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Ross Porter at the Montreal Jazz Festival - Holly Cole

Holly Cole has the right stuff. Every once and a while, we need reminders of the obvious.

Holly's performance at the Theatre du Nouveau Monde was just that for me. In Toronto, Holly is part of the day to day musical landscape at JAZZ.FM91, so we kinda take how good she is for granted. It is my belief now, after watching her Friday night, Holly Cole is at the absolute top of her game!

Firstly, the night belonged to her. Holly was in a much deserved euphoric state. Festival co-founder Andre Ménard presented her with the prestigious Ella Fitzgerald Award for her originality as a singer (previous recipients include Bobby McFerrin, Diana Krall and Tony Bennett). As Andre said that night, this was Holly's 20th appearance at the festival and as a fan, what he likes most is the playfulness in her voice.

Got me to thinking about reasons why she is good... I think it is deeper than playfulness. It is a charismatic joyfulness Holly brings to her craft.

Holly communicates pleasure and confidence. Her presence in concert is BIG. She owns the stage. She works every corner of it, singing, laughing and talking to the entire room and interacting, yes, in a playful way, with both the audience and her band.  You don't learn to entertain like this overnight. It takes years of working in every imaginable situation and playing in every imaginable venue, from the Viper Room in Hollywood to the Blue Note in NYC to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, to become truly good at making your audience care and like you. Holly should give workshops for other singers, on the art of stage presence.

And there is more, with her repertoire Holly takes risks (she always has). Certainly she's embraced the jazz standards repertoire i.e. Friday night there was Tea for Two and Waters of March but she's also expanded the repertoire with Jersey Girl and Whistling' Past the Graveyard by Tom Waits, Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues by Danny O' Keefe and the James Bond theme, You Only Live Twice.

Holly is the real deal. She has that gift that her idol Betty Carter had, being able to own a song. Oh yeah, she also understands one of the most important and often forgotten basic principles of good music. Melody.

I've seen Holly perform many times over the last 23 years... in Toronto, Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Hollywood and New York, Her show Friday night ranks as the best ever. The Ella Fitzgerald Award, indeed. It is deserved. Congratulations Holly!


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