(Continued from last week)
Dizzy Gillespie didn’t hold back:
When ‘First Call’ musicians are contacted for a recording date or to play a live show but, already have a commitment that conflicts, it is the usual thing for them to recommend another player to fill that spot. Doing so keeps them in the good graces of the ‘Contractor’ who puts together the musicians for events.
That’s why it is incumbent upon ‘First Calls’ to refer the very best replacement they can. Not only does it provide the musician they recommend with a paid gig but, it helps to strengthen relationships all around thereby, enhancing the potential for the favor to be returned at some time in the future. As the old saying goes, ‘One hand washes the other’.
Here’s what happened when the always-in-demand trumpet virtuoso and free-wheeling scat singer, Dizzy Gillespie, recommended his pal Paul Cohen to a Contractor who asked: “Can this guy read music?” With his typical wide grin, Gillespie responded: “Can he read music? Let me tell you Man, Pauly Cohen can read music from around the corner.” That was that.
Paul ‘Does Lunch’ with Benny Goodman: I had been aware that Paul played in Benny Goodman’s Orchestra for a brief while. When I asked him about it, he surprised me with this story. It seems that Paul, who was never shy about discussing his monetary compensation, was dissatisfied with the money Benny was paying him and wanted to talk about a raise. Benny said they could discuss it over lunch.
Paul told Benny that he had been paid considerably more when he was with Artie Shaw and felt that he was worth a lot more to the Goodman Orchestra. Benny said that Artie Shaw was already established and was making big paydays but that he, meaning Benny, was still trying to get noticed and make a name for himself and therefore, couldn’t afford to pay more to Paul.
That was almost laughable. Paul felt that Benny was poor-mouthing the situation and that he, meaning Paul, wasn’t in the mood to listen to that line. The Goodman Orchestra was getting ready to do a road tour.
So Paul, realizing that he wasn’t going to get the money he wanted, gave Benny his notice, then and there. Paul was a bit short in the Height Department but, he was ten feet tall when it came to getting the pay he felt he deserved in exchange for his musicianship.
Inside the music biz, the word was that Benny was a fairly tight-fisted guy when it came to handing out the bucks. It was also widely known that he rarely picked up a lunch or dinner check. Paul said that while he had just quit the band and wasn’t going to make the road trip with him, he would show Benny that he, meaning Paul, was the bigger man and so, he picked up the lunch check.
Benny accepted Paul’s resignation and the free lunch. That was Benny Goodman. He was unquestionably, a true genius on the clarinet but was he a good guy to work for? . . . not so much.
Paul discusses Composers & Arrangers:
Whenever Paul announces the next number at a rehearsal or a concert, he invariably gives credit to the composer and/or the arranger. Frank Sinatra always did the same. I asked Paul if he had favorite composer/arrangers since he had known so many of them, so well?
Without hesitation, he named Sammy Nestico and Neil Hefti. Both had contributed numerous arrangements to Count Basie’s repertoire. Sammy Nestico composed and/or arranged for ten (10) hit albums recorded by Count Basie.
It should be noted that each album contained 10-15 or more individual numbers for which Nestico wrote the arrangements. That body of work formed a large part of the Basie band’s basic sound. Nestico’s charts were a big factor in Count Basie’s popularity.
Jack Daney was mentioned by Paul as one of his favorites; he contributed several swinging tunes that appear frequently on Paul’s play list. Several others were mentioned including, piano player Buster Harding; Paul considered him a top arranger and it’s easy to see why.
Lavere ‘Buster’ Harding (1912-1965) was closely associated with the Teddy Wilson, Coleman Hawkins and the Cab Calloway orchestras, in addition to arranging for recording sessions by the one and only, Billie Holliday.
Paul played with nearly all the top bands at one time or another.
During his many years of playing Lead Trumpet, Paul was comfortable in every category of pop music – Big Bands, Latin Bands, Society Orchestras, Pit Bands for Broadway shows, Recording Sessions, NBC Studio Orchestra, Radio & TV shows and in hundreds of concert dates throughout the USA, all over Europe, Japan and Puerto Rico . . . just to name a few.
Let me share with you, a random listing of names he mentioned during our interviews: Count Basie of course, Benny Goodman, Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Charlie Barnet, Lionel Hampton, Russ Morgan, Tommy Reynolds, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Myrta Silva, Pupi Campo, Noro Morales, Roy Eldridge, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines, Jimmy Lunceford, Glen Gray, Don Sebesky, Claude Thornhill, Ray McKinley, Quincy Jones, Lester Lanin, Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis, Jr., Anita O’Day, Paul Barron, Arthur Godfrey, Myer Davis, Teddy Wilson, Coleman Hawkins, Ziggy Elman, Charlie Shavers, Harry James . . . and I’m certain, a bunch more that to my regret, I never recorded in my notes. One could say without fear of contradiction - “Paul Cohen has been there, done that”.
Pressed to name a few of his favorite vocalists, Paul put Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland at the top of his list. Having played numerous times in orchestras that backed up these two giants of the music business for so many years, Paul had nothing but high praise for ‘Frank’ and ‘Judy’.
He said that Judy Garland was his all-time favorite female performer. He gazed off into the distance when he spoke of her talent – and no wonder. How great it must have been for him to have worked so closely with these super- legendary artists. The kid from Brooklyn had made it to the highest stage of the pop music biz.
A surprising phone call with Paul Cohen:
During a phone call I made to Paul in November 2016, it occurred to me to ask him if he ever played Carnegie Hall. He said that he did, once. He said it was on the occasion of the Count Basie Orchestra in-concert at Carnegie Hall, NYC, sometime in the 1970s. Paul said that Basie asked him to play one of his favorite ballads, “Poor Butterfly”. Basie had ordered a special arrangement written for Paul and wanted to feature him in this very special concert.
Paul recalled that when the time came for his solo and he was introduced, he walked to his spot on the stage in front of the Count Basie Orchestra. He was alone in the spotlight, facing the most elegant audience he’d ever played before. He told me that it was his time to shine.
He stated that he played his solo perfectly - to his own satisfaction. He noted that fact proudly as he related that he received an enthusiastic ovation from that august audience and above all, a smiling approval from the Boss, Count Basie.
It sounded to me as if this was the crowning highlight of his career. He didn’t actually say that, although from the tone of his voice on the phone, that was the clear impression I got. I was somewhat surprised to learn this, as I’d never heard him mention the event on any of the occasions when I’ve listened to him recollect his days with the Basie Band.
Paul treasures a black & white photo of himself with Count Basie, signed by Basie with this dedication: “Paul, so glad to have you with us.” I think those few words say it all for Paul and his 5-year, close, personal relationship with Count Basie.
I’m so glad I thought to ask that question of this precocious “Kid from Brooklyn who made it to the Big Time”. Today at age 94, Paul Cohen still holds sway at his every-Thursday big band rehearsals in Margate, Florida. And, to say that he is still quite serious about his music, is to understate it.
By: Mort Kuff