Singer, piano player, and party starter Cole Ramstad has been doing all right in New York. Since moving to the Big Apple from the West Coast almost a decade ago, without a job or a long-term plan, he’s fallen comfortably in step with the city’s underground jazz, soul, funk and R&B scenes, regularly performing with some of the hottest players in the city. In the Club Room at Soho Grand, where he’s performing this coming Thursday, Ramstad will channel Gershwin and Cole Porter, performing a set of old-school New York jazz backed by a band of some of the biggest names in the city’s underground scene.
It’s through jazz that Ramstad got his start as a New York City musician. One night he and friend and musician Tacuma Bradley were supposed to go to Park Slope to see a live jazz group Bradley knew when the piano player called out at the last minute. Without informing Ramstad, Bradley volunteered his friend to fill in. He didn’t have a choice but to go for it. “I was like, ‘Oh, fuck!’” says Ramstad.
“He threw me in with these 60-year-old dudes who lived through the Civil Rights Movement, who had lived through Coltrane and Miles Davis,” he continues. “They kind of became my mentors. I started playing with them more and more, and that’s where I cut my teeth.”
Ramstad continued to sit in with the old hands and make more connections, familiarizing himself with classic New York venues like Smalls in Greenwich Village, Harlem’s Smoke Jazz & Supper Club, and Dizzy’s on the Upper West Side at Columbus Circle. He also stared “Happy Mondays” at Apotheke in Chinatown, a dance party he’s been leading every week for the past four years that features old jazz standards as well as covers of ’70s dance and ’90s R&B.
Ramstad is currently working on an EP of his own music, titled “Kiss and Fly,” and recently teamed up with Brooklyn electronic producer Bishiclet to record “Hit Me Up,” a single of modern disco funk. While his New York roots are in jazz, it’s the R&B, the funk, the disco, the soul, and the music that makes you want to get up and dance that Ramstad is focused on pursuing creatively. “Come Join the Fun,” a lively cut that will be featured on “Kiss and Fly,” combines a little bit of everything:
Ramstad thinks of himself as “an R&B musician with connections to the jazz world,” and his connections will be on full display in the Club Room. The backing band Ramstad will trot out includes bassist Russell Hall and alto saxophonist Chris Pattishall, both of whom Wynton Marsalis recently named as some of his favorite under-30 jazz musicians playing in New York today. And with some of the best in the city are behind you, there’s nothing to worry about but feeling the room, feeling the music, and having a good time.
“It’s all about the vibe and the energy,” says Ramstad, speaking about what he thinks makes a great live show. “It’s easy for me to say that because the guys I play with are so good that I never have to worry about the musicianship. It’s just us having a good time. If people have a good time playing music and the music resonates with the crowd, everyone is going to have a really good time.”
– Ryan Bort
(Photo: Matthew Glueckert)