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Remembering Two Classy Improvisers


The recent deaths of saxophonist Bob Cooper and pianist Kenny Drew have deprived the jazz world of two of its classiest improvisers.

You could spot the tall, slender Cooper clear across a room just the way you could immediately pick out his magnificent, barrel-chested sound from any other tenor saxophonist's.

Cooper, who died Aug. 6 of a heart attack at age 68, played with more power and poise in the autumn of his life than he had during its spring. While he achieved acclaim in the '40s and '50s for his exhilarating performances with Stan Kenton and Howard Rumsey's Lighthouse All-Stars, it was in the past decade that he blossomed, his tone becoming deeper and increasingly personal, his solos paradigms of the blending of swing and be-bop styles.

As his friend Bill Holman said, " 'Coop' became the municipal tenorman" of Los Angeles, referring to the fact that he played with big bands led by Holman, Bill Berry and Frank Capp, along with the re-formed Lighthouse All-Stars and Frank Strazzeri's Woodwinds West as well as his own quartet.

Three current recordings capture Cooper at his zenith. "The Essence of Tenderness," from "Lighthouse All-Stars: Eight Brothers" (Candid), is indeed the epitome of instrumental balladry. "Good Bye Pork Pie Hat," from "Bill Holman Band" (JVC), is haunting and blues-minded. "Shaw 'Nuff," from "Mosaic" (Capri), a duo-tenor session featuring Pete Christlieb, finds Cooper working at his uptempo best.

Services are scheduled for Sunday, 5 p.m., at Forest Lawn's Church on the Hill in Burbank.

Drew, who died Aug. 4 of cancer, was a native New Yorker--his childhood chums included Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean and Art Taylor. He found favor early on, playing in the company of such giants as Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Miles Davis.

The pianist became an expatriate, residing in Copenhagen for the last three decades of his life. There, his spry, invigorating approach, based in the melodic tradition of be-bop, was often heard in the company of the great Danish bassist, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen.

Many fans know Drew's playing from such classic albums as John Coltrane's "Blue Train" and Dexter Gordon's "Dexter Calling" and "One Flight Up." But the pianist was a prolific solo artist, who made numerous ace albums for the SteepleChase and Soul Note labels. A prime example of his artistry is "Dark Beauty" (SteepleChase CD), a marvelous 1974 trio date featuring Orsted Pedersen and now-L.A.-based drum great "Tootie" Heath.

Oscar on the Rebound: Pianist Oscar Peterson, who suffered a stroke in May that slightly affected his left side, is recuperating nicely, says a spokesperson at the artist's office in Toronto. "He's working hard at his physical therapy and progressing very well," the spokesperson said. On doctor's orders, Peterson will not perform in public until sometime in 1994. Meanwhile, Orsted Pedersen, who last played in Los Angeles 10 years ago with Peterson, has returned to active playing in Europe after suffering a minor stroke in April.

Danilo's Debut: The brilliant Panamanian keyboardist Danilo Perez, who has been heard with Dizzy Gillespie, Paquito D'Rivera and Tom Harrell, makes his premiere L.A. club date when he performs with his NYC-based quartet Sunday at Le Cafe in Sherman Oaks.

Perez, whose dynamic self-titled album is newly out on RCA/Novus, says his offerings mix all his roots--Latin, jazz and otherwise. "I try to play music of the moment that comes from the heart and soul, that takes people on a cruise," he says. "Music is medicine. It's supposed to make you feel beautiful and happy."

Critic's Choice: One of the grand men of jazz piano, New Yorker Roland Hanna brings his multi-genre bent today and Saturday to the Jazz Bakery. Hanna, heard with Charles Mingus and others, is just as comfortable delivering rollicking Fats Waller-ish stride lines as he is galloping gaily on a brisk be-bop anthem.

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