Women Making Music – Linda Shew Wolf

Women Making Music – Linda Shew Wolf

She’s a graduate of Cornell University. This published author, mother to Julie and Chris and professional saxophonist and electric violinist moved to WNC in 2017 and has been tooting her horn in various ensembles and bands ever since.

For the past 20 years, she’s played in a Middle-Eastern, psychedelic rock group based out of Chicago called Ovadya. Closer to home, you’ll find her performing with Magenta Sunshine, an original Caribbean-funk-pop group as well Swing Step, a swing and jazz quintet. She’s a member of the Rewind House Band, playing 50s-80s dance music. And she’s part of the “red hot” original funk-jazz group called GrudaTree. The band leaders of these and other groups have invited her to be part of their circles, calling her inspiring and humble.

In July of 2018, I was asked to join Swing Step for a one-off show at The Asheville Guitar Bar. Our first rehearsal for that performance is where my acquaintance with this excellent player and genuine
person began.

Because of the hectic holidays and the Omicron variant, Linda and I thought it best for me to send her questions she could write answers to in her own words.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Chandler, AZ in October 1952, and I’m the firstborn of four. I have two sisters and a brother, all born within 5 years, so we were quite a tight little tribe. Once my dad was finished with his Air Force career, we moved back to Ithaca, NY where I was raised.

How old were you when you found yourself drawn to the saxophone and violin?

I took violin in grade and high school but didn’t take it seriously in the sense of a calling or passion. My mother would not let me quit and being an obedient kid, I kept at it. I spent my college years listening to a boyfriend’s collection of vinyl. He had everything from Hank Williams to the Grateful Dead, from John Coltrane to Charlie Parker. It was the R&B saxophone players who caught my ear. The joyful, physical voice of the saxophone literally pulled at me, and it became my greatest desire to find that voice for myself.  I worked at restaurants by day and taught myself the saxophone by night. I was out jamming on an old student model Conn just a few months after I bought it; I was in love!

In my 40s I joined an original band that focused on Middle Eastern modalities (Ovadya) which drew me back to the violin. Since the band was large and loud, I moved to electric violin with all the cool pedals and effects.

Can you cite a technique in the way you play that sets you apart from others?

My sound is more based on lyricism than on impressive speed. I gravitate to melodies and harmonies more than to solos. My greatest satisfaction comes from playing harmonically interesting horn lines and heads. My favorite thing is to listen and respond to what my fellow musicians are doing.

For swing music, I adapt to the kind of campy style horn players had back in the day. For edgy funk music, I like taking liberties with rhythm and searching for the notes that really push the envelope.

What is your rehearsal routine?

I own an editorial company so I relish band rehearsals when I can walk away from my devices and enter the music zone. When I am developing new tunes with a band, that gives me the impetus to refine parts on my own, and that’s when I dedicate time to personal practice. I like to focus on complicated jazz heads and solo riffs I admire and play them in all 12 keys until they become like old friends.

When it’s your turn to solo, what are you thinking about, other than the chord progression? Do the lyrics influence your choices and phrasing? Does the tone and texture of a lead singer’s voice influence the way you play?

Absolutely. What a great set of questions, and you answered them in the way you phrased it. I do find myself responding to the singer’s style and phrasing in the way I start a solo, and it’s satisfying to play something complimentary that leads back naturally to the vocals.

Do you work out your solos ahead of time or do you play in the moment?

I’m totally in the moment. I work at keeping the rhythm fresh. I have such a tendency to listen and then respond. I play like a singer who allows a chord to land and then shows it some love.

When playing an instrumental score with a saxophone solo section do you hear evidence of your playing creating something the rest of the band is inspired to follow?

Those are the best moments of co-creation. If someone expresses an idea, I support and augment it. If I’m expressing an idea, it’s wonderful when others in the group do the same. Weaving lines, ideas and rhythms together is the high point of the night.

Who writes the horn arrangements in the original groups?

There are times that it’s a clean slate situation and one of us will sail in with an idea that is then refined by others in the group.

“They” say that playing saxophone is the closest thing, physically speaking, to singing. Do you aspire to sing more in the future?

I have rare moments where singing is almost as much fun as playing. But my real voice is the alto sax.

Linda met her now deceased husband, Bobby Wolf when she was in her 20’s. Their daughter Julie posted on social media, this tribute to him in Feb 2020, 4 years after his passing: The first time my dad met my mom, she was playing saxophone in a band he was trying out for in Chicago. When he saw her, he told his friend he was going to marry her because of the way she played. They would play secret love tunes back and forth during rehearsals. They fell in love and got married. They chose each other for 40 years until he passed away at 64 with her by his side.

“Playing music is when I feel most in communion with the spirit of my husband as well as with my own.”

Peggy Ratusz is a vocal coach, song interpreter, and songwriter.
For vocal coaching email her at
peggymarie43@gmail.com

Women Making Music–Spotlight on Harpist, Jazz Pianist, Singer Melody Cooper

Women Making Music–Spotlight on Harpist, Jazz Pianist, Singer Melody Cooper

Melody’s talking voice is rich and warm. As we commiserate on the day I interviewed her, we begin by talking about what’s on the docket for her upcoming weekend of playing harp at weddings in Tennessee. I am soothed by her calm and inviting persona. Funny, because she was born in Brooklyn and moved to Long Island when she was twelve. While we’re conversing I think about all the people I know from that area and most of them are not as calm and cool as Cooper.

“The short version of my story is that I moved out when I was seventeen,” and then she pauses and asks “How do I tell a short version of my life?” We laugh and I assure her that she can give me the long one.

“My family was lovely, but Long Island and I were not a good fit. I moved out when I was seventeen and in with my boyfriend at the time.” That boyfriend had marriage and kids in his future plans while Melody’s path was one of adventure, travel and music. So it was goodbye and so long as she headed
to Toronto to visit a friend named Marguerite.

Now, Marguerite is important to this story because she’s my connection to Melody Cooper. Marguerite and her husband Joe and I became good friends after they moved here from New York many years ago. I’ve been hearing about Melody Cooper for at least the past 10 years!

Car trouble was the reason a fateful trip with friends that was originally scheduled to end up in NOLA for Mardi Gras, ended up instead, in Key West Florida in 1972. As Melody stepped out of the broken-down van, she meets a woman named “Sunshine” whose spirit so captivates and aligns with Melody’s spirit that Sunshine offers up her newly vacated apartment and invites her to move into it! When the other friends move on, Melody stays on.

That pivotal time marked the beginning of what would end up being a 15 year run where Cooper migrated back and forth between her apartment in Florida and her apartment in New York before settling in Key West. And all the while, she immersed herself in a variety of music configurations. Where she found time to run a restaurant, I have no idea, but she did that too!

Formed in 1998 and still going,
Paradise Big Band out of Key West was the name of the orchestra Miss Melody sang and played piano for during that time. She was part of a chamber music ensemble called Bach to Bossa Nova, and an all-girl fronted Motown revue called The Fabulous Spectrelles that toured London and had a #1 record!

Trained in Classical piano from age
seven, the inspiration for learning about, singing and playing jazz music started with a radio station in NYC that played entire discographies of selected Jazz artists. “I fell in love with Jazz when I was 13. I had a transistor radio and in the middle of the night I listened to a radio program that played entire libraries of artists like John
Coltrane and Sarah Vaughn.”

“I was just so shy and quiet that it wasn’t until my mid-twenties, that I started singing. I was really interested in singing jazz, but for a long time I was playing Jazz piano and singing solo soprano opera!”

“Extreme shyness” is an affliction she overcomes out of pure desire and passion for playing and singing to live audiences.  “I forced myself to take chances. Moving out on my own, traveling alone, solo gigs and pushing myself, eventually helped me get over my extreme shyness. I started thinking about what it would take to trust myself. I convinced myself that once I put my hands on an instrument or opened my mouth to sing, I wasn’t going to suck. That’s when the true magic and connection to the music happened.”

Most of her musical training comes from the tutelage of notable private instructors. “Instead of going through a university, studying from someone who has the book, I took private classes from the person who wrote the book.” She studied with Barry Harris, Alberto Socarras and Franko Richmond. For voice she learned directly from Emily Boyd-Lowe and Patricia Caceido.

She and her common law husband, Dan Simpson, met thirty-five years ago. “He’s a brilliant engineer, bassist, guitarist, composer and instrument builder.”

In the 70’s and 80’s Jazz, Latin, Motown and Funk dance bands were coming out of Key West. “Dan and I were in a band called Bill Blue and the Nervous Guys. But I started to feel overwhelmed about spending so much of my time in bars. So I began looking for other ways to make a living as a musician. I started teaching voice and I became the music director at a Unity Church in Key West.”

Simpson and Cooper have been coming through Asheville for many years on their way to and from 150 acres that Simpson owns in Palestine, West Virginia. After some bad hurricanes they started rethinking living in Key West. “So we decided to build a cabin on the property. We actually hand built it with 2 other friends.” For a while, they split their time between the cabin in WV and their place in Key West while deciding when to move out of Florida entirely. “We had the high end trailer with a studio and an upper deck in Stock Island, FL and then this cabin in the middle of the woods in WV. We called it the Holiday Hillbilly package!”

The couple remains partners in a recording studio in Key West called Private Ear Recording and Sound. In its heyday, they ran the entire operation. It was the go-to studio in the area for singer songwriters and bands putting out CD’s, theaters that needed sound effects for books on tape and more.

As the internet age gave way to musicians building home studios and with the increasing cost of living and the increasing intensity of hurricanes and storms in the Keys, they felt like they were spinning wheels. Before she and Dan left Key West to settle here, she was working 4 or 5 jobs and swore she’d never put herself through that stress and fast pace again.

“We chose Asheville because I knew it was a destination place.” When it became obvious to her, in her mid-fifties, that hiring a piano player for weddings wasn’t as popular as hiring a harpist, she bought one and taught herself how to play it! Within 6 months she was playing weddings regularly and has been ever since.

Melody has become one of the premier harpist’s in WNC and has performed at all the significant wedding venues in the area. She’s written a catalog of original songs for popular and inspirational music. And if that wasn’t enough she is also an accomplished public speaker and yoga instructor!

From her website: “All of this background has given me a varied repertoire, and a love for all types of music, roots to modern.”

melodycooper.com

Peggy Ratusz is a vocalist, songwriter and vocal coach

peggymarie43@gmail.com

reverbnation.com/peggyratusz

loveisaroselive.com

Peggy’s May performance dates:

Friday, May 14th, Catawba South Slope, 7pm-10pm

Sunday, May 16th, Southern
Appalachian Brewery, 3pm-5pm

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