New Yorkers in Florida Keep the Beat Alive

Member Spotlight

Volume CVII, No. 7/8July, 2007

Mort Kuff

After a busy career in New York City, what’s the next step? Move to Florida! But what kind of musicians would give up their axes? Not the ones in Paul Cohen’s big band. Cohen, a retired Local 802 member, leads a band made up of many former players from the Big Apple. And each week, artist and jazz historian Mort Kuff chronicles the group’s rehearsals. Allegro reprints one of Kuff’s reports, below, from last fall.

Click for larger image.
Basie lives! Retired Local 802 trumpeter Paul Cohen (left) leads a big band in Margate, Florida, made up of many former New Yorkers. Cohen played lead trumpet with Count Basie (right) in the 1970’s for five years and was one of Basie’s featured soloists. Cohen’s band plays many of Basie’s charts. Illustration by Mort Kuff.

One of the signs that “The Season” has arrived in Margate, Florida, is when the limited number of seats in the multi-purpose room at the Northwest Focal Point Senior Center begin to fill at least half an hour before the music starts at 1:30 p.m. on a Thursday.

The regulars always arrive early.

They claim their regular seats and breathe in the anticipation. They mingle and chat with other regulars.

There is an air of camaraderie that is readily apparent as these people gather. They view Thursdays as their special time to listen to the sounds of Count Basie and other big bands of that revered era. The music comes alive here, every week.

Paul Cohen chilled the chit-chat emanating from the audience by the simple act of facing the audience, microphone in hand, and shouting, “Quiet !”

It works every time.

The first number was, “Easy Street,” a Don Costa arrangement. Paul delivered a strong solo to kick off the program, accompanied by some beautiful work from the trombone section.

Then, “I’ve Never Been In Love Before.” Paul credited his old pal, Jack Daney, for furnishing this arrangement.

Paul then announced that Jim Hayward would be featured on the next number, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” The crowd applauded in anticipation. Jim set the tone and pace with his first solo, followed by a smooth segment from all the reeds.

As he always does, Paul included a familiar Latin tune, “Oye Como Va.”

Bill MacCumber started it off by strutting his fabulous Latin stuff on the piano. Establishing the beat — with sticks cracking against the sides of his drums and stands and striking the cowbell —was Orlando L. Machado.

Paul often uses his Latin numbers to provide various members of the band with solo opportunities. So after the reeds and the horns traded phrases, Bernie Greenbaum got the nod. He proceeded to crank out three choruses of musical fantasies on his trumpet.

Then, in turn, Bill Cary displayed his jazzy Latin style on his alto sax; Jack Marek took his trombone for a spin; and Arthur Lilienstein put down his trombone just for this number, and demonstrated his expertise in a not-to-be-missed performance on the “progressive cowbell.”

Noah Brandmark sent his tenor saxophone soaring to the heights as only he can. Paul played some Latin riffs, proving beyond any doubt that his years spent playing in the Latin vein in Puerto Rico — and with the likes of Tito Puente — were not wasted.

Billy MacCumber demonstrated that he too possesses full Latin credentials. Billy plays the kind of Latin jazz piano that is guaranteed to tickle your toes. What a versatile pianist he is. Then, Paul counted off, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight and it was everybody into the pool. What a finish; what a number!

The last number played on today’s program was “The Kid From Red Bank.”

Red Bank, New Jersey, was Count Basie’s hometown. This tune gives pianist Billy MacCumber a chance to showcase his prodigious prowess, while paying his personal tribute to the Count.

The horns play chase and response to Billy’s sparkling piano work. The bass and drums keep pushing the issue, driving at breakneck speed, never letting the pace falter. The horns blast away until all the players’ faces are red.

Billy swoops his thumb across nearly every white key on the piano.

Then, he ends the number, and the rehearsal, with Basie’s definitive “plink, plink, plink.”

Mort Kuff is making a DVD of Paul Cohen’s band. E-mail him at