The Cookers heat things up at the Vermont Jazz Center

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BRATTLEBORO — The Vermont Jazz Center will kick off its season with an energetic blast. On Friday, Sept. 15, at 8 p.m. The Cookers — a septet heralded by Downbeat Magazine as "a group of the world's best musicians" — will present two sets of jazz at its highest level. The musicians in The Cookers are Billy Harper (tenor Sax), Eddie Henderson and David Weiss (trumpet), Donald Harrison (alto saxophone), George Cables (piano), Cecil McBee (bass), and Billy Hart (drums). Each of these individuals is a major leader in their own right, but the unified force of this group is seen as a worthy personal and musical investment by each of its members. As an enduring unit (they've been together for over a decade), The Cookers perform carefully arranged original music and have been called a "dream team of forward-leaning hard-bop [masters]" (Nate Chinen, New York Times). The rhythm section alone (piano, bass and drums) of George Cables, Cecil McBee and Billy Hart reveals star-power enough to attract any jazz devotee, but when the front (horn) line is added with its glorious combinations of colors and improvisational prowess, the opportunity to hear this group locally is almost too good to be true.

Full disclosure: in order to enjoy The Cookers, listeners really need to pay attention. As pianist George Cables explained in an interview with Rolling Stone: "This is a music that you don't hear every day on the radio. Sometimes it's not as accessible as I wish it could be or would be in terms of radio or television or public media. And sometimes it takes an effort to listen to it. It's a kind of classical music, but it's a music that was born here in the United States, and I think that it's one that should be given more attention." The Cooker's music winds through a carefully balanced range of emotions, some quiet, beautiful and peaceful (especially when featuring pianist George Cables); other arrangements go to places where the performers really let loose. It is the balance, the exquisite writing, the melodic content and the fascinating blends of instruments that give meaningful context to a full range of expression. Most of the Cooker's compositions are epic tales that unfold as parables narrated by a master storyteller.

These days, in 2017, there are very few four-horn bands that perform and tour this style of music with any consistency. In the 1950s and '60s it wasn't uncommon for a band to tour for months on end; the musicians could be found performing six nights a week, honing their musicals skills and developing their repertoire. The greatest of them have left a well-worn footprint of an iconic, collaborative sound that defines an era. Tenor saxophonist Billy Harper views The Cookers as a "continuation of the drive and success of groups like Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Trane " The group's name, "The Cookers," is derived from a 1965 Blue Note release by Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard called "A Night of the Cookers." Bassist Cecil McBee sums up The Cookers' relationship to each other and the music this way: "We're like brothers. Everybody's very, very focused, and we all have what it takes to make the music, not just playing music, but inventing, creating, and providing something that is very different given that many personalities [are] coming together, which is unusual, and lasting a long time, so we take great pride in that."

Come to the VJC on Sept. 15 and prove to yourself what the critics have been proclaiming for years: "player for player, there's no better working band in jazz than The Cookers" (Andrew Gilbert, The Boston Globe). The concert will likely sell out, so purchase your tickets in advance. The VJC is especially grateful for the sponsorship of this event by a friend of the Vermont Jazz Center's Educational Programs. The VJC is also thankful for the ongoing support from the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, Hampton Inn of Brattleboro. VJC publicity is underwritten by the Brattleboro Reformer, WVPR, WVEW, WFCR and Chris Lenois of WKVT's Green Mountain Mornings.

Tickets for The Cookers at the Vermont Jazz Center are $20-plus for general admission, $15 for students with I.D. (contact VJC about educational discounts); available at In the Moment in Brattleboro, or online at vtjazz.org, by email at ginger@vtjazz.org. Tickets can also be reserved by calling the Vermont Jazz Center ticket line, 802-254-9088, ext. 1. Handicapped access is available by calling the VJC at 802-254-9088.




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