SALT LAKE CITY — On Monday, Oct. 23, at the Capitol Theatre, the ensemble group The Cookers will bring their uncompromising jazz to the stage for the first time in the Jazz SLC series.
Heading into their 11th year together, the ensemble reads like a who’s who of the contemporary jazz world. Comprising veteran bandleaders and industry soloists, the group has been described by Chris Barton of The Los Angeles Times as “a hard-hitting septet that wears its name like a mission statement. Rich with a mix of classic elegance and exploration.” Andrew Gilbert of the Boston Globe wrote of the group, “Player for player, there’s no better working band in jazz than The Cookers.”
Just to put the talent of these seven jazz masters into perspective, collectively the ensemble has over 250 years of experience and has been part of over 1,000 recordings. The band is composed of tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, alto saxophonist Donald Henderson, bassist Cecil McBee, drummer Billy Hart, pianist George Cables and trumpeters Eddie Henderson and David Weiss.
“I think I’m as excited to have The Cookers join us this season as I have ever been with any other group since we began the series,” said Gordon Hanks, founder of the Jazz SLC series. “There is not a group on tour more dedicated than these seven musicians. The audience is going to be knocked out by the depth and scope of their music.”
“The germination of The Cookers was not very direct,” said Weiss, spokesperson for the group. “A bunch of musicians used to get together to celebrate Freddie Hubbard’s birthday and play a tribute to him. We all knew each other and had come from the days of playing in bands, so it was fun to get to mix it up. Guys would come and go and it didn’t really feel like we’d be able to put a band together until 2007 at one of these tributes when everything just clicked. And we’ve been together ever since.”
With seven composers, arrangers and songwriters all on the stage and in the studio at one time, it’s almost hard to believe that one of them wouldn’t want to dictate the playlist for each concert.
“Actually,” said Weiss, “it’s much easier than you’d expect. It’s a democratic process. We get together, talk about what we’re thinking about playing and then play. The purpose that binds us together is the music, and the beauty of it is the music always changes.”
“The thing about The Cookers that I really like,” Hanks said, “is watching them is like watching any team of first-class athletes. They make everything look so effortless.”
Weiss agreed with the analogy. “It’s a good observation. We’ve all got the talent, no question about it, and we’re all trying to get to the top of our game all the time. Musically, it’s clear to all of us that when it works — when right is just right — we really feel like we’ve accomplished something good, and it keeps us going.”
If you go
What: GAM Foundation/JazzSLC presents The Cookers
When: Monday, Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South
How much: Adults: $28.50; students: $10
Jeff Metcalf is a professor of English at the University of Utah and an avid jazz fan.