Kathy Kosins doesn't take anything for granted; for instance, she has been one of the very few jazz singers to question the absolute necessity of long-playing albums. Since 2010, she has adapted to the changing needs of the music industry, and specifically her fans, by releasing a regular series of digital singles. So, when she announces a new album, it's abundantly clear that this won't be just an arbitrary assemblage of random tunes, but a very special collection of specific songs that have a darned good reason for being connected to each other in the album format.
The new album, her fifth, is titled To the Ladies of Cool, and the songs all derive from the repertoires of four canonical female singers of the 1950s: Anita O'Day, June Christy, Chris Connor, and Julie London. This is her first album for Resonance Records, owned and operated by George Klabin, whom she describes as "this generation's Bob Thiele, Norman Granz and Creed Taylor."
Kosins stresses that this shouldn't be mistaken for a tribute album, in which a contemporary artist will simply "cover" the works of a canonical performer; it is even less a set of imitations. Kosins has undertaken the laborious task of sifting through an enormous selection of songs - these ladies were all extremely prolific - and finding the ones that matched her own voice and style. In taking songs that she learned from this fabulous foursome and making them work in her own inimitable fashion, she has taken her own title admirably literally. She has, in fact, truly created a "toast" to four artists who continue to inspire her, something much more meaningful and satisfying than a tribute.
Kosins has long been familiar with these artists and their songs; in fact, the new album is a direct consequence of her multi-media concert show, "The Ladies of Cool." She explains that she initially began the process by combing through the copious discographies of the late O'Day, Christy, Connor, and London - and she notes, not only the CD reissues of their commercial recordings, but she also sifted through such esoterica as V-Discs, Armed Forces Radio broadcasts, radio transcriptions, Soundies, and other film and TV appearances.
From this vast pool of hundreds of titles, she explains, "I selected 20 songs that were of interest to me. On some occasions, I was intrigued by the title of a song I had never heard of. A few of my choices were rather obscure - others were quite famous at one time, although I might not have known them." In one instance, Kosins took Johnny Mandel's famous instrumental "Hershey Bar," a melody that had been scatted wordlessly by O'Day, and, with the composer's express permission, added her own lyric to it and created "Hershey's Kisses." Thus, she made "Hershey Bar" into something else entirely. To reiterate, this album is no "cover" job! Eventually, she says, "I narrowed the list down to the 10 songs that are on the CD."
From that point, she studied and learned the songs from the original sheet music, rather than using the historical recordings as a starting point; it was just one additional way of insuring that her interpretations would be original and not clones of any previously existing recordings. The result is a "toast" like no other.
She also made a point to record the sessions in Los Angeles - then, as always, ground zero for the "Cool School" associated with these ladies. Even more importantly, this gave her the chance to work with such outstanding members of the L.A. local scene as the superlative pianist and musical director Tamir Hendelman (who was responsible for all of the album's arrangements), guitarist Graham Dechter, multiple reed player Steve Wilkerson, and percussionist Bob Leatherbarrow.
Kathy Kosins is a singer, composer, songwriter (words and music), arranger, educator, and painter. Born in Highland Park, Michigan (a city surrounded by the larger city of Detroit), she grew up in Detroit's internationally known jazz and R&B scene. Kosins was initially known as a singer of soul, rock, and funk, having worked extensively with the celebrated band Was (Not Was) as well as Michael Henderson. For the last 15 years or so, however, she has become famous as one of the most successful jazz singers of the contemporary era. As an instructor in this field, she has conducted master classes at over 100 colleges and universities. She also continues to work as part of a project called Detroit Memphis Experience.
Kosins has also maintained a second career as a visual artist, primarily as a painter of abstract original canvases - and has enjoyed gallery showings of her works throughout North and South America. Although that career is separate, Kosins is keen to note the parallels between the two ideals: "That songwriting, singing, and painting are my creative disciplines," she notes. "Music and painting are equal parts of who I am. I sing what I paint and I paint what I sing. I use the lyric and melody for color and shape inspiration."