jamaica and California. “I went to New York to find out what I could actually do with all of the stuff that was inside me,” she reflects. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be—a musical theater performer or a nightclub singer.” After working an office job for a period, she got fingerprinted for a cabaret card and played a few New York clubs, but upon doing her first out-of-town gig in Hartford, Connecticut, she developed an instant distaste for being on the road. Voice-over work, which allowed her to stay home in New York City, became her calling and kept her steadily employed for most of the next 40 years.
“I had a day job where I used my voice every day,” says Cooke, who wound up serving on the board of directors of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), eventually as the union’s National Recording Secretary. In 1973, Cooke began a three-and-a-half year adventure she calls “the very best and very worst times of my life” by joining her then-husband in running a 38-acre chicken farm in Jamaica that sold poultry and vegetables to hotels in nearby Montego Bay. She got to sing jazz once a month at a hotel there, but political turmoil on the island eventually caused the tourist industry to dry up, thus ending the couple’s business.
After getting a divorce, Cooke moved to Los Angeles in 1979 and began singing in clubs with such top jazz men as pianist Dick Shreve and bassist Bob Maize but moved back to New York in 1983 and resumed doing voice-overs. She returned briefly to L.A. to record half of her first CD, 2002’s Here’s to Life! on the Harlemwood label, with Shreve, Maize, and others. New York musicians, including Firth, bassist Cameron Brown, and drummer Matt Wilson, completed the album. Her second CD, 2008’s It’s Always You, also on Harlemwood, also featured Firth, Brown, and Wilson, as well as saxophonist Joel Frahm.
Lainie Cooke may have gotten off to a late start as a recording artist, but she has more than made up for lost time. With The Music Is the Magic, she again surrounds herself with some of the jazz world’s finest instrumentalists and further affirms her standing in the front ranks of jazz singers performing today. She’s got it all down—taste, technique, tone, and timing, a truly magical combination.
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