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The Commons
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The Cookers

The Arts

All-star jazz septet The Cookers open the season at Jazz Center

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

Originally published in The Commons issue #425 (Wednesday, September 13, 2017). This story appeared on page B1.

BRATTLEBORO—The Vermont Jazz Center will kick off its 2017-18 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 players 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” by Nate Chinen of The New York Times.

The rhythm section alone of Cables, McBee, and 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 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 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.

These days, there are very few four-horn bands that perform and tour this style of music with any consistency. In the 1950s and 1960s, 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.”

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 see for yourself what critics such as Andrew Gilbert of The Boston Globe have been proclaiming for years: “Player for player, there’s no better working band in jazz than The Cookers.”

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