JJ 04/82: Al Cohn at University College School, Hampstead

Forty years ago Peter Vacher thought the saxophonist's extemporisations denser and less daring than those of his inspiration Lester Young but superbly crafted. First published in Jazz Journal April 1982


The honest glasses and sober dress suggest a visiting minor academic rather than a distinguished jazz soloist. No matter, for Al Cohn’s reticent bandstand demeanour is irrelevant as he eases into a series of fluent tenor saxophone improvisations.

Cohn was a graduate from Prez’s finishing school and remains essentially true to that inspiration although his arranger’s sense of order results in denser-textured solos with less daring phraseology. His tone is much deeper and on the up-tempo numbers, sure-fire harmonic flair and rapid articulation result in superbly crafted extemporisations.

Peatown, a Cohn original, showed his capacity for swing while Gee Baby brought a calmer aspect, reproduced on later ballads, the finest being You Stepped Out Of A Dream and I Surrender Dear, both masterly as explorations of melody.

Cohn’s companions were especially supportive, with drummer Chris Karan – a fugitive from the Parkinson Show – cast in a bravura role, dishing out accents and almost upstaging Cohn with his dynamism. Pianist Tony Lee was, as always, enthusiastic and expressive, and along with Karan and bassist Pete Morgan, he saw to it that Cohn was able to remain in creative overdrive throughout this well-received concert.