One of the most sought-after singers on the Atlanta jazz scene, Laura Coyle brings a timeless voice and masterful sense of swing to her performances. She collaborates with many of the best musicians in the city and sings with a genuine love for the lyrics, and the traditions of jazz music.
Performance Highlights: Featured performer at The Atlanta Jazz Festival, 2012; A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald at the Velvet Note, 2014; Jazz Roots, A Larry Rosen Jazz Series Launch, Cobb Energy Centre, 2013; Featured vocalist with The Joe Gransden Big Band, Cafe 290, 2014; Featured vocalist with The Kevin Bales Quartet at The Jazz Corner, Hilton Head, 2014; Featured performer, High Museum Friday Jazz series, 2014
It’s impossible to explain why you have a serious crush on one person and not another, when a momentary glance captivates you, but that’s what happened to me and jazz. Suddenly it was the music I wanted to be with all the time and we became inseparably linked. It began at Auburn University. My passion for drawing and painting took me there to study art, but it was a music appreciation class where I felt that electric moment of attraction.
I still remember the first time I heard the needle drop on Moanin’ by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. As a former clarinetist, I was entranced by the harmony of the horns. Their solos, filled with soaring notes, were complex enough to bend my ear, but grounded in that bluesy feeling that reaches right for your soul. The classroom rang with the sound of the drums: simmering with swing and thundering like a force of nature.
I was officially hooked. I taped every jazz record in the campus library, wearing out the cassettes during endless hours in the art studio. Lost in my world of painting, I sang along with Ella, Sarah and Carmen, imitated the solos of the horn greats, and subconsciously imprinted the music deep into my mind and heart.
I graduated with my portfolio under my arm and left the South for New York City, determined to carve out a career as a freelance illustrator. Thanks to luck and good timing, one of the side jobs I took early on was as the assistant to legendary jazz photographer Jimmy Katz. Loading film and managing gear at his side, I found myself within arm’s reach of many of my heroes: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, James Moody, Joe Williams, Dianne Reeves, Bobby McFerrin and Christian McBride. Watching these master musicians was an amazing and pivotal experience. I began to fathom the dedication and training required to bring a seemingly effortless sense of spontaneity, soul and history to such challenging music.
Eventually I returned to my hometown of Atlanta and established a flourishing illustration career. I’d never lost my love for jazz; in fact, I longed to join in the music-making and so I made time for piano and voice lessons. At Auburn, I had nervously flirted with singing at jam sessions, but knew I had much to learn. Finding a great private teacher in Atlanta was another stroke of luck. She gave me a start with theory and the courage to get on stage again.
On one of those stages, the session leader heard something sincere in my attempts to sing the standards. Bernard Linnette -- a fellow devotee of Art Blakey -- invited me to guest with his regular quartet. A novice among masters, I will forever be grateful for the mentorship these accomplished musicians gave me. They encouraged my confidence and fed my desire to learn. This band was the true start of my jazz education.
Now, it’s been nearly a decade of gigs, of learning from and collaborating with musicians. I’m still an illustrator, but with two CDs to my name. I’ve sung on stages at the Atlanta Jazz Festival and The Savannah Music Festival. I’ve performed for packed crowds at the High Museum, and in intimate jazz clubs. Along the way, I’ve discovered that one of the most special things about playing jazz is the rhythm, and the almost telepathic connection it creates. Locking into that swing with your bandmates is like a joyful dance. When that feeling takes over the band, your cares fall away, and it’s possible to sing and say exactly what’s in your heart. It’s an elusive thing, a sublime state, one that musicians and audiences alike dream of. I’m thankful to be a part of it, and to share in the life of this great music.
- Laura Coyle