Women Who Make a Difference in Peekskill

Herald celebrates Women’s History Month
Kristina Kollar at her piano.
Kristina Kollar at her piano.
Joseph Squillante
Kristina Koller jazzes up Peekskill’s music scene

Not yet 30, music artist Kristina Koller is making a difference in the music scene in the city she now calls home.

The Yorktown native, who got her start singing jazz in New York City clubs, relocated to Peekskill during the pandemic, and has made it her mission to bring new types of music to the city.

The founder of the popular outdoor Feel Good Music series, which debuted at Charles Point several summers during the pandemic – and the new South Street Jazz program — Koller said that music makes everyone’s life better.

“Music makes us feel different emotions — sad or happy — and lets us connect with others,” she said. “It’s also a great way to meet people at a concert. Music is a language in itself. It affects everything. It’s how you connect.”

When she recognized a growing need in Peekskill for a more diverse music scene, she took action. “I feel like this area doesn’t have enough original music. Everything here is classic rock cover bands. I’m trying to give people access to a lot of different types of music, especially jazz. A few venues have great jazz but not contemporary jazz. I want to have a venue for contemporary jazz.”

With that in mind, last year she started South Street Jazz, a once-a-month pop-up venue of jazz artists, including her acquaintances and contacts from New York City, at the Artist Spot in downtown Peekskill. Her goal is to establish an intimate listening room vibe similar to iconic NYC clubs such as Smalls, Mezzrow & the Village Vanguard. Show tickets are $25, including the next one on March 24, featuring the House of Water.

The music publication Americana Highways called her “someone who has leaped to the top of the list of singers that follow their own beliefs into the land of the free.”

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With four albums to her credit, her own production company called High Top Productions, and a steady stream of shows in the greater tri-state area, breaking into a male-dominated jazz industry was no small feat. She credits her success to a sense of determination and entrepreneurial spirit. “I never follow other people,” she said with a smile. “I’m the type of person who does what I want to do.”

Such individuality has worked in her favor. Last year, Koller released an album showcasing her spin on Cole Porter music. Today, she’s working on an album of Burt Bacharach music, something she promised her mom.

“Music lets me show who I am,” she said. “I’m still trying to figure that out. It has taken me a while to look inside. It’s a difficult task to be yourself all the time. I’ve been trying to work more on that; to figure out who I am and what I want for myself.”

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She also has taken it upon herself to stand up for things that matter to her, like raising awareness for jazz, and advocating for a more equitable and respectful workplace for women in the field. Jazz, she said, has its roots in several music types – R&B, soul, rap. If people understood it’s history, more would appreciate the art form, she added.

“I want Peekskill to thrive. I want there to be a buzzing music community here. I want people coming from NYC to say that Peekskill is a great town with great music.”

She’s happy to have several female friends in the field, including a manager for acting gigs, especially in an industry that was once male-dominated. “A lot of musicians have mentors but there aren’t many female mentors in the male-dominated jazz world. I haven’t really had a mentor, but now I’m bouncing my ideas off of different people. There are a lot of creative people in this area. It has taken me a while to find my women, but I have people I can talk to about certain things with my music.”

Koller feels strongly that women have a responsibility to take action to make things happen when they see a need. “Women are certainly making their voices heard in the music industry,” said Koller.

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The popularity of Taylor Swift and the Swifties has raised people’s awareness of the contributions of women in music today, she added. “It’s happening a lot now. Women have their own sound and a lot are making their mark. Everyone recognizes Taylor Swift. I appreciate her a lot as a songwriter and a boss-lady.”

And while Swift has a very different style than Koller, she admires her originality. “She knows what she’s doing. Every album of hers has its own sound. She’s creative.”

Koller continues to be inspired to bring more change into the world. While her Feel Good Music Series, which brought free outdoor music to Peekskill in the spring of 2021, was well received, Koller has placed it on the back burner for now to focus on South Street Jazz programming. “I still want to put positive change into the world. There’s still so much work to do.”

She also takes a big interest in the well-being of Peekskill, where she’d like to see more businesses open up. “An antique shop would be nice,” she quips. She is also a member of a woman’s co-work group that meets weekly at a coffee shop downtown to talk over coffee and work together.

“Singing is the only thing I ever wanted to do, ever since I was 8,” she said. Koller got her start in children’s musical theater, and went on to study jazz at the Hartt School, the University of Hartford’s music school in Hartford, Connecticut. She transferred and graduated from the City College of New York, and began her singing career in New York City.

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She continues to showcase her unique music talents and originality, and works to make Peekskill the music city that she knows it can be.







Chamber event March 23 celebrates women
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Telling stories of remarkable women in Peekskill

Local women entrepreneurs share their stories at the first “Celebrating Women in Business” event on March 23 at Dramatic Hall from noon to 3 p.m. The afternoon is sponsored by the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce.

The group of women telling their stories will be moderated by Jane Applegate, co-founder of the Remarkable Women Project. Applegate has been sharing stories about remarkable women as a reporter, columnist, author, film and TV producer.

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She is a co-founder of the Remarkable Women Project Inc. a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to shining a light on the accomplishments of women throughout history. She is on the faculty of the Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema at Brooklyn College where she teaches the business of film.

A co-executive producer of a TV series in development based on Alice Look’s new book: Remarkable Women: Reclaiming Their Stories. ,she is the author of four books about small business success.  Prior to becoming a producer, Applegate was the small business columnist for the Los Angeles Times and a reporter and producer for Bloomberg TV.

Panelists include Violetta Shala-Guerrero of M&T Bank, Stacey Tompkins of Tompkins Excavating Corp. Chereese Jervis Hill, Events to Remember, Auzerais Bellamy, founder of Blondery, Marion Henson of Bloom Healthy, Sunny Cover of Peekskill Coffee House, Kecia Palmer-Cousins of Aero-Ba-Soul Inc. and Chloe Wareham-Gordon of  DigitalDancer Social Media.

Register for the event here.

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