The Al Cohn Collection

The Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania in the northeast United States are home to musicians who like peace and quiet but must be near New York City and Philadelphia, where

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 the work is. The Delaware Water Gap area of the Poconos has become famous in jazz circles for residents including Phil Woods, Urbie Green, Bob Dorough, David Liebman, John Coates, Jr., Bill Goodwin, Steve Gilmore and Hal Galper, and for the Deer Head Inn, the region’s jazz headquarters. It was at the Deer Head in 1978 that Woods, Rick Chamberlain and the late Ed Joubert cooked up the notion that grew into the Delaware Water Gap Celebration of the Arts (COTA) and its renowned jazz camp.

ESU.jpgThe Poconos also boast East Stroudsburg University, the site of the Al Cohn Memorial Jazz Collection. Named for the great tenor saxophonist, composer, arranger and catalyst, the Cohn collection is a historian’s, researcher’s and enthusiast’s paradise. It is packed with recordings, oral histories, books, video tapes, DVDs, sheet music and memorabilia. The collection survives and expands with the support of those who understand the importance of its efforts to preserve the history of the music and educate people about it. Its three-times-a-year newsletter The Note would be worth reading if only for Woods’ lead column, Phil In The Gap. In the Fall 2008 issue he gives an account of a recent globe-hopping tour in which he and his luggage became strangers. Phil and the bags kept playing different cities. Here’s an excerpt about a night in Italy.

The Verona gig with was with Jesse Davis’ band. Good rhythm section, but the hotel was sadder than McKinley’s funeral — even the horses cried. No clean drawers and I don’t mean the dresser! The bathroom was the personification of Italian showers – no water, no curtain, no washcloth, and postage-sized towels. But the restaurant was great, of course.

Later in his column, Woods writes about COTA’s educational activities and his new CD project, The Children’s Suite, his composition based on A.A. Milne’s Now We Are Six. The issue also has the final part of Dave Liebman’s series, “Reflections on the Artistic Process” and a long verbatim oral history conversation with the late composer Manny Albam about his life and music. Each issue of The Note has several such substantive articles. When Bob Bush, the coordinator of the collection and editor of The Note, asked me to contribute something, I was delighted to write about my encounters through the years with the collection’s namesake.

One morning in 1973 in Washington, DC, I was waiting to be seated for breakfast at the Airline Inn, a motel south of the Capitol near the UPI Television News bureau. Someone behind me greeted me by name. I looked back and, to my surprise, saw Al Cohn. Al and I met through Zoot Sims shortly after my family and I moved to New York in 1970. We became cordial acquaintances during my frequent visits to the Half Note, home base for him and Zoot.

It turned out that Al was in town orchestrating the score of the musical Raisin during the show’s pre-Broadway shape-up. I was UPITN’s chief (meaning all-purpose) correspondent, covering the White House, the Watergate hearings in Federal court and the US Senate, and traveling with President Richard M. Nixon on those increasingly rare occasions when he emerged from the bunker. For a time, I traveled to DC and spent most of every week there. I was delighted to find a kindred soul among the lobbyists, lawyers, Teamsters Union representatives and occasional–uh–professional women who populated the Airline Inn when Congress was in session.

After that initial encounter, Al and I met for breakfast every morning while he was working on Raisin. Our talks touched on his work, my work, Watergate, international affairs and whatever we had heard or read in the news that morning. His curiosity about the world ranged as wide as his humor. He had me chuckling much of the time. I’d give anything to have recordings of those conversations.

I wish that I could give you a link to the rest of the article, but The Note has no online version. The good news is that The Al Cohn Collection has a web site, where you can find out how to contribute to a valuable nonprofit organization doing good work. If you ask nicely when you send your check, there’s a good chance that Bob Bush will put you on the mailing list for The Note. Click here and scroll down to “How To Donate.” Tell him Rifftides sent you.

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Al Cohn, ca 1973, with Al Porcino’s Band of the Century

in the Rough Rider Room of the Roosevelt Hotel, NYC

© Doug Ramsey

 

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Comments

  1. Bill Crow says

    Doug, I’m glad you gave a little space to the Al Cohn collection. I’ve participated in their efforts for several years now. I loaned them my photo collection to copy, and they have published quite a few of them in the Note. A while back they had a musical get-together in Al & Zoot’s honor, and I very much enjoyed playing and listening. After the music, we all sat around with the audience and told Al & Zoot stories.
    Bob Bush is a great guy, and has done a lot to build up and publicize the Collection.

  2. Charlton Price, Seattle says

    In his later years Al Cohn frequently bopped up and down I-80 to and from Canadensis, PA, a hamlet near the Delaware River. He also had a pied-a-terre in I think Hoboken, but liked to get home to Canadensis from NY gigs,however late, if possible. “They love me there,” he told me. “I’m their Jew.” Another vivid memory is the meeting of Al’s dad and my NJ lawyer dad at one of the musical evenings that Dick Gibson sponsored one winter about 1970– at the Commodore Hotel? Bill Crow’s Jazz Anecdotes is filled with Al’s apercus and bons-mots.

  3. says

    I’ve been getting The Note and have been donating for a few years now to the Al Cohn collection. Great people who do wonderful work.
    I plan to donate my photo collection when I have them all digitized.
    They have collected many snapshot that have been donated in a series of small books that are well worth having.
    Tom Marcelo
    Manager / Joe Locke

  4. says

    Bill Crow may have this Al Cohn anecdote too, but I heard Phil Woods tell it on his Unheard Herd CD. Phil came in their shared hotel room and noticed Al watching a baseball game on the TV. Phil asked nonchalantly, “What’s the score?”
    Without taking his eyes off the game Al replied, “Six to 4.”
    Phil went on with what he was doing but continued, “Who’s winning?”
    Al said, “Six.”

  5. Charlie says

    Wondering about the expression,” sadder than the McKinley funeral–even the horses cried.” A friend of mine whom I worked with at a restaurant in Washington D.C. circa 1983 used that expression. I’ve googled it and yours is the only reference. Is it a quote from someone? I use the expression to this day.
    (The quote was Phil Woods’, not mine. He’s the first person I’ve known to use it — DR)