Jerry Coker should have been a household name (and hopefully after this post he will be). A composer, arranger and tenor saxophonist from Indiana, Coker in the 1950s had a beautiful ear and was a gifted musician. But Coker recorded only one album and a few tracks as a leader in 1955. He also recorded as a sideman in small groups led by Mel Lewis and Nat Pierce and a big band led by Rudy Salvini. In the early 1950s, he recorded and toured with Woody Herman’s Third Herd and recorded with Clare Fischer’s band in the early 1960s. Except for two albums in the early 1980s (A Re-emergence and Rebirth for the Revelation label), that was pretty much it. [Photo above of Jerry Coker courtesy of Fresh Sound]
Coker played with Stan Kenton in 1957 and then he spent much of his career as an exceptional educator. He taught at the Monterey Peninsula Junior College in 1963, at Indiana University as head of their jazz program and then, in 1966, at Coral Gables University in Miami, developing first-rate BA and MFA degree programs, leaving in 1972.
While in Miami, Coker played many gigs for entertainers, including Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. Next came Pembroke State College and Duke University before he settled with his wife in Knoxville, Tenn. Over the course of his career, Coker wrote 20 jazz education books and is a member of the International Association of Jazz Educators Hall of Fame. Coker is still with us today.
Fortunately for us, Fresh Sound Records has gathered Coker’s recordings between 1954 and 1956 on a single CD entitled Jerry Coker: Modern Music From Indiana University and the Bay Area. It is a stunning collection of jazz recordings that will leave your jaw hanging open. The sound is a perfect blend of West and East Coast jazz styles during this period, and Coker’s composing and arranging was extraordinary. It’s melodic with smart harmony parts and exquisite blowing by everyone on the date.
The 12 tracks from Modern Music From Indiana University feature a reed ensemble comprised of three different configurations. The first includes Jerry Coker, Bob Cowart and Louis Ciotti (ts) Jack Coker (p) Monk Montgomery (b) and Charlie Mastropaolo (d). The second adds Freddy Fox (bar) and Roger Pemberton (bar). And finally Al Kiger (tp) and Jim Hewitt (tb) sit in on select tracks.
Coker’s reed writing was so gorgeous you’ll want to cry. Heartfelt and fully maximized, the arrangements have a passion for the saxophone harmony sound while the musicians have a nimble Four Brothers feel. The players on the session were all students at Indiana University, where Coker had attended college.
Next are three tracks (Coker’s You’ll Stay and Giggling Oysters and Wayne Crabtree’s Water’s Edge) feature Coker in a quartet setting in San Francisco: Al Kiger (tp) Jerry Coker (ts) Eddie Duran (g) and Dean Reilly (b). A Mel Lewis Sextet track, ‘Enry ‘Iggins ‘Ead, composed and arranged by Coker, includes Kentonites Ed Leddy (tp) Jerry Coker and Richie Kamuca (ts) Pepper Adams (bar) John Marabuto (p) Dean Reilly (b) and Mel Lewis (d).
This is followed by a Rudy Salvini Orchestra album called Intro to Jazz, recorded at the Sands Ballroom in Oakland, Calif., in November 1956. The band on these five tracks included Rudy Salvini, Allen Smith, Al Del Simone, Wayne Allen and Billy Catalano (tp), Van Hughes, Archie Lecoque, Chuck Etter and Ron Bertuccelli (tb), Charles Martin (as), Jerry Coker, Tom Hart and Howard Dudune (ts), Virgil Gonsalves (bar), John Marabuto (p), Dean Reilly (b) and John Markham (d), with arrangements by Jerry Cournoyer, Jerry Mulvihill and Coker.
There are two bonus tracks recorded in Paris in 1954 with groups that included members of Woody Herman’s Third Herd: First, Embarkation, with Cy Touff (b-tp), Jerry Coker (ts), Ralph Burns (p), Jimmy Gourley (g), Jean-Marie Ingrand (b) and Chuck Flores (d). Second, Thanks for You, featuring Jerry Coker (ts), Ralph Burns (p), Jean-Marie Ingrand (b) and Chuck Flores (d). [The top photo on the album above features, from left, Cy Touff, Jerry Coker, Jean-Marie Ingrand and Ralph Burns]
Coker was masterful, and in an ideal, selfish world, he would have moved to Los Angeles, recorded dozens of albums and written for television. Then again hundreds of fledgling jazz musicians studying at the various universities where Coker worked would be poorer for it.
Hopefully Jerry Coker will reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to ask him a few questions.
JazzWax tracks: You’ll find Jerry Coker: Modern Music From Indiana University and the Bay Area (Fresh Sound) here as a CD and download.
JazzWax clips: Here’s are two of Coker’s reed arrangements in 1955. First, Nancy With the Laughing Face. Dig the harmony!…
Here’s Lost April…
Here’s Wayne Crabtree’s Water’s Edge in 1956, with Al Kiger (tp) Jerry Coker (ts) Eddie Duran (g) and Dean Reilly (b)…
And here’s Coker in 1983, playing Bud Powell’s Un Poco Loco in Gainseville, Fl., with Jerry Coker (ts), Frank Sullivan (p), Scott Walton (b) and Billy Bowker (d)…
A special thanks to Jordi Pujol.