Al Cohn - tenor sax
Jimmy Rowles - piano
Bob Cranshaw - electric bass
Mousey Alexander - drums
Zoot Sims - tenor sax
Tenor saxophonists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims were indelibly linked as playing partners since the early 1950s. Their on-again, off-again working relationship continued for the next few decades, and invariably whenever they would get back together on stage, the magic was instantaneous. For this October 8, 1978 concert at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, each sax great was showcased in separate sets of swinging standards. The two longtime friends and inveterate jammers did manage to get together for two songs that overlapped during this GAMH show, and the results were memorable. A one-time member of Woody Herman's Second Herd (1948-1949), where he met Sims, Cohn was known for his pungent tenor tone and infinity capacity to swing. Both qualities are in evidence on this vibrant set.
Accompanied by the stellar rhythm section of pianist Jimmy Rowles, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Mousey Alexander, Cohn comes out charging hard on the opening number, an uptempo romp through the Broadway show tune, "You Stepped Out of a Dream" (from 1941's Zeigfield Girl). Cohn's pace is unrelenting here as he takes chorus after chorus on his aggressively swinging solo, eventually trading brisk eight bar phrases with drummer Alexander in classic bebop fashion. Cranshaw's rapid-fire walking bass is almost subliminal on this lively number (a favorite of tenor players from Sonny Rollins to Lucky Thompson and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis). Rowles adds a touch of class both comping and on his own distinctive solo. Next up is a clever waltz-time interpretation of Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" that starts out sublime and picks up steam mid-way through Cohn's blues-tinged, bop-informed tenor solo. Rowles add a sense of ebullience with his harmonically playful piano solo and Cranshaw cuts loose for a melodic solo on his electric bass guitar. Cohn's brief cadenza is the perfect exclamation point to wrap up this bit of Ellingtonia.
For sheer emotional power, it's hard to beat Cohn's beautiful interpretation of the poignant Tin Pan Alley torch song "More Than You Know," which has him channeling his inner Lester Young on a beautifully flowing, lyrical solo. From sublime ballad to jump blues, Cohn and his crew next launch into the rousing uptempo Count Basie styled chart "It's Sand, Man!," which was actually written by Jon Hendricks and Dave Lambert from the vocal group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross for their 1957 album Sing a Song of Basie. Cohn then brings out his tenor partner Sims and the two old pros engage in near-telepathic intertwining on spirited renditions of "Autumn Leaves" (Cohn's tone is a tad more pungent with an edge while Sims has a warmer, rounded tone with noticeable vibrato) and the 1928 Broadway show tune "Lover, Come Back To Me." Sparks really fly on the latter as each tenor man steps up to the plate and wails with abandon on this burning GAMH set-closer.
Born on November 24, 1925 in Brooklyn, New York, Cohn played sideman in a series of big bands led by the likes of Joe Marsala (1943), Georgie Auld, Boyd Raeburn (1946) and Buddy Rich (1947) before landing a steady gig in Woody Herman's Second Herd (1948-1949). Cohn became one of the "Four Brothers" on the frontline of that aggregation, and he also contributed several arrangements during his tenure in Herman's Second Herd. There followed a short stint in Artie Shaw's bop orchestra (1949) before Cohn formed his first small group as a leader.
Beginning in 1956, he co-led a quintet with fellow tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims that included Mose Allison on piano. The styles of the two tenormen were so complementary that they continued their working relationship off and on for the next few decades. Cohn died of liver cancer on February 15, 1988 at age 62. (Bill Milkowski)