Smooth jazz on sax

© Susan Cross, 2009

Leroy Cooper was a quiet man. That is, he didn’t talk a lot. He said that was because he was a Virgo. When he spoke, he mostly told stories of his past; memories of his long, eventful life. Everyone that knew him referred to him as a storyteller. And, man oh man, he sure had stories to tell! His voice was soft, even when he was excited. David Ritz referred to him as Loving Leroy, a man that was all heart. It’s sad that it was his heart was what finally gave out. Perhaps he had just used it up during more than 80 years of life.

When it came to playing his horns, though, he was anything but quiet. He could play background rhythm to almost any band but when his solo time approached, he would stand up and start blowing out that smooth jazzy sound that differentiated him from others. He said once that playing solos on the baritone was difficult and that’s why he originally went from alto to bari, in order not to have to play solos. He was young then and just getting started. With practice and coaching from some of the best he learned to handle that huge horn and make it sing.

In his later years, he said he never practiced at home. Never took out the horns. He would just go over the music in his mind and when he thought he had it right he would do the fingering on his pillow. Once he was on stage, he already knew exactly what the riffs were and he never failed to amaze his audience.

Smooth. Yes, no matter what his friends called him — Lee, Leroy, Coop, Hog or Cooper — everyone referred to his music as smooth.


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