Friday, August 10, 2018

'A Gruff Kind of Tight Vibrato'

The tenor saxophonist Arnett Cobb was born here in Houston one hundred years ago today, on Aug. 10, 1918. He started his professional career as lead tenor with the Milt Larkin band, and joined Lionel Hampton in 1942 after the departure of Illinois Jacquet. Hampton featured Cobb on “Flying Home No. 2.” In Texan Jazz (University of Texas Press, 1996), Dave Oliphant writes:

“In Arnett’s version of this hit tune, the tenorist employs a raspy tone, a gruff kind of tight vibrato that differs noticeably from Jacquet’s normally cleaner, more Lester Young-inspired sound.”

Listen to Cobb’s version of the hymn “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” recorded live in 1978. On the same recording are Buddy Tate (born in Sherman, Texas) and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson (a Houston native). The playing epitomizes the bluesy, guttural, honking “Texas sound,” with Cobb occasionally venturing into Vinson’s alto range. Here is Cobb in 1960 performing “Black Velvet” with the Red Garland Trio. Oliphant says Cobb’s “raspy tenor voice” derives “directly from the blues tradition’s crying and pleading urgency.” Here is his “Smooth Sailin’” (1959). Cobb died in Houston on March 24, 1989, at the age of seventy.

[The Houston Chronicle has published a story about Cobb’s centenary.]

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