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From amateur to pro: Bill Coté puts lifetime into debut album

Everything on Bill Coté’s debut album, “Where Do You Start,” comes from the heart. He’s a lawyer and businessman who turned his love of jazz standards into a personal industry.
Everything on Bill Coté’s debut album, “Where Do You Start,” comes from the heart. He’s a lawyer and businessman who turned his love of jazz standards into a personal industry.
Mikel Healey

Bill Coté with the Tamir Hendelman Trio “Where Do You Start” album [April 15, 2014]


I have lived with the songs on this album for many, many years. They all come from the heart. It was a fantastic experience recording them with Tamir’s great arrangements and the remarkable talents of this stellar band.

Bill Coté loves to sing. He serenades his family and friends all the time on an informal basis, when he’s not soaking in all that jazz culture. He proposed to his wife of 43 years by singing the Michel Legrand/Marilyn and Alan Bergman ballad, “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?” when she was in the kitchen. The times he’s gotten up on stage, he’s delighted the audience with his own L.A. version of Billy Joel’s “New York State Of Mind.”

The amateur singer (businessman and lawyer) was enjoying himself on a jazz cruise in 2010 when he struck up a conversation with Tamir Hendelman, the award-winning pianist from the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Then, the two got onstage. Hendelman knew right away that Coté had the stuff to record his own album of jazz standards. The basso profundo voice that got so impossibly deep and so impossibly rich, the deeply personal notes in every lyrical curve… It was time.

“I’ve been singing jazz standards for nearly 50 years and have had the honor to be close friends with some of the greatest jazz musicians around. But it wasn’t until a jazz cruise I took in 2010 that my longtime dream of making my own CD was re-ignited,” Coté affirmed.

Coté proves he’s far from an amateur on this April 15, 2014 release, with the Tamir Hendelman Trio — bassist Martin Wind, drummer Joe LaBarbera — and special guests Bob Sheppard (sax/flute) and Graham Dechter (guitar). Hendelman arranged all of Coté’s favorite standards, all 16 of them. Coté oversaw the recording as executive producer, and worked with Hendelman to produce a meaningful collection that entertains, touches, and fulfills both the fan and the musician.

The standards weren’t just thrown in there for laughs. Each one means something special to Coté, including that standard he sang to the great love of his life in the kitchen when asking her to marry him. “Each of the tunes I chose for this project have been part of my life for a long time and resonate with me for a myriad of different reasons,” Coté said.

Coté’s engagement standard is made especially heart-tugging, poignantly so with the addition of what sounds like a bow drawn on cello strings, and Hendelman’s tender warm pianissimo. Coté completes the soft romantic picture with vocals that understates the quiet gratitude of finding someone remarkable to share a life with, in shades drawn and awestruck — a reflection amplified in dulcet waves by the piano and bass solos. The lyrics in “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life” are made real in Coté’s honest, caring inflection, phrasing, and vocal sweeps. He understands the song. It’s in his voice.

Coté’s “L.A. State Of Mind” is a crowd pleaser, a fun, (guitar) funky, frolicking play off Billy Joel’s more somber, hand’s-off hit, “New York State Of Mind.” He replaces NYC with L.A. landmarks and terms, and lightens his formidable voice as easily as he drops heavy, deep, and low on ballads. “It was so easy living day by day, outta touch with the coast and Malibu. But now I need a dose of give and take, the L.A. Times, the Valley News… Don’t care if it’s Staples or the whole West side… I’m just soakin’ up sunshine, drinkin’ California wine ‘cause I’m in an L.A. state of mind.” Nice and cute.

When Coté really feels a song — which he does on all these tunes, really — he makes it extra-special. The lively “Satin Doll” is free from worry or melancholy, the opposite of another of his favorites, “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life.” But he gives both of these his care in equal measure, just different. He really loves the way the free-spirited lyrics of “Satin Doll” just flies, floats, and flits off the tongue. And it shows. The off-beat, funked-up rhythm in the intro encourages the flights of fancy on one of his and his wife’s favorite songs.

Sheppard’s flute floats in on a most unusual arrangement of one of the most rearranged standards, “My Funny Valentine.” Coté jumps right in there abruptly, almost losing the beat, or on top of it. His honest voice in deep, rich, unwavering tones — breaking character at times to simply speak to his lady love — saves this love song from another overdone hybrid. Maybe he never lost the heart of the beat; maybe he’s changing it up. The flute and that crazy cello-bass solo take over for the standard piano, in zig-zag charges that shake up the norm, the perfectly imperfect barometer of a theme about a funny Valentine whose figure is less than Greek. Good job, Hendelman and Coté. Listeners will definitely hear the “terrible romantic” in this “signature piece” for the featured artist.

“On A Clear Day” contains some of the most graphic jazz interplays amongst the finest jazz musicians. Coté holds his own on vocals, knowing when to step back and let the music flow, telling the rest of the story he starts confidently. His voice is clear, hopeful, and unfaltering in its obvious love for the jazz standards he’s embraced so deeply on this record.