The Inimitable Kevin Cole & Grammy Award Winner Sylvia McNair Team Up in Bay City for an Expansive Yet Intimate Holiday Happening

    icon Dec 11, 2008
    icon 0 Comments

Kevin Cole is one of those rare breed of musicians & artists that managed to break out of the tri-cities and achieve international acclaim. Born and raised in Bay City, two decades ago Cole rose to the top of penthouse of the East Coast Classical circuit with his impeccable talent and uncanny ability to 'channel' George Gerswhin on the piano, and through the ensuing years has sold out performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, the London Philharmonic, and the BBC Concert Orchestra, to name but a few.

His solo debut at Chicago's Orchestra Hall took Kevin in a new direction, as it featured entirely his own compositions; and another step featured Cole as a singer/pianist in Gershwin's Lady, Be Good! In Lisbon, Portugal.

An award winning musical director, arranger, composer, and archivist, Cole has garnered the praises of such legendary icons as Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, E.Y Harburg, and Stephen Sondheim, and is now pairing himself up with opera great Sylvia McNair - one of the world's leading singers that has earned two Grammy Awards and over 70 recordings committed to posterity.

Indeed, on Thursday, Friday & Saturday, Dec. 18-20th, Kevin Cole will be returning to Bay City with McNair for a special holiday concert entitled Christmas for Two. Held at The State Theatre, 913 Washington Ave., tickets range $20 to $25 for reserved seating.

Recently I caught up with Kevin over the Thanksgiving holiday to discuss the wide ranging expanse of his career and what people can expect from his latest endeavors.


Review: Can you give me a bit of background in terms of how you developed this show and forged the alliance with Sylvia McNair?

Kevin Cole: Sylvia and I first worked together 5 summers ago in a symphonic concert at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago. From there other appearances came up and we discovered how well matched we are as performers.

There is a beautiful give and take when we collaborate that is rare among musicians. We have a keen sense when one needs to be the lion and the other the lamb and vice versa.

I try my best to write arrangements and songs for her that fit like a glove. We have become friends so  emotional layers and connections are happening with time.

This translates to a performance that packs an emotional punch for the audience. Working with Sylvia McNair is a dream come true for me.

Actually, I was very bold in asking Sylvia to come up to my hometown of Bay City last December to perform in a Christmas concert as a benefit for my church, St. Stanislaus Kostka.

This is a woman who has performed in every great opera house and concert hall in the world, with over 70 recordings under her belt and two Grammy Awards. Sylvia is one of the greatest sopranos of the last century. And I'm going to get her to Bay Cit - only the second time she has ever performed in Michigan.

Review:  How would you distinguish this show from other holiday shows you've engaged over the years in your home town.  This seems to be an annual event for you.

Kevin Cole: Last years concert Christmas from the Heart was all sacred music with the extraordinary Carolyn Mawby Chorale from Flint. This new concert Christmas for Two is the best holiday music from the sacred and popular songbook. Just Sylvia, a Steinway and myself at the keyboard - warm and intimate.

Review:  What other projects have you been working on and has your performance schedule varied much since the last time we spoke a few years ago?

Kevin Cole: The last two years has been about debuts; Royal Albert Hall in London; The Kennedy Center and now my first nationwide PBS television special with the Nashville Symphony;

This will be called A GERSHWIN GALA that will air Thursday, March 26, 9:00 PM E.S.T.

My year is nicely divided between solo and orchestral appearances.

In the spring I will be doing more concerts with conductor/composer Marvin Hamlisch. We have the best time working together on stage.

I also have just released two new CDs; In The Words Of Ira---The Songs Of Ira Gershwin and last year's Christmas concert with Sylvia McNair, Christmas From The Heart, recorded LIVE at St. Stan's in Bay City.

The Ira Gershwin disc is my first vocal album with my own piano jazz trio. This is also the first time I brought in a producer, Jonathan Gallagher of Saginaw.

It was a brilliant collaboration. Composer Hugh Martin (writer of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas) was my vocal coach.He's 94 years old, lives in southern California and coached MGM stars like, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Nancy Walker and Judy Garland.

Review:  Having done this for awhile now, have you noticed your energy level dropping at all, or do you feel your abilities and talents have grown and are you constantly setting new standards and challenges for yourself?

Kevin Cole: I believe all the talent you'll ever have is in your gene pool at birth. It's discipline and determination that makes the difference in what becomes of that talent.

You also have to have that little "tick" inside you that keeps you going when all the signs point to stop.

My technique was at it's peak in my teens. The trick is to maintain it and challenge it with new arrangements that seem humanly impossible. I like to create not just re-create. I write music, lyrics, and compositions.

Everything starts as an improvisation. Like when you start a conversation with someone. You don't know where your words will lead you but eventually a connection is made and a memory created.

I've made a career based on my keyboard abilities. Now after all these years, I am embarking on a singing career to stand along side of it. But I know my greatest achievement will be my song writing and compositions. Wait till you hear more of those!

Review:  Well, Kevin – a lot of music has rolled under the bridge since those days back in the '80s when we'd hang with The Burdons and kick-back at those post-theatrical parties.  I'm totally knocked out at all you've accomplished and how you keep moving forward. Any other thoughts or comments on anything I may not have touched upon?

Kevin Cole: Just that my 2 new CDs are available at the State Theatre concerts and also at The Sweet Boutique 816 Washington Ave., Bay City and you can order on line at:

Editor's Note:  To purchase tickets for 'Christmas for Two'  Call:

(989) 892-2660 or purchase online at

Share on:

Comments (0)

icon Login to comment