Vocalist Linda Cole and pianist/arranger Joshua Bowlus both had substantial careers before they met, but it seems clear that their musical partnership is a new and exciting chapter in their careers. Their first official joint recording, What A Wonderful World, is proof of the musical magic that occurs whenever they perform together. Linda is a subtle but exciting singer with her own phrasing. She always seems to have a smile in her voice. “Linda has the ability to capture the room’s attention immediately,” says Joshua. “When she is on stage, the audience is excited to see what she will do next. Linda is really an authentic musician, she always swings, and she improvises and interacts with us as another instrument in the band. We always have a great conversation together on stage.” An excellent pianist, Joshua gets to excel as a writer whenever he teams up with Linda who says, “I think that Joshua is an amazing arranger. I come from such a diverse background vocally that I need someone who can work with me and arrange what we are doing together, right on the spot. Joshua is a master at that.”
Linda Cole and Joshua Bowlus first met in 2008 through bassist Billy Thornton. They have performed together in settings ranging from a duo to a quintet on a regular basis ever since. A steady duo gig at a local country club gave Linda and Joshua the opportunity to learn a great deal of new material, while allowing Joshua to also create unique arrangements for their larger group. They have appeared at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival with their quintet three years in a row to appreciative crowds, and have toured to other well-respected venues in the Southeast including the Jazz Corner in Hilton Head, South Carolina and Atlanta’s Velvet Note.
The debut album, What A Wonderful World, released September 2014, finds Linda and Joshua joined by the very expressive and witty trumpeter Alphonso Horne, bassist Billy Thornton and drummer Ben Adkins. The musicians sound consistently loose yet tight, spontaneous and unpredictable yet always moving in the same musical direction. The quintet performs fresh takes on 13 standards, with their interpretations often being quite different than previous versions. ‘We honor the tradition of jazz while giving the music its own modern twist,” says Joshua.
Linda Cole has been singing professionally since she was three. The oldest of seven singing children, she performed with her brothers, sisters and parents as The Singing Coles. “I took piano lessons when I was seven so I could accompany my siblings. I remember rehearsing, going to school, getting straight A’s, coming home, rehearsing some more, and getting ready to perform a show that night. As children we could harmonize with each other and that was exciting. I learned early on to be part of the team, to be a team player. We sang gospel and brotherhood music about having peace on earth.” When she was 20, Linda moved to Manhattan and began to establish herself as a rhythm and blues singer. Two years later she was with Motown, appearing as an opening act for the Motown Revue, having success with her singles, working with Billy Davis Jr. of the Fifth Dimension and Billy Henderson of the Spinners, and acting in the stage play and television movie “Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.” After a period working as a singer with a top-40 band and as a musical director, vocal coach and vocal arranger in Pasadena, California, in 1991 Linda moved to Central Florida. “That is when I started singing jazz. I found that I enjoyed swinging jazz and standards so I made the transition. Some of my inspirations have been Carmen McRae, Shirley Horn, Betty Carter, Anita O’Day and Rosemary Clooney.” She has since performed in many night clubs, restaurants, jazz spots and hotels throughout Florida, and along the way has opened for David Benoit, Spyro Gyra, Chuck Mangione, Acoustic Alchemy, Bob Newhart, Maynard Ferguson, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Temptations, and Mark Murphy in addition to guesting with the Count Basie Orchestra.
Joshua Bowlus remembers, “When I was five, my parents decided to start giving me lessons when they saw how interested I was in playing piano. I was trained classically through age 12 or 13 before I switched over to jazz. My high school band teacher Andrew Kidd inspired me, teaching me a lot about jazz and music theory.” In addition to playing in local clubs as a teenager, Joshua went with his high school band for a tour of France and Spain. He attended the University of North Florida in Jacksonville and among his teachers were pianists Kevin Bales, Keith Javors and altoist Bunky Green. Joshua traveled to China with the UNF Jazz Ensemble - they were the first jazz big band to play on the Great Wall Of China. “I experienced a lot of growth during my four years in college because it was an environment where other musicians were looking to play music all of the time, at all hours of the day. I learned how improvisation is truly about listening and responding to others.” Since graduating from college in 2006, Joshua has performed at many jazz festivals, local venues and in New York (including at the Iridium). He has played with such top jazz artists as Wynton Marsalis, Chris Potter, Christian McBride, Annie Sellick, Danny Gottlieb, and Yotam Silberstein. Joshua performs regularly and also has recorded with the Lisa Kelly/J.B. Scott Quintet, the New York-based Jazz Conceptions Orchestra and the Jax Jazz Collective. He has also recorded with bassist Jon Reshard, guitarist Greg Howe, drummer Dave Weckl, the Mica Bethea Big Band, and tenor saxophonist John Ricci.
Both Linda Cole and Joshua Bowlus are excited about their collaborations and looking forward to the future. “I have opportunities to sing with several Central Florida big bands,” says Linda, “but Joshua has the most interesting arrangements that I’ve heard so far. I would love to record more albums after this one comes out.” Joshua adds, “We did a Christmas-themed concert and it worked out so well that I know that it would be a lot of fun to record a Christmas album with Linda. We are also interested in doing more original material. Our future goal for the group is to have more opportunities to perform together in Florida and elsewhere, sharing our music with new audiences, attempting to reach those people who wouldn't normally listen to jazz.”