Done with all that cookin’ and looking for something to do this weekend? Acclaimed jazz supergroup The Cookers will be over at Jimmy’s Jazz and Blues Club is doing two shows this weekend, Nov. 25 and 26 where they’ll be holding it down and doing the cooking for you. Coming up on 15 years of existence, The Cookers are a troupe of legends, each celebrated in their own right, and combining for over 250 years in the jazz universe. (Not to mention they have over 1,000 albums to their collective credit, which is wild to think about.) In some way, shape, or form, Cookers’ members have been a part of the musical recipe of such luminaries as Herbie Hancock, Charles Lloyd, Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Lee Morgan, Max Roach, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Dexter Gordon, Art Pepper, Bobby Hutcherson, Roy Haynes, and many more. In short, they’ve been cooking up some magic for a very long time.
Seacoastonline caught up with trumpeter David Weiss to answer some questions about the group and what excites them for the impending gigs.
Seacoastonline.com: Let’s trace the roots. How did The Cookers come to be? Why did The Cookers come to be?
Weiss: The Cookers have their origins in a tribute to the original Night of the Cookers concert in Brooklyn that was released on Blue Note Records. There was a club in Brooklyn called the Up Over Jazz Café and the owner went to the original Night of the Cookers when he was a kid. I believe it was the first jazz concert he ever went to. Because of this precious memory, every April he tried to put together a Night of the Cookers/Freddie Hubbard birthday celebration (as both events occurred in early April). Because I was working with Freddie Hubbard at the time, I was contacted to help arrange Mr. Hubbard’s appearance at this event. After a few false starts, the owner asked me to put together a proper tribute to the Night of the Cookers concert with as many of the musicians who played the concert as possible.
We did this in 2002 or 2003 and it was a great success. I was particularly taken with how beautiful Pete “LaRoca” Sims and James Spaulding sounded and I asked them if they wanted to do more of these tributes. They agreed and we did a number of concerts over the next few years. At a certain point, I wanted to bring more original music into the project and recruited Billy Harper and Charles Tolliver (I was working in his big band at the time) to bring their compositions into the fold. Over the next few years, we tinkered with the personnel a bit and in 2007 we played the first concert with essentially the same personnel we have today (Donald Harrison replaced Craig Handy in 2013). Everything clicked that night and here we are 15 years later still doing it.
Seacoastonline.com: There’s so much history in this band (1,000-plus records in total amongst the collective!). I know it’s not uncommon in the jazz world for players to mingle in various groups, but The Cookers are like that unsung hero supergroup. Can you feel the spirit that radiates out of such rich history when you’re up there on the bandstand with all these guys? What does the band mean to you? What makes it so special?
Weiss: All these guys came up playing in very important bands. Billy Hart and Eddie Henderson played in Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band, Cecil McBee played in Charles Lloyd’s original Quartet with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette and George Cables was part of the important ‘70s bands of Freddie Hubbard, Dexter Gordon and Joe Henderson.
They have also been playing with each other for years. George Cables was on Billy Harper’s first album. Billy Hart played in Billy Harper’s band for years.
They all have been performing together for at least 50 years. They all know what it feels like to be in important, ground-breaking bands and while I can’t say we set out to do this again (no one in their right mind says they set out to be ground-breaking, this is an after-the-fact phenomena), all the ingredients are there as is the rapport that they have developed over so many years and most importantly, the desire to still bring it like this is still there.
Seacooastonline.com: Is it ever intimidating to be collaborating with such high caliber players? Or do you all thrive off of each other’s ability to bring out the best in one another?
Weiss: I think they all bring out the best in each other and have been doing that for years. There is a healthy respect for each other at this point, one band member is suggesting another band member’s composition to add to the book. For the younger musicians, the experience is invaluable. It’s the best possible training one could have, performing with such a high caliber band on a regular basis.
Seacoastonline.com: What’s the importance of collaborative variety in a jazz musician’s diet?
Weiss: I think it is essential. I guess historically, the emphasis has usually been on the individual. The giants of this music, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker are all individuals, of course, and the most important jazz musicians in history. However, they wouldn’t have achieved such great heights without the bands they had. It’s hard to think of John Coltrane without McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones. You can’t achieve these heights without a sympatico band, all growing together. That’s what makes this music special though the emphasis on selling this music has been on the individual.
Seacoastonline.com: What were the goals behind the latest record, “Look Out!” What did you take from past recording experiences that helped inform the way this one (the band’s sixth) came out? What pleases you about the results? What inspires you guys to keep after it after so many years in the game?
Weiss: The main goal of this album was to stay active. We were all in touch during the pandemic and the discussion was about how this was the first time everyone had time off in as many as 50 years and how none of us stayed home this long for such a long time. And of course, there was no end in sight. Once the initial wave had passed and things were opening up again slightly, I took a cue from the NBA and them playing in a “bubble” and decided we should make our own bubble and play a bit and go into the studio. I wanted to keep the momentum going and keep the sense of purpose. We all tested, went upstate, and did some rehearsing and then went into the studio. There was a little rust, but everything came together, and we had some time to make this record. No one had to rush off to another gig, so it had a bit of a relaxed feeling though we were able to maintain our usual drive and edge. Like all of our albums, I felt we had a great collection of tunes and that everyone was still on top of their game. This is what we have always done. Perhaps we are more tired at times, but the inspiration is always there, and I don’t think anyone is thinking of not doing this anymore. It can be a grind at times, but this is what we do and we’re quite serious about while we enjoy it and live for it.
Seacoastonline.com: What’s the song (or chart) writing process like in The Cookers? How much of it is laid out, and how much is improv?
Weiss: For the first couple of albums, I basically chose my favorite tunes by these guys that I had been listening to for years and asked them if we could put them in the book. I would write arrangements on them and bring them into rehearsal. After the first couple of albums, guys were bringing in their music on their own or suggesting tunes by other members of the band and for the most part I would arrange them for the group. Billy Harper started writing his own arrangements on his tunes at some point as well. We bring the tunes into rehearsals and flesh them out. At that point, the composer of the tune essentially takes over the band and rehearses us to get what he wants. Then we add our touches, of course ...
Seacoastonline.com: What do you hope people get out of the music of The Cookers? What do you get out of it?
Weiss: I think we are a pretty powerful band. This is music played with a lot of heart, passion, intensity and at times, complexity and I would think and hope it moves people or at the very least take people on a journey and distract them from the more mundane aspects of their life they'd rather not be thinking about all the time.
Seacoastonline.com: In general, why music? Why do you seek it? Why do you create it?
Weiss: I’d like to think we don’t have a choice.
Seacoastonline.com: Who’s the best cook in the band?
Weiss: I can’t say I know for sure because I have not sampled everyone’s cooking (if they even all cook), but based on what I know, it’s Donald Harrison.
Seacoastonline.com: You guys are playing Jimmy’s Jazz and Blues Club here in New Hampshire on Friday and Saturday of this week. What do you know about the club? What excites you about the shows? What can folks expect when they come out to take one or both of them in?
Weiss: We have heard it’s a beautiful club with great sound (and great food), and we are really looking forward to seeing it all for ourselves. I think we play music that has its roots in the jazz most people first fell in love with. I think we are the living embodiment of that style of music and one of the few bands still doing this. These guys have been in the bands of many of the greats that were most fans' first exposure to the greatness that jazz can be like Art Blakey, Max Roach, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard and so on, and so on.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: The Cookers heating up Jimmy's in Portsmouth NH this weekend