Alex Coke, born in Dallas, Texas, received his B.A. from the University Of Colorado at Boulder in 1976, with emphasis on flute performance. In 1974 Coke and pianist Rich Harney met through a mutual friend, bassist Stone Savage. They immediately started playing and working together, forming one of the steadiest collaborations in central Texas. Coke has performed with Rich Harney in various formations for over 25 years.
In 1990, Coke heeded a call from Amsterdam that would have him touring and recording for 10 years with the internationally renowned Dutch jazz group the Willem Breuker Kollektief. An improviser at heart, Coke’s eclectic attitude has led him to explore everything from Be-Bop to Huddie Ledbetter. His flute studies have ranged from Eric Dolphy to Indian ragas on the bamboo flute to extended flute techniques such as those researched by Robert Dick, Ann LaBerge and Wil Offermans.
Alex has performed in a multitude of bands over the years. He teamed with the now-departed trumpet great Martin Banks and Rich Harney to form a post-bop quintet called The Worthy Constituents. Another project was called New Texas Swing. He has worked with Gerald Wilson, Charles Tolliver, the Paradise Regained Orchestra and the Trio Henk de Jonge. He can also be heard with the John Jordan Trio, the Mysterious Quartet from Helsinki featuring Chris Duarte, Rob Verdurmen’s Double Drummer Bill, and on the recent Greezy Wheels CD HipPOP.
Based in Austin, Texas, the live music capital of the world, jazz vocalist Suzi Stern performs and records all over the USA, Canada, and Europe.
Born in Buffalo, N.Y. to professional musicians (her father was a jazz violinist, and her mother a jazz singer) one could say Stern’s jazz indoctrination literally started in the womb. Perhaps in an attempt to get onto a professional path that varied from her parents, a teenaged and headstrong Stern embarked on a career as a professional ballet dancer, studying in NYC, at American Ballet Theater, The Joffrey Ballet, and Harkness Ballet. Realizing she could actually obtain this dream of becoming an underpaid, anorexic, corps de Ballet dancer made Stern rethink her career choice and look again at immersing herself in her original lifelong passion and companion…Jazz.
She studied classical voice for ten years in N.Y. and later in Austin at the University of Texas, and learned jazz theory from her studies with jazz horn players making her approach more instrumental than vocal at times, with a strong foundation in improvisation. Her studies with vocal wizard Bobby McFerrin were without question one of her most inspired learning experiences.
Through her own inventive lyrics and her selection of jazz classics not typically performed by singers, Suzi expresses a relevant, deeply personal perception of life as a woman at the beginning of this new century.
A published poet as well as an accomplished lyricist, Suzi has written words to numerous contemporary and classic jazz compositions such as Denny Zeitlin’s Quiet Now and Joe Henderson’s Black Narcissus which have been recorded by artists worldwide.
From collaborations with famed bassist David Friesen, her lyrics to several of his tunes appear in Friesen’s transcription book Years Through Time, a Hal Leonard publication, and most recently her words set to Bill Evans tunes, have been published in another Hal Leonard compilation of Evans compositions.
A move to the Portland/Seattle area for 5 years gave Stern an unexpected opportunity to work with some of the nations best Jazz musicians who were there playing gigs, recording, and living in this low key, amazing west coast community.
Among those musical colleagues, collaborators and mentors are: Denny Zeitlin, Joe Henderson, David Friesen, Jerry Hahn, Graham Lear, Leroy Vinegar, Jesseca Williams, Shiela Jordan, Jay Clayton, and Mal Waldron, to name only a few. New York collaborations found her working with, recording or writing lyrics for the likes of Joshua Redman, Russell Ferrante, Tonino Horta, Deduka de Fonseka, Siro Baptista, and Nilson Matta.
One might be surprised to know that Texas has an amazing jazz scene tucked away amongst the country music and singer songwriter circles. This fact has afforded Suzi the opportunity to play and record with incomparable musicians like Mitch Watkins, Eric Avinger, Alex Coke, John Mills, Doug Hall, and the late A.D. Mannion.
The Austin arts community in particular has crossed over to open up collaborations with many different forms of visual and performing arts for Suzi. She has performed and toured with: WORD WORK a multi media performance arts troupe combining dance, poetry and improvised voice; COLLABORATIVE VOICES, a group of 6 female voices led by the nationally acclaimed Tina Marsh; countless collaborations with choreographers out of Texas such as Yacov Sharir; and even several years of performance and recording with a Texas based Klezmer band led by jazz trumpeter Bill Averbach.
Suzi’s CD releases include “ Lament” on Aardvark Records, “Inside Stories” on Viewpoint Records, and “ Seven Stars” on Mad Moon Records.
Aside from recording and live performance, Stern is a respected jazz educator. She was on the faculty of Marylherst College in Oregon teaching jazz vocals and improvisation for several years, and presently teaches jazz clinics at Universities in the U.S. and Europe.
Suzi has two amazing children that are her greatest creative accomplishments by far: her son Rene, a filmmaker and playwrite; and daughter Ariana Blue, who inspires Suzi daily.
Rich Harney has been illuminating the Austin jazz scene as one of its brightest stars for the last decade. His remarkable talents as pianist, composer, and vocalist have gained him acclaim from the Austin American-Statesman as “one of Austin’s most valuable musical resources.” The Austin Jazz Players and Critics Poll honored him in 1993 as Composer of the Year, Best Songwriter, and Best Male Jazz Vocalist. He also received second place honors in the Austin Music Umbrella’s 1992 Composer Competition. In a 1990 competition adjudicated by Branford Marsalis, MUSICIAN magazine named Harney’s sextet as one of the twelve Best Unsigned Bands nationwide.
Harney has performed extensively as band leader and ensemble pianist with Gene Ramey, Tony Campise, Carmen Bradford (Count Basie Orchestra), Martin Banks (Duke Ellington Orchestra), Clifford Scott and Ted Piltzecker (Director, Aspen Music Festival’s Jazz Program). In addition to playing jazz festivals and local venues, he and singer Beth Ullman co-produced the popular concert series “Jazz at St. David’s” and the highly acclaimed theatrical concert “Dyin’ to Swing.”
Born and raised in Champaign, Illinois, Harney was first inspired by Oscar Peterson’s recordings. Other influences on his compositions and arrangement include Thelonious Monk, Tadd Dameron, and Charlie Parker, as well as the early jazz piano of James P. Johnson and Fats Waller. “Any traditional jazz music is an inspiration to me, “ Harney says. “I just want to carry on the spirit of the music.”
Echoes of old-time stride piano, forties big band style and fifties bebop draw a wide audience to his innovative sound. But the soul of his music lies in an elegant simplicity that comes from what Critic Jay Trachtenberg calls “its verve, humor and unabashed drive.” As Harney himself notes, “Most audiences really respond if you play what you love. The greatest musical statements are usually something so simple. You just have let go and play.”