Nine O'clock Blues: Connecting 78rpm's With The Download Era
Many musicians delight in connecting themselves to the great artists of the past through chain links like: “I’d played with…who played with…and she played with…”
Any musician who can claim to have played with trombonist Porky Cohen can link to virtually all of the best of the best through-out US music history.
Zalman Cohen was born in 1924 in Springfield, Massachusetts, and passed away in 2004. During his eighty years “Porky” came close to playing more styles of music than some of us have even heard and played with a stellar list of greats in multiple genre.
In his teens Cohen studied with trombonist Miff Mole who has been called legendary. Personally, I hadn’t heard of Mole until I looked him up while reading up on “Porky” and found out that more than one musicologist lists Miff as the creator of Jazz trombone. That’s the kind of discovery that makes research so much fun and I’ll be reading more about Mole as soon as I finish writing this post.
After a brief stint with Dixieland bands, 19 year old Cohen joined the Charlie Barnet Orchestra, where he played alongside a young trumpeter named “Doc” Severinsen. “Porky” went on to play with more of the great Swing era bands including Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and others.
“Porky” Cohen’s relationship with the Blues started in the late 1940s when he played with the Lucky Millinder Orchestra, a band that mixed Swing and Blues and gave rise to the Blues shouters Wynonie Harris and Bull Moose Jackson. Playing with the African-American Lucky Millinder and his band makes Cohen one of the pioneers of the de-segregation of music that helped lead to wider de-segregation in America.
Other Blues artists that Cohen worked with included Big Joe Turner, Earl King, Jimmie Witherspoon and Roomful of Blues.
After a long career of performing, “Porky” married and settled down in Rhode Island starting a new career selling records. Rhode Island is the home of a pretty well known band and so it was that in 1979, on retirement from the record store, Cohen joined Roomful of Blues. He was at an age when most road musicians have left that grueling life for a more sedentary existence. He stayed with the band until 1986 when he was 62.
He was replaced in the band by Carl Querfurth, who retired from the group when he was six years younger that Cohen was when he joined the band! After leaving Roomful of Blues “Porky” only semi-retired and kept playing local gigs and doing occasional studio work until the end of his life.
As far as his recording career is concerned, “Porky” Cohen covered a fair part of the 20th Century and a wide variety of styles, starting with a Charlie Barnet Orchestra 78rpm in the 1940s and continuing into the 21st Century era of CDs and downloads.
“Porky” Cohen, one of the great Jazz and Blues trombone players, passed away after a heart attack in April of 2004.