Tuesday, September 22, 2009

On Noal Cohen

Noal Cohen is a musician, jazz historian, and record collector located in Montclair, New Jersey. I found his website while I was searching for a reliable discography source of Lucky Thompson records. Then I saw his huge collection of jazz record, mostly hard bop and early modern jazz albums. And that was enough to write him a letter.

Now I owe him two things; first introducing me to a special application (software) called Brian for organizing jazz cataloges and making discographies which is based in session discography; and second, his kind favor in giving me some incredible out-of-print jazz records that I was looking for some years.

One of these days I'm going to write about the records from Noal Cohen archive that I’m listening to, till then I think it worth mentioning two or three things about Noal himself.

Pee Wee Ellis on tenor saxophone and Noal Cohen on drums, probably 1956, at The University of Rochester, Rochester, NY.

He’s actually from Rochester, NY and a notable part of his website is dedicated to the musician who came from that area and clubs and dates that Noal himself was a part of them as a young drummer.

“I was born (1937), raised, and educated in Rochester, NY. In the early 1950s, I began taking drum lessons and playing around town. These activities eventually brought me into contact with many of the outstanding musicians located in the upstate New York area at the time. Since the Eastman School of Music was located in Rochester, the local scene was substantially enriched by many talented Eastman students interested in jazz, even though no jazz studies program existed then. Nonetheless, I can well remember jam sessions held in the tiny Eastman practice rooms with a dozen or so musicians packed in so tightly that there was barely enough air to breathe!”

with Oscar Peterson at The University of Rochester, 1957. Left to right: Noal Cohen, drums; Chuck Mangione, trumpet; Ron Carter, bass; Waymon Reed, trumpet; Benny Salzano, tenor saxophone; Oscar Peterson, Piano.

You’ll be surprised if you know that he even has played with the master of keyboards, Oscar Peterson:

“In 1957, the Oscar Peterson Trio came through town and an unexpectedly well-publicized jam session was arranged to allow some of the young local talent to perform with Peterson. Besides the piano giant, the band included Ron Carter on bass, Chuck Mangione and Waymon Reed on trumpets, Benny Salzano on tenor saxophone and myself on drums. We were terrified and unprepared and the atmosphere was tense even though Peterson was very understanding. Somehow we managed to nervously negotiate a Slow blues and Groovin' High before Herb Ellis and Ray Brown came on stage and the famous trio proceeded to give us and the audience a substantial lesson in jazz performance. It was one of those rather embarrassing learning experiences that every young, aspiring musician has to endure in order to grow and mature.”

Noal Cohen and Ron Carter at a jam session held in the student union (Todd Union) of The University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, 1959.

He’s been to all those incredible gigs in New York area, hearing giants like Jack McDuff, Ray Bryant, Miles Davis Quintet, Dizzy Gillespie, J.J. Johnson, the Sonny Rollins Trio, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, Billie Holiday, Horace Silver's band and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (the Benny Golson/Lee Morgan/Bobby Timmons version) in person.

Once he even had his own trio for several months (1959) and had the opportunity to occasionally play opposite major groups like the Gerry Mulligan Quartet (with Art Farmer). Noal continued playing jazz for five decades. He is also the auteur of Rat Race Blues: The Musical Life of Gigi Gryce (with Michael Fitzgerald)

The Chuck Mangione Quintet rehearsing at Mangione's home in 1960. Left to right: Chuck Mangione, trumpet; Larry Combs, alto saxophone; Paul Tardif, piano; Dick Samson, Bass; Noal Cohen, drums.

Discovering a passionate jazzman is always a revelation, regardless of his popularity or having a name in the business. I still think there are hundreds of musicians like Noal, professionals in their own scale, who needs more attention and recognition.

--Ehsan Khoshbakht

© All photos from Noal Cohen site.

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