For the past few years I have had the privilege to do some consulting work for the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, AZ. The museum showcases instruments and music from nearly every country and territory in the world (North Korea and Antarctica are the two exceptions). Throughout its galleries MIM makes the point that instruments and music, like people, frequently cross borders and influence other cultures. African lutes made of gourds morph into banjos in America. European brass instruments turn up in Mexican mariachi bands.
Jerome Cooper (December 14, 1946-May 6, 2015) was an embodiment of this idea. While he is known primarily as a percussionist, he was a multi-instrumentalist, who incorporated instruments like the balafon and chiramia into the jazz he performed and recorded.
Chicago-born Cooper was a student of Capt. Walter Dyett, the demanding yet inspiring South Side high school music teacher, whose students included Nat “King” Cole, Bo Diddley and Dinah Washington. Another student was Leroy Jenkins, a violinist who would form the trio Revolutionary Ensemble with Cooper and bassist Sirone.
The group was only together for a few years in the 1970s. In an article in All About Jazz, Clifford Allen calls Revolutionary Ensemble “one of the most crucial outfits to form in the decade.” After breaking up, the group members pursued other projects, but reformed in 2005 and performed until Jenkins’ death in 2007. A Cooper composition of this period, “Le-Si-Jer,” captures Cooper’s concept for “multi-dimensional drumming,” the layering on of a traditional trap set with the balafon, chiamira and even a Yamaha PSR-1500. You can hear it on the playlist.