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Shawn Vestal: Sidelined by the pandemic, a comic and her trumpeter father make a joyful online noise

The pandemic has been hell on performers. Anyone whose work requires an audience has had to undergo massive changes – and they’ve had to give up a lot.

Out of that gloomy context comes the bright light of Trumpet Tuesdays.

Comic and Spokane native Kelsey Cook has been posting brief videos of her father – Spokane Symphony trumpeter Chris Cook – playing along to songs on his trumpet requested by her followers on Instagram. Her fans love them, and it’s easy to see why.

Chris, standing in his living room, plays the trumpet flourish at the beginning of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” – and then accompanies DMX’s “X Gon Give It to Ya.”

He plays a bit of “So Much To Say” by the Dave Matthews Band – and then “Rumpshaker” by Wreckx-N-Effect.

He plays Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping” – and Jason Derulo’s “Trumpets.”

In that last tune, which closes out Vol. 3 of the series, Kelsey photo-bombs in the background, dancing along as Chris blows that horn.

“It’s as fun as it looks,” Chris said. “I’m having a blast.”

Kelsey has posted three videos so far, with a fourth on the way. Each includes brief snippets of several songs from a range of genres, and they draw hundreds of likes and enthusiastic comments like this: “This might be the best thing I saw on the Internet today.”

That positivity is one of the things both Cooks love about the videos. In an online world marked by pronounced and casual cruelty, the responses to the videos have had almost none of that.

“It’s been fun, especially during such a hard time, to put something out that really seems to bring people happiness,” Kelsey said.

‘A fanny pack’

Chris Cook has played trumpet for the Spokane Symphony since 1981. It was his first job out of college, and just one of the creative pursuits at which he has excelled.

He was – no joke – a professional foosball player. In fact, that is how he met his wife and Kelsey’s stepmom, Kathi. He is also a competitive yo-yo champion. And he’s also Spokane’s poet laureate, a post in which he has been spearheading an open-submission project gathering poems about Spokane’s neighborhoods.

Some of this “weird DNA” has made its way into Kelsey’s comedy. Like many standups, she finds a lot of humor in her family.

“My dad,” she said during an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in 2018, “has the sex appeal of a fanny pack.”

Kelsey, 31, graduated from Cheney High School and Washington State University, where she first took to the stage to tell jokes. She became a full-time comic six years ago, and her act is sharply honed and hilarious. It seems effortless, which is how you can tell how much effort has gone into it.

“I’m immensely proud of her,” Chris said. “It takes so much organization, so much time behind the scenes. For every 10 minutes you see on television, there are just months and months and months of work behind it.”

Kelsey’s tour dates and shows were canceled along with everything else last year. She’s kept at it by doing digital performances and podcasts, and connecting with her fans on social media through videos like Trumpet Tuesdays.

The videos are brief and fun, and while there is some generation gap humor at work – putting a classically trained symphony musician to work playing “Baby Got Back” – everyone’s in on the joke. For Kelsey, the project grew out of a curiosity she has long had about her musician father.

“For years, any time I heard songs (with trumpet) on the radio, whether it was pop or country or hip hop, I always thought I should just ask Dad if he can hear that song and play it – play it by ear, basically,” she said.

Turns out he can.

‘We’ll keep doing them’

On Thursday, Chris and Kelsey got together at his home to record Vol. 4.

First up was “California Love,” the 1996 Tupac and Dr. Dre rap hit. Chris had listened to the song and teased out a trumpet line from the introduction – and turned it into a handwritten bit of sheet music to follow.

Kelsey cued up the song on YouTube on the computer in the kitchen, put in her earplugs, and used her phone to film Chris playing a few measures along with the song. It took a few tries to get it right, but not many.

“It’s really just us restarting YouTube 17 times,” Kelsey said. “It’s not a high-budget production.”

They also recorded the opening of James Brown’s “I Feel Good.”

The next video will be posted soon, and you can catch it by following Kelsey on Instagram at @kelseycookcomedy – which is also a good place to check out many of her great comic bits.

But Vol. 4 will by no means exhaust the list of requests that Kelsey has compiled. She figures they’ll just keep making the videos – maybe even once life returns to in-person normal once again.

“As long as people keep requesting songs and we’ve got a list going,” she said, “we’ll just keep doing them.”

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