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Originally published Thursday, December 10, 2009 at 7:15 PM

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Cocoa Martini: Unique, elegant jazz vocals

Cocoa Martini — three Seattle women who made the switch to vocal jazz in midcareer — sing at the Triple Door Dec. 13.

Special to The Seattle Times

Jazz preview

Cocoa Martini

7 p.m. Sunday, Triple Door, 216 Union St., Seattle; $20-$25 (206-838-4333 or www.tripledoor.net).

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The concept behind the vocal jazz group Cocoa Martini seems both familiar and novel, three women who sing songs that most of us know well, backed by a quartet.

When performing, the three singers, who straddle age 50, dress in elegant, evening dresses and take turns singing most of the songs, harmonizing on about a third of them, taking care in between to joke, address the audience and talk about their experience with the music.

Familiar, because the formula is tried and true and the songs easy to connect with. Novel, because it seems jazz is seldom presented this way anymore.

The members of Cocoa Martini, who will perform Sunday night at 7 at the Triple Door for the third time in three years, admit to tapping into a nostalgia for the kind of songs they sing and the way they sing them.

"Jazz artists performing now are so technically talented and highly educated in the art form and science of jazz, and they're taking it to a very complex level, which by itself is very intriguing and compelling," said Kimberly Reason, one of the original members of Cocoa Martini.

"However, I've heard many times that jazz is becoming too cerebral and is losing some of its audience. We want to bring it back."

The trio will be accompanied Sunday by pianist Bill Anschell, drummer Greg Williamson, bassist Doug Miller and woodwind player Bernie Jacobs.

As African-American women in jazz, Reason, Karen Shivers and Kay Bailey also speak of feeling underrepresented in Seattle, where the vast majority of prominent musicians are white men.

The circuitous route the singers took to the stage also makes them unique. All three discovered music early in life but did not act on their aspirations until they were well into adulthood and their careers.

Shivers ran a hospice; Reason was an executive at Macy's; Bailey owned a hair salon and clothing business.

Reason and Bailey took a rafting trip 15 years ago on the Deschutes River during which they shared their mutual dream of singing professionally. They promised each other to act on that dream.

About the same time Shivers — who worked for years as the executive director of the Community Hospice of the Northwest — made a serious assessment of her life.

She wanted to sing, and the urge nagged at her for a year before she finally worked up the courage to walk into the Harbor Inn restaurant in Gig Harbor, where she ended up singing, without pay, every weekend for the next two years with pianist Bud Schultz.

"When I walked in," Shivers said, "I was hoping and praying he'd say no; I was scared to death. I didn't want to change my life. I didn't want to pay the price."

"You don't know what's going to happen when you make a change," Bailey said. "You just decide you want to do it. I still don't have any real goals. I don't know if that's bad or good. What I'm doing is just taking a ride with these ladies. And I'm doing what I really love at this point in my life."

Hugo Kugiya: hkugiya@yahoo.com

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