On April 10, 1965, an unprecedented trumpet battle took place at Club La Marchal in Brooklyn, New York. Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan, two of the leading exponents of bop, locked horns on a 22-minute marathon song called “Pensativa.” This historic concert was proudly issued on Blue Note records as The Night Of The Cookers.
Seven years ago, trumpeter David Weiss, who worked extensively with Hubbard during the legendary trumpeter’s later years, assembled a septet of top flight improvisers, all of whom have played in the neo-bop tradition of Hubbard and Morgan. Each member of the Cookers has led their own band and each member delivers fresh compositions that embody the spirit of the jazz masters, yet look forward to fresh creative horizons.
Pianist George Cables has worked with saxophone giants Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper. Cables' fresh compositions and original touch on his instrument led Pepper to call him “Mr. Beautiful.”
Trumpeter Eddie Henderson grew up in the Bay Area and was influenced early on by Miles Davis, who was a personal friend of Henderson’s family. For a while, Dr. Henderson pursued a medical career concurrent with his jazz path. Fortunately, Eddie continues to operate on the bandstand.
Bassist Cecil McBee has worked with a variety of top flight New York based ensembles. His professional associations include Alice Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, and Charles Lloyd. He is an original composer and brings great depth and to the band’s book.
Drummer Billy Hart has worked and recorded with everyone from Herbie Hancock to Stan Getz and, most recently, with Bobby Hutcherson. He is one of the most recorded drummers in jazz history. Billy also composes and records as a leader for ECM.
Alto saxophonist Donald Harrison recently replaced Craig Handy. Although he is younger than any member in the band, Harrison is steeped in New Orleans tradition and plays with swing and a wealth of experience.
Tenor saxophonist Billy Harper is the most uncompromising, pure musician I’ve ever met. Harper’s solos are robust, inventive and far reaching. His great body of his recorded work has been documented for Japanese and European labels, as Harper’s artistic convictions preclude him from making any commercial concessions. Harper first worked with Max Roach, Gil Evans, and Art Blakey, before forming his own band.
I asked Harper if there were any ego problems present with a group of such talented musicians, all of whom had led their own bands.
“There are really no ego issues,” said Harper. “We’re seven musicians who are confident and proud of what we do. Every member has been part of important bands and we all know what it takes to lead a band. Like any great sports team, we all have a position, we all have a roll, and we’re all with the program.”
Now that I’m in my sixties, I find myself becoming increasingly selective when it comes to going out to hear live music. After four air shifts a week, I seldom want to go to a jazz club on the weekends. It’s kind of like the mailman going for a walk on his day off. But there is no way I’ll miss the Cooker’s rare northern California appearance.
When I realize that five members of the Cookers are several years my senior, yet play with youthful enthusiasm and cutting edge prowess, it makes me feel that age is just a number. The mindset of this forward looking band is one of powerful drive and energy.
Jazz impresario Todd Barkan often quoted Art Blakey saying, “Take care of the music and the music will take care of you!”
Make no mistake; the Cookers take care of business every time they hit the bandstand.
The Cookers play at the Harris Center on September 28, 7 p.m. (Capital Public Radio is a media sponsor).