Jerome Cooper, a Multitextured Jazz Percussionist, Dies at 68
Jerome Cooper, a percussionist who played an important role in the post-1960s jazz avant-garde, especially as a member of the influential trio the Revolutionary Ensemble, died on May 6 in Brooklyn. He was 68.
The cause was complications of multiple myeloma, said his daughter, Levanah Cummins-Cooper.
Mr. Cooper worked with a number of major figures in experimental jazz, including the pianist Cecil Taylor, the reed player Anthony Braxton, the trumpeter Lester Bowie and the saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk. And he made a handful of his own albums, starting in 1978 with “Root Assumptions,” a solo percussion performance that evoked both tribal music and minimalism.
He was an alert, rigorously precise drummer who drew from a wide palette of textures: not just drums and cymbals but also the balafon, a West African precursor to the marimba; the chirimia, a Latin American oboe; and even bugle and musical saw. He called his orchestral approach “multidimensional drumming” and explained that it emphasized “layers of sounds and rhythms” rather than linear momentum.
With the Revolutionary Ensemble, whose other members were the violinist Leroy Jenkins and the bassist Norris Jones, known as Sirone, Mr. Cooper refined a taut, chamberlike rapport, distinct from the more blustery side of free jazz. His percussive stirrings, often including stretches of silence, were an indispensable factor in the group’s sound, as heard on a small but prized body of work, notably “The People’s Republic,” released in 1975 on Horizon Records, a subsidiary of A&M.
Jerome Douglas Cooper was born in Chicago on Dec. 14, 1946. He was a baby when his father, Chauncey, contracted tuberculosis and was sent to a sanitarium. His mother, Ruth, worked as a domestic.
In addition to Ms. Cummins-Cooper, he is survived by his wife, Beth Cummins; two brothers, Marc and Dennis; and a sister, Joan Cooper.
After the Revolutionary Ensemble disbanded in 1977, its reputation lived on despite a slim and often hard-to-find body of recordings. In 2004, the group reunited at the Vision Festival in New York and released a new album, “And Now… ,” on the Pi label. The album’s centerpiece was “911-544,” a suite by Mr. Cooper inspired by his experience of watching the World Trade Center attack from the roof of his apartment building.
The reunited Revolutionary Ensemble lasted just a year; two of its final concerts, in 2005, were recorded and later released on the Mutable label as “Beyond the Boundary of Time” and “Counterparts.” Mr. Jenkins died in 2007, and Sirone in 2009.
Mr. Cooper’s most recent album, “A Magical Approach” (Mutable), featured an hourlong solo performance recorded in 2007. On it he plays balafon, synthesizer and drums — often at the same time, as on “My Birds,” offered in collegial tribute to his former band mates.
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