Posted by Robert J. Carmack & photos by George Jeffries & Robert Hill
Recently in Los Angeles on a stormy Friday night the heavens opened up due to The Cookers Band performing at the Nate Holden Center for the Arts. A truly rare Los Angeles appearance by 7 legendary Jazz Band, that included Tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, Trumpeter David Weiss, Bassist Cecil McBee, Trumpeter Dr. Eddie Henderson, Alto Saxophonist Donald Harrison, Veteran Drummer Billy “Jabali” Hart, and substituting for pianist George Cables was Journeyman, Stephen Scott on Piano. Once the audience settled in their seats, the group wasted no time taking us on a blissful journey.
Most tunes were expansive in content as far as improvisations, yet melodically pleasing on all fronts, whether they were “blistering” tempos in odd meters, or alternating 3/4 to 4/4.
One could only have wished for being back in time via Time machine. Hard Bop was the call of the day and the prince of night in the New York haunts and all over the east coast hot spots during the 50s and 60s .
This particular Friday night was unusual as it was raining very hard(Stormy Weather) and my getting to witness one of the last of the true Hard Bop bands ever assembled since the Jazz Messengers. Hanging out in LA is not like it use to be when I was a young pup. Hitting the spots that reeked of Jazz on a 7 nights a week basis, primarily from mid 60s up to the end of the 70s. By then, L.A. was hardly a Mecca for jazz musicians as a new form of music was dominating the radios and car tape players and later CDs.
One of the special treats for me was seeing Billy Harper play that big “Texas Tenor” approach to jazz and his very spiritual compositions in rather odd meters. I had not seen this group since I moved back to Los Angeles from the San Francisco bay area in 2009. They were frequent visitors on the circuit of clubs, festivals and wineries in northern California. I took full advantage of the presentations. A remarkable bassist, Cecil McBee was on this trip and a very good conversationalist, we spoke about jazz in general and his old days with Charles Lloyd. His resume is over flowing with a virtual who’s who in Jazz.
Missing from the lineup was in my opinion one of the most under-rated Jazz pianist since John Hicks and Bobby Timmons, George Cables, who was still in rehab from health challenges. Incidentally, The Cookers group chose another young man who has been “putting-in” his work. Steady on the scene “quiet as kept”, Mr. Stephen Scott. He filled in admirably and commendable with those blistering solos on classics like the jazz messengers favorite by Freddie Hubbard, “Crisis” and “Croquet Ballet” by Billy Harper. The band took the audience on a celestial journey with another Harper composition, If Our Hearts Could Only See, beautiful solos by members of the band, including somewhat new to me seeing him in this type of setting of late, Mr. Donald Harrison on alto, in the past I have seen Craig Handy or the master woodwinds icon, James Spaulding. Spaulding by the way is one of four surviving original musicians on the 1965 “Night of the Cookers date, featuring a battle Royale between Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan…Both Titans of the time, when this writer was in high school.
The band did not disappoint with a litany of great compositions from the past and present. where the improvisations were strictly top shelf.
Dr. Eddie Henderson’s playing, along with David Weiss kept me and the rest of the audience on the edge of our seats, clamoring for more even after a one and a half-hour set. “No Seven ways about it, Pound for Pound, The Cookers are the Rolls Royce on the scene, keeping the Flame nicely stoked.”