Alvin Gilbert Cohn was born on November 24, 1925 in Brooklyn, New York. He was initially known in the 1940s for playing in Woody Herman’s Second Herd as one of the Four Brothers, along with Zoot Sims, Stan Getz and Serge Chaloff. He contributed arrangements to the band until he left and formed a long association co-leading a quintet with Zoot while also playing with a variety of other musicians.
The partnership that began in 1956 lasted until Sims’ death and yielded one of their best albums on Mercury Records called You ‘n’ Me in 1960 and also backed Jack Kerouac on a few of his recordings. An accomplished arranger, Cohn worked Broadway arranging for such shows as Raisin’ and Sophisticated Ladies, worked with Linda Rondstadt, and appeared with Elvis Presley at Madison Square Garden.
Al Cohn, a tenor saxophonist, who had a reputation as a lyrical flowing soloist, passed away in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania on February 15, 1988.
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Sheila Jordan was born Sheila Jeanette Dawson on November 18, 1928 in Detroit, Michigan but grew up in Summerhill, Pennsylvania. By the age of 28 she returned to Detroit and began playing piano and singing semi-professionally in jazz clubs. She worked a trio that composed lyrics to Charlie Parker’s arrangements, who influenced her greatly.
In 1951, she moved to New York and started studying harmony and music theory with Lennie Tristano and Charles Mingus and married pianist Duke Jordan a year later. By the 60s she was gigging and doing session work in Greenwich Village and around town in various clubs; and in 1962 was discovered and recorded by George Russell on his album The Outer View. That led to her recording Portrait of Sheila in 1962 that was sold to Blue Note.
Over the next decade Sheila withdrew from music, supported herself as a legal secretary but by the mid 70s was working again with musicians like Don Heckman, Roswell Rudd, Lee Konitz and Steve Kuhn. She has had a notable career as a solo artist since then with her ability to improvise entire lyrics, although success has been limited.
Jordan has been an Artist In Residence teaching at City College, worked in an advertising agency, recorded for Steeplechase, ECM, Home Eastwind, Grapevine, Palo Alto, Blackhawk and Muse record labels. She has performed and recorded with George Gruntz, Steve Swallow, Carla Bley Harvie Swartz and Bob Moses among others and as a songwriter continues to work in both bebop and free jazz mediums.
Dolo Coker was born Charles Mitchell Coker on November 16, 1927 in Hartford, Connecticut but was raised in Florence, South Carolina and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The first musical instruments Coker played in childhood were the C-melody and alto saxophones, learning them at a school. By age thirteen he was starting to play piano and after moving to Philadelphia he studied piano at the Landis School of Music and at Orenstein’s Conservatory.
During his Philadelphia years Coker played piano with Jimmy Heath, then became a member of Frank Morgan’s quartet, but it wasn’t until 1976 that he recorded as a leader. Signing with Xanadu Records he cut four albums and worked extensively as a sideman for Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons, Lou Donaldson, Art Pepper, Philly Joe Jones and Dexter Gordon.
For the next several years pianist Dolo Coker continued to work as a sideman until he passed away of cancer at the age of fifty-five on April 13, 1983.
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Bertha Hope was born Bertha Rosemond on November 8, 1936 and raised in Los Angeles, California. At age three she began studying classical piano and at a young age she was playing and learning from other young musicians in her neighborhood such as Richie Powell and Elmo Hope. Hope attended Manual Arts High School, performed in numerous nightclubs around town and went on to study piano at the Los Angeles Community College, finally receiving a B.A. in early childhood education from Antioch College.
In 1957 she married Elmo and relocated to the Bronx, New York, working at the telephone company during the day and performing at night. After her husband’s passing ten years later, Bertha continued to present his music and remained an active force in improvised music within the New York jazz scene. Her second husband, Walter Booker Jr., worked with her to keep the music of Elmo Hope alive through their tribute ensemble called “ELMOllenium” and The Elmo Hope Project.
The composer and arranger has recorded for Steeplechase, Minor and Reservoir record labels, has toured extensively through Japan, plays with the group, Jazzberry Jam in addition to leading The Bertha Hope Trio with Walter and Jimmy Cobb and has taught an advanced jazz ensemble at the Lucy Moses School in NYC, and an introduction to jazz program at Washington Irving High, sponsored by Bette Midler.
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Harold McNair was born on November 5, 1931 in Kingston, Jamaica and started his instrumental training at the Alpha Boys School. Recording and playing mostly Caribbean music styles in the Bahamas, the first decade of his career he was known as “Little G”. During this time he sang and played both alto and tenor saxophones.
McNair played a calypso singer in the 1958 film Island Women and by 1960 he was in Miami recording his first album as a leader “Bahama Bash”, with a mixture of jazz and calypso numbers. It was around this time that he began playing the flute, which would eventually become his signature instrument. Though he took a few lessons in New York, he was largely self-taught.
Departing for Europe later in 1960 Harold toured with Quincy Jones, worked on film and TV scores in Paris, then settled in London gaining a formidable reputation and leading a regular gig at Ronnie Scott’s nightclub
Drawing the admiration of bassist Charles Mingus, in London to shoot the 1961 motion picture All Night Long, McNair became a member of the rehearsal quartet and appeared on the soundtrack on the now famous Mingus composition “Peggy’s Blue Skylight”.
A brief return to The Bahamas produced his first all jazz album “Up in the Air with Harold McNair”, then back to permanent London residence to release his first UK album of hard swinging standards as a leader, “Affectionate Fink” on Island Records with Ornette Coleman.
He signed with RCA and released his most famous composition “The Hipster” in 1968 that has become a playlist fixture. He continued to perform and record into 1971 working and recording with the likes of Philly Joe Jones, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Blossom Dearie, Ginger Baker’s Air Force big band and John Cameron as both leader and sideman.
Harold McNair, flautist, alto and tenor saxophonist whose unique phrasing on the flute in particular also led to great demand for his services among non-jazz musicians, passed away of lung cancer in Maida Vale, North London on March 7, 1971 at age 39.