Keys to success
Pianist Amy Cottingham can be heard tickling the ivories all over Tulsa.
Amy Cottingham performs regularly at several Tulsa venues. She plans to release an album this spring.
Mention musician Amy Cottingham’s name and most people automatically think, “She’s the jazz lady.”
After all, Cottingham has made a name for herself as a regular performer at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, the Signature Symphony and Tulsa Symphony Orchestra.
But the down-to-earth, award-winning pianist also is a composer, music transcriber, arranger, orchestra conductor, teacher and recording artist. She is recording her most recent compositions and plans to release an album this spring.
TulsaPeople recently visited with Cottingham to find out how she keeps up her dizzying musical balancing act.
You began your music studies at a young age. Tell us about that.
Even though my mother put me in violin and piano lessons at the age of 3, she had to stay on top of me to practice every day until I was 11 or 12 years old. At that point, she says I came to her one day and announced three things: that she would no longer have to make me practice, that I was going to be very good at the piano and that I had chosen to no longer be shy. The main thing that gave me the vision to carry this through was all the concerts and performances Mom took me to growing up. I started thinking, concert after concert, “I can do that. I want to do that. I must do that.”
How old were you when you composed your first song?
I was 14 when I composed my first song, although I (had) arranged music since the age of 11. My first composition was for solo piano, entitled “The Dawning of a New Day.” I named it that because I knew I was entering the world of composing.
As a musician, which talent do you consider most challenging?
Transcribing is the easiest thing for me, and fun. Arranging can be fun but mostly just leaves me wanting to compose my own music instead of arranging other people’s music. Conducting came naturally in some ways, but (I) had a huge learning curve when it came to issues of confidence, efficiency, leadership and preparation.
Composition in some ways is the most difficult and challenging thing I do because it requires the entirety of my attention, my heart and soul, my silence, honesty, surrender, discipline. It is also the most fulfilling, humbling, exciting process. Creating music asks everything of me, and gives me the whole world in return.
What about teaching?
Teaching is amazing. I love my students dearly. It is a privilege to be able to work with people one on one on a weekly basis, in my home, developing relationships with them and their families over the years, and to watch them grow. It’s fun, it’s real, it’s humbling.
How and when did you meet British vocalist Chris Middlebrook, and how has that experience shaped your career?
I have worked with Chris Middlebrook for five or six years now. He’s a blast; extremely creative and talented. We perform at a variety of events, mainly from the musical repertoire. I also collaborate with violinist Michelle Sherman for weddings and violinist Ronnamarie Jensen for tango dances.
Where can Tulsans catch you performing jazz during the holidays and in early 2014?
I perform jazz, classical, tangos, rags, popular music and original pieces mainly at private parties, corporate events, arts events, weddings, receptions and at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. ... They have concerts every Sunday, featuring local musicians as well as touring artists.
Editor’s note: Interview condensed and edited.