Phenom is the word for Carl Cotton

By Cecilia Nasmith

There's a word for 14-year-old Cobourg musician Carl Cotton – phenom.

The singer-guitarist has a full summer schedule of performances (that he kicked off by entertaining at his graduation from C.R. Gummow Public School last month), as well as a resume that many musicians twice his age might envy.

“Since he was 8 years old, he has been performing at various venues in Durham Region, Northumberland County, Toronto, Montreal, Banff and Colorado,” his mother Erika listed.

“He has also performed in festivals and other events like MusicFest Canada, Canadian Rocky Mountain Festival Banff, Busker Festival Cobourg and Toronto Mac & Cheese Festival.”

Carl is also a favourite as a solo act at the Cobourg Farmers Market, where his variety continues to amaze – charming the young passers-by with pop favourites and the older browsers with Rat Pack classics.

“He adds his own style to songs, current or throwback,” Erika said.

“He can play jazz, blues, folk, pop, country and standards. He also writes and composes his original songs.”

“I feel like I was always interested in music, even from a young age,” Carl said, recalling his childhood in Whitby.

Most children enjoy nursery rhymes, whereas Carl was keenly interested in the soundtracks of his favourite movies. His mom obligingly played these for him in the car, and he would especially look forward to the music from Cars.

“It kind of grew from that. I got more interested in different types of music,” he said.

He also discovered the guitar at the age of five or six, when he was visiting his grandfather and saw one. He picked it up and banged away at it until the Christmas shortly before he turned seven – when he got one of his own.

Lessons followed, when they hired a high-school senior to come by weekly.

From the very first, his mother recalled, he just got it. The tutor agreed – when he went away to university, he offered young Carl his place with his own instructor, Larry Chown of the Strings and Fingers Studio near Courtice.

This was a great experience, Carl recalled, an opportunity to learn techniques that launched his music into another level. It was also a chance to explore different genres, as he would hear something he liked and bring it to Chown to get help in learning it for himself.

He was also fortunate enough to work with an outstanding vocal coach since he was eight years old. Roberta Michelle Quilico of Oshawa's Birdloft School of Voice has been a major player in making Carl the musician he is today.

He discovered Durham Jazz when he was in Grade 5, a community-based multi-level program designed to encourage young musicians (Grades 7 to 12) to develop their skills and share their gifts in performance. Though Carl was two years too young, Durham Jazz made an exception and took him.

Though he moved to Cobourg in 2017, Carl remains with Durham Jazz. He also polishes his own performing skills with private gigs and public performances.

Upcoming shows include:

July 18 – Artist Showcase Toronto with Naya Liviah

July 20 – Cobourg Farmers Market

July 26 – Summer Social 4 Shelter at Cobourg's Victoria Beach courtyard (in support of Cornerstone Family Violence Prevention Centre)

Aug. 10 – Cobourg Farmers Market with Naya Liviah

Aug. 17 – Cobourg Farmers Market with Thomas Steele

Sept. 14 – Cobourg Farmers Market

Oct. 5 – Cobourg Farmers Market

Any money he earns from his gigs is set aside in his Music Development Fund. He is hoping the fund might grow enough that he can travel to Boston's Berklee College of Music for their annual Aspire five-week music performance intensive program offered each summer. The minimum age is 15, Carl said, and he hopes to attend their 2021 session.

For Carl, it is a delight to pick up a guitar and perform, just to entertain or also to support a good cause. Most of all, he knows he's lucky to have the simple joy music brings.

“Music is a gateway to happiness,” he has found, and his mother agrees. Sometimes, when he's not feeling well, she said, picking up the guitar can actually be therapeutic.

She recalls last winter, when Carl had two solo ack-to-back gigs and wasn't feeling particularly well. He powered through one and grabbed the chance before the other to rest peacefully in bed – playing his guitar all the while.

Cobourg Collegiate Institute and Durham Jazz are his plans for the fall. But in the longer term, Carl expects to continue to enjoy music and hopes he has an audience to enjoy it along with him.

For a look at some of his past events, check out Carl's Facebook ( and Instragram (@carlcottonmusic) pages.