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“One of the major West Coast saxophonists of the 1950’s, Cooper's utter professionalism and consistency suggest a kinship with like-minded players such as Zoot Sims, although his light tone and unemphatic phrasing were in close harmony with the Californian playing of the period. A former sideman with Stan Kenton (he was also married to Kenton vocalist June Christy), he worked extensively with Shorty Rogers and Howard Rumsey, as a partnership with Bud Shank, in various big bands and in the prolific studio-session work of the 1960’s. He remained a versatile and swinging player up until his death from a heart attack in 1993….
Cooper made rather sporadic returns to the studios in the 1980’s and '90’s but he remained a guileful player, his tone deceptively languid: when the tempo picks up, the mastery of the horn asserts itself, and he gets the same kind of even-handed swing which the more demonstrative Zoot Sims or Al Cohn could muster.”
-Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.
“It's always amazed me since Stan's death that his fans have been so loyal; it's just unbelievable. They'll have Kenton reunion concerts and people show up from all over the place. When we had the 50th anniversary festival [Back to Balboa] in Newport Beach in the summer of '91, people came in from all over the world because they love Kenton's music. I was just up in Port Townsend, Washington with Bud Shank, Pete Rugolo, Milt Bernhart and Bill Perkins - a whole band full of ex~Kenton stars, and the auditorium was packed because of Stan's name, and the fact that we were there to play his music.
I think more so than any other bandleader, he has people so devoted to him that it will not end until they [the fans] all die. I have a lot of admiration for him because of that. Stan was like a father to everyone.
I know people hate to hear that, but the band was full of 19 year-olds like I was, and he helped us through a lot more than music, growing up and maturing. He was a good example for most of his life for people to emulate.”
- Bob Cooper, in Steven Harris, The Kenton Chronicles, p. 57.
Actually, I always thought that musically, Bob Cooper had two fathers: Stan Kenton, in whose orchestra he played from 1945-51, and later, bassist Howard Rumsey, after Bob became a regular with Howard’s Lighthouse All-Stars in 1954. He stayed with the LHAS until 1961.
During his Lighthouse years, Bob always seemed so studious as he often walked into the club carrying loads of three-ring binders along with his horns. Between sets, he’d sit in the back of the club composing on music scoring sheets in his notebooks. The horn-rimmed glasses and the Gentlemanly way that Bob comported himself always seemed to add a layer of professorial dignity to his persona.
This description of Bob by Nat Hentoff perfectly aptly captures Coop’s demeanor: “He is an unresting professional who does not leave all to the quixotic visits of ‘inspiration,’ but is continually working to increase and improve the skills and material with which to work when ‘inspiration’ does call and on those long days when it doesn't but work has to be done anyway.”
In The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed., Richard Cook and Brian Morton characterized Bob this way in reviewing Coop! The Music of Bob Cooper [Contemporary Records 7544 ; OJCCD-161-2]:
“Because he chose to spend much of his career away from any leadership role, Cooper's light has been a little dim next to many of the West Coast players of the 1950’s, especially since he often worked as an accompanist to his wife, vocalist June Christy. His flute-and-oboe sessions with Bud Shank are out of print, but this sole feature album, recorded for Contemporary, displays a light, appealing tenor style and arrangements which match rather than surpass the West Coast conventions of the day. The drily effective recording is typical of the studios of the period.”
In 1947, two years after Bob joined Stan Kenton, he married Kenton's singer, June Christy, whom he began to accompany on recordings. In the late 1950s, Bob interrupted his career in the USA to tour Europe, South Africa, and Japan with his wife. Before joining the LHAS in 1954 Coop worked as a freelance musician on the West Coast, his style evolving from swing to bop. He played and recorded with Shorty Rogers, Pete Rugolo, and Bud Shank, among many others and before joining Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All Stars,. After leaving Howard’s group, Bob began a long association with Los Angeles studio work.
In 1966 the premiere of his Solo for Orchestra was given by Kenton's Los Angeles Neophonic Orchestra, which he joined in the same year. His continuing work in big bands has included recordings with Frank Capp and Nat Pierce (1978, 1981) and Bob Florence (1981); he has also played in small groups, recording with Terry Gibbs's sextet (1978), Harry Edison (1983), and Snooky Young (1985) and making occasional tours with Shorty Rogers. [Source:- William F. Lee, III - Barry Kernfeld, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz].
Always uncomplaining and usually ready with a smile and/or a word of encouragement, his professional skills as a musician, dependability and qualities of personality enabled Bob Cooper to build a stable career in music around Los Angeles.
Sy Johnson, writing in the insert notes to Kenton Presents Jazz: Bob Cooper, Bill Holman, Frank Rosolino [Mosaic Records, boxed set, MD4-185] had these comments about Coop’s style of writing.:
“The aspect of all these sides that I find most interesting is that both writers, Cooper on his own pieces, and Holman on Rosolino's as well as his own pieces, are line writers. Instead of thinking vertically, (chords, voicings), they are building a vertical structure a line at a time. Every internal voice is arrived at horizontally, with its own resolutions and logic, as opposed to being the third note from the top in a series of vertically constructed chordal voicings. We used to say, ‘thinking Bach instead of Beethoven,’ which may not be true, but gives the essence. Bach, the great line maker, whose lines ‘swing’ naturally when you add jazz time. Every jazz pianist loves the two and three part inventions.”
Given his long and fruitful association as a member of Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars,, we thought we’d feature Bob in the following video tribute along with his longtime LHAS bandmates Conte Candoli, trumpet, Frank Rosolino, trombone, Victor Feldman, piano, Howard on bass and Stan Levey on drums on Coop’s original composition - Jubilation.