Sunday, March 17, 2013

Buster Cooper

            There's one man who falls under a heading of famous trombone players who know me if I remind them how.  One of the first pieces I had published was an article in the April 2008 ITA Journal.  Some day everyone at the home will be hearing about the day I spent talking to Buster Cooper about Duke Ellington.
            Buster Cooper spent ten years with Duke Ellington and for that reason alone qualifies as American musical royalty. The first time we met was during a Florida vacation. Cyn and I went to hear him at the Garden (downtown St. Pete where he still plays every Friday night) after reading an article about him in the St. Petersburg Times. I had known about Buster from reading Kurt Dietrich's Duke's Bones, about the great Ellington trombone sections, and had his only album but didn't know he lived in St. Pete. When we got the chance to say hello, it was like he'd known us all his life.

Mark Feinman(l) and Buster Cooper at the Garden
            That's how Buster is with everybody but, then, Buster Cooper knows everybody. Mention anyone in jazz in the last 60 years and Buster's got a story about them. He's played with people like Frank Sinatra to Josephine Baker, Ella Fitzgerald to, well hell, everybody.
            When I approached Buster about the ITA article, he invited me to his home where we spent the better part of a day talking.  I didn't have to ask a lot of questions and mainly sat back and listened. Ever since, I've been dropping his name and telling friends the stories he made me shut off the recorder for. Some day I'll have to figure out how to post what came out of that day but right now it's only available to ITA members. Of the things I've written, it's still my favorite.
            For a while after the article came out, I could go to hear Buster and feel cool because he'd make a big fuss over me. Then we didn't see each other for a while, I grew a goatee and put on a couple of pounds and when I finally saw him, could tell that he couldn't place me. After a few hints he made me feel cool again and every meeting after that (and I reminded him who I was) he made a point of telling me how much he loved my article and if I had friends with me he made them feel cool, too. That's Buster.  
            One of the biggest regrets I have is that before we left the states, I never worked up the nerve to sit in with Buster. (One of the many ironies of my life is that even with my career,  I'm so easily intimidated.) There was always some local player at Buster's gigs and, if you were lucky, some well known jazz musician dropping by to sit in. He's gracious and no matter who you are always makes sure you've got your chance to shine. In fact, one of the best musical evening Cynthia and I ever had was the night we stopped by and two great local guitarists, LaRue Nickelson and Nate Najar were playing with Buster.
            The only album Buster's ever recorded he shared with the late Thurman Green. This cut, Straight Up from the now hard to find E-Bone-ix, is a pretty good showcase for Buster. He takes the first solo and a lot of his musical signatures are there. He makes his statement cleanly,  intelligently and without any excess and swings like hell.
            Next time anyone in St. Pete sees Buster, tell him I said hello - and don't forget to tell him who I am.

Bonus Video - Buster w/ Duke Ellington Orchestra

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