Al Cohn, born on November 24, 1925, in Brooklyn, New York, and passed away on February 15, 1988, was a highly respected American jazz saxophonist, composer, and arranger. Cohn was renowned for his inventive, melodic playing style and his long-time partnership with fellow saxophonist Zoot Sims.
Cohn began his musical journey at an early age, initially studying the clarinet and then the saxophone. He was influenced by the swing and bebop styles of jazz and quickly gained a reputation as a skilled and creative musician. His first professional job was with Joe Marsala’s band, and he later played with the big bands of Henry Jerome and Alvino Rey.
In 1948, Cohn joined Woody Herman’s Second Herd, where he gained national recognition and became a significant contributor to the band’s sound. He was part of the saxophone section known as the “Four Brothers,” alongside Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, and Serge Chaloff. During this time, Cohn co-wrote the famous jazz standard “Four Brothers” with Jimmy Giuffre.
After leaving Woody Herman’s band, Cohn forged a successful career as a freelance musician, performing and recording with numerous jazz greats, including Artie Shaw, Gerry Mulligan, and Thelonious Monk. He also formed a close partnership with Zoot Sims, and the two saxophonists worked together for many years, both as a duo and in larger ensembles. Their musical collaborations were characterized by their intuitive interplay, blending their distinct tenor saxophone sounds seamlessly.
Cohn was also a prolific composer and arranger, working with various big bands and writing for television and film. He arranged music for artists like Buddy Rich, Count Basie, and Stan Kenton, showcasing his ability to craft complex yet accessible arrangements that highlighted the talents of the musicians involved.
Throughout his career, Al Cohn recorded numerous albums as both a leader and a sideman. Some of his notable releases include “Al and Zoot” (1957) with Zoot Sims, “Cohn’s Tones” (1956), and “You ‘N Me” (1960), again with Sims.
Al Cohn passed away at the age of 62, leaving behind a remarkable legacy in the world of jazz. His virtuosic playing, innovative composing, and arranging skills continue to inspire and influence musicians today.
Page last updated 3/18/2023.