Article: Cookie Coogan — Straight Outta Maine

Here’s my latest article for The Guide, the entertainment magazine put out by The Island Packet newspaper on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. This piece is credited on the Web site to “Joshua Klein.” I promise, I wrote it.

Cookie Coogan: Straight Outta Maine
Published Friday, November 9, 2007

When most people hear the word “jazz,” they associate it with particular geographic areas, such as New York City, Chicago, New Orleans and, um, Maine?

“I was introduced to jazz as a junior high school student in rural Maine,” said pianist and vocalist Cookie Coogan.Many of the school music teachers in the area were and are also fine jazz musicians. I started out playing piano and vibes in the school stage band and went on to study at Maine Jazz Camp during the summers.”

Singing has been a part of Coogan’s life for as long as she can remember. “I have always been a singer,” Coogan said. “My mother is an excellent amateur singer and I began singing with her and my sister in church and the community at a very young age. I think I took my first solo at a Grange meeting when I was 4!”

As for piano playing — that came later, although she began working on her jazz piano skills before she tried her hand at jazz singing. She was tough on herself as a pianist and would sometimes cry during her lessons if she couldn’t play something the right way. Her teacher suggested she sing something.

“I kind of knew ‘Misty,’ so I sang that for him. He taught me about putting the song in my own key and had me sing it again. It must have been decent, because at the end he looked at me and said, ‘Honey, you’re a singer. You’ve got soul.’ That was probably the moment I became a serious singer. I stopped taking piano lessons and took up voice lessons instead!”

Coogan had a chance to sing for bebop pioneer and jazz master Dizzy Gillespie — an experience she remembers fondly. It happened when she met Dizzy backstage at a concert when she was 14 years old.

“I sang, ‘I Get a Kick out of You’ for him, but instead of leaving the space for the band, I just went from one phrase to the next, to save time. [Dizzy] complimented my voice, joked around about taking me on the road and stuff, then he said, ‘You know, you got a lot going on. You could really do this, but I’m gonna give you some advice. Now, when you sing the words, even if the band isn’t there, you still gotta leave the space for them and hear the band in your head.’ That advice stays with me and works to this day.”

Coogan will be performing at the Jazz Corner with the Bob Alberti trio. “Rhythm is very important to me, and while I’m sure to sing a couple of slow and easy ballads and a bossa nova or two, my favorite thing to do is to swing like crazy!”

Author: Jason Crane