Sheila Cooper is a subtly dramatic jazz singer AND hard-swinging saxophonist, “moving from vocals to horn with dazzling dexterity” (The Vienna Review), with emotional directness and a deeply compelling range of vulnerability and power.
“She not only plays alto saxophone, but also has an equally wonderful command of her voice. Purely sung melodies are followed by effortless saxophone improvisations. It is obvious that she lives in the moment with each instrument … very emotional, so pure, so unabashedly direct!” Jazz Dimensions, Germany
“Cooper has developed her own self-assured sound as both a vocalist and altoist – her refreshingly simple, unfussy delivery befits her Konitz-esque sax tone while her unpretentious singing draws on her narrative abilities over excessive reliance on technique. RECOMMENDED.” Timeout London, UK
On “Phoenix Rising”, her fourth CD as a leader, Sheila Cooper brings her songwriting skills to the fore, with six inspired new compositions that match her emotional breadth as a performer, from humorous (“Man Overboard”, “Just Be Livin’ In It”), to romantic (“Kiss and Tell”) to searching (“Phoenix Rising”, “The Home Inside My Heart”). Sheila is backed by master New York musicians Gary Versace on piano, organ and accordion, Ed Howard on acoustic bass, and Billy Drummond on drums, with guest appearances by guitarist John Hart and Vienna-based Brazilian percussionist Luis Ribeiro, Sheila and her band create grooving, soulful and impassioned moods on these originals and the her signature witty re-workings of standards that complete the set.
“Tales of Love and Longing”, a set of duets with Austrian piano master, the late Fritz Pauer, was released to international critical acclaim on the UK jazz label Candid Records in spring 2008. Her third album as vocalist, saxophonist and co-arranger contains 10 stunning ballads with themes ranging from loss and longing to hope and promise.
“…what an inspired and creative pairing … Tales of Love and Longing is a recording of incredible warmth and intimacy…enormous depth of feeling…achingly beautiful reading…a tour de force.” Jazzwise Magazine, UK
Cooper’s debut album “Since You Were Mine” was released in 2000 (Panorama Records) and contained a mix of familiar and seldom-heard songs featuring Renee Rosnes, Billy Drummond and Scott Colley. It was quickly described as “the best jazz vocal debut in many years” (Doug Moody, “Moody’s Mood” KMFB-FM, California, USA). Her second album “While the World is in Slumber” featuring John Hart, Marcello Pellitteri and Chris Berger also showcased Sheila’s trademark quirky yet elegant arranging skills. In contrast to the debut album, it included two original compositions (one vocal, one instrumental).
Born in Canada and raised in a musical family, Sheila’s love affair with jazz began when, as a small child, she would secretly stay up and listen to her parents’ combo practicing the bossa nova and Tin Pan Alley tunes they would play on their weekend gigs. “Oscar Peterson and Nat Cole were like gods in our home, followed by Puccini and Bach,” she says. “Some years later my older brother, a pianist, started playing Charlie Parker and Art Pepper records, and that was it. When my younger brother brought home a tenor sax, I eventually persuaded him to show me some fingerings, and I practically stole it out from under him!” A chance opening in the sax section of the local college big band prompted a switch to alto, and within a few months of picking up the sax, she was playing gigs while still in high school. “It was about one in the morning on a school night, and I was down in the basement, trying to learn my part on “Cherry Juice”, a very challenging Thad Jones big band up tempo classic. My father came down to say, ‘You don’t have to do this, you know.’ And the answer was, ‘Yes, Dad, I do.’”
With the support of a prestigious Canada Council grant she moved to New York City to jumpstart her career, landing performance opportunities as varied as the Broadway stage, movie soundtracks, jazz festivals, nightclubs and concert halls throughout the world. She has recorded and/or performed as a leader with Renee Rosnes, Jorge Rossy, Fritz Pauer, Kenny Drew Jr, Gary Versace, Scott Colley, Ed Howard, Marcello Pelleteri, Billy Drummond and Lewis Nash. As a sideperson she has worked with Kenny Wheeler, David Liebman, Randy Brecker, Clark Terry, Nils Wogram, Andy Middleton and Nancy Wilson. In addition to co-producing her own CDs, she has several credits as album co-producer, including CDs with David Holland, Ralph Towner, and Kenny Wheeler.
When asked whether she prefers playing her saxophone or singing, Sheila replies, “Like the song says, I love the one I’m with: the saxophone with its groove, energy and big sound offers the possibility to discover something new with each solo, and singing, on the other hand, enables me to tell completely personal stories and live them out in 5 or 6 minutes.” As music journalist/author Will Friedwald says in the “Tales of Love and Longing” liner notes: “it takes an uncommon talent to master both muses.”
Based in Vienna, Austria since 2006, Sheila frequently guest stars with premiere jazz musicians across Europe — most recently in Belarus, Spain, Italy, Slovakia, Greece, Croatia, UK, Germany, and Austria. Her latest project is a chord-less quintet called “Infinite Skies” with saxophonist-composer-arranger Andy Middleton.