The Scotsman obit

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(I remember reading this obit in The Scotsman after Coops' death but it seemed to have disappeared by the time I started this website. Today (17 March 2011) it seems to have magically re-appeared on the internet. So here it is. As far as I know Alastair Robertson still runs the Scottish jazz record label , Hep Jazz, which he founded in 1974.) JE

Published Date: 03 September 2007.
By ALASTAIR ROBERTSON

Musician
Born: 15 February, 1931, in Leeds.
Died: 13 August, 2007, in Twr-y-Capel, Wales, aged 76.

I FIRST met Alan Cooper in an Edinburgh bar during the 1981 Jazz Festival. He was already a legend in trad jazz circles, with credentials going back to 1949 as a founder member of the Yorkshire Jazz Band. Thereafter he was called to serve his national service, which was extended into a short service commission in the RAF, where he attained the rank of flying officer.

Cooper decided against an RAF career as he disliked jets and lamented the demise of the piston propeller engines.

In the mid-1950s, London teemed with exotic artistic and musical life, and Cooper was immediately at home there, playing clarinet with such as Lennie Hastings and Johnny Parker. Among his friends could be counted The Alberts, the progenitors of all performance art, and most of Soho's bohemia. He was by then a mature student specialising in sculpture at the Royal College of Art, where he met a few like-minded jazz loving students. Eventually this association morphed into the Temperance Seven.

George Martin, who subsequently worked with the Beatles, produced their You're Driving Me Crazy and Cooper's arrangement of Pasedena, which briefly propelled the band into the top 20. The band dress code was of Edwardian gentlemen and included John R T Davies, Paul McDowell with the titular head Captain Cephas Howard. After the inevitable internal dissensions ended this, there followed stints with many top bands, notably the one led by Scotsman Alex Welsh.

His career in the art world took shape with part-time lecturing at St Martin's School of Art and latterly Chelsea Art School. He was also active in helping unmatriculated students gain qualifications at a college in east London.

Cooper loved his contacts with young art students while his part-time status gave him freedom to play jazz.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s he occupied several abodes from which emanated preposterous but true stories, such as when an old friend died suddenly, leaving an orphaned and homeless monkey. Cooper gave the hapless creature shelter until a more appropriate residence was found.

His home in south-west London soon became a sanctuary for musical waifs and strays and was Cooper's final London address.

It was a fine three-storey house which had belonged to the renowned lavatory specialists Thomas Crapper of Chelsea. A surviving family member sold it to Cooper on condition it remained as a temple to the Edwardian style. This he easily fulfilled, with only a telephone and old radio having any resonance with modernity.

Instead it was lovingly filled with aspidistras, plaster antique statuary, vintage cameras, scores of antique reed instruments, gramophones large and small and a huge bass banjo adorning the kitchen wall.

Other improbable artefacts turned up as if by magic. Imposing water closets were much in evidence, their bowls richly illustrated with names like Erewhon and the Thunderer.

Three-wheeled vehicles were another Cooper passion, and several were to be found in the front garden. I recall one evening being perched in the back of a dust cart in which Cooper, hurrying to a gig, was attempting a new land speed record up the North Circular. One of the startled drivers we overtook was Edinburgh jazz piano star Dave Newton, who rubbed his eyes in disbelief as we hurtled past.

It was into this milieu that I became a frequent visitor from 1982 onwards.The cast iron range always supported a large pot containing a soup with no name, a distillation of earlier Cooper feasts. He could produce instant meals from almost nothing as you never knew who would call by after a few jars at the nearby Bolingbroke pub.

Sadly word of his fabulous collections reached the ears of the underworld and he suffered a series of break-ins. It was largely this, plus a disenchantment with art institutional education and the demise of his kind of acoustic jazz, that prompted the move to Hay-on-Wye. It was here with his life partner of 21, Jenefer, who he met years earlier at the Royal College, and married at a ceremony in Hong Kong in 1993, that he virtually recreated the Bolingbroke Grove home in an old Welsh chapel tower. But even here there was a moment of tragedy, when his beloved parrot met its match by ingesting a lead surround on a coloured glass window.

But life was renewed through their love of breeding Scottish deer hounds.

Cooper's playing on clarinet and bass clarinet and, indeed, his approach to jazz and life itself, defies analysis. It was a true expression of his personality - it could be uncompromisingly quirky, funny, gruff and wheezy, or immensely tender. He never practised to my knowledge. He just produced a sound from the instrument that was a synthesis of the man and his spirit.

In many ways he resembled the great Scottish jazz clarinettist Sandy Brown, whom he knew and greatly admired. Cooper's bass clarinet was featured on the Hep Recording tribute to Brown, Song for Sandy.

Cooper was a wonderful, gifted man and all who knew him will miss him greatly. He is survived by his wife, Jenefer, and sons Boris and Rollo.

  • Last Updated: 02 September 2007 7:19 PM
  • Source: The Scotsman
  • Location: Edinburgh
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