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16 July 2014

Shaye Cohn; and The Tools of a Genius

Here's Shaye Cohn's kit.
What do we spot? First, a cornet that is surely a good deal older than Shaye herself. Its plating is worn round some of the tubes and valves, suggesting that it has had heavy use for many years. In close-up, you can see what a museum-piece it is.
A correspondent has told me it was made by Yamaha. To me it looks like a YCR-234 (with the third slide adjuster ring missing) from the 1970s. It's the kind of cornet you could pick up on an Internet auction for about 100 dollars.

Here, for example, is a cornet that has recently been sold on an internet auction for a mere £56 (that's 95 dollars or 71 euros). It came complete with mouthpiece and case, and in full working order.
(Bob Andersen of San Diego has kindly emailed me to say Shaye's cornet formerly belonged to Ed Polcer, father of the very fine New Orleans jazz trumpeter Ben Polcer. Ed has been playing jazz cornet for 55 years!)

Next to the cornet we see (white and red) a Humes and Berg 102 stonelined cup mute. With this, Shaye achieves the most glorious, crisp jazzy effects. 

The same is true of the other two mutes - the black rubber plunger and the amazing battered piece of metal that constitutes another terrific sound-modifier. I did not know whether this was home-made or whether it was produced by a professional mute manufacturer. I had never seen another like it. But Bob Andersen tells me it is simply an 'aluminum canning funnel'!

Finally - proof that Shaye likes to keep the cornet in good condition with freely-moving valves - there is the tube of valve oil lying on its side. If I'm not mistaken, it's Al Cass 'Fast' oil from Massachusetts, which is held in high regard by brass players. You can see Shaye using it to lubricate a sticky third-valve piston (at 1 min. 50 secs.) by clicking here.

Yet, with this modest kit (total value about 180 U.S. dollars [£120 sterling]) Shaye produces some of the most sublime traditional jazz to be heard in the world today. There could be no better proof that a really great performer can strut his or her stuff without recourse to expensive equipment.
The band in which she mainly plays is called Tuba Skinny.

Shaye is not a showy player. Not from her will you hear those screaming, raucous, high-note 32-bar solo choruses to which so many traditional jazz trumpeters resort.

But she is a very  energetic player of the cornet. She produces a unique tone that perfectly encapsulates the blues feeling that is at the heart of so much of our music. Listen closely to her busy fluent phrases, often muted and in the background, interwoven brilliantly into the polyphony of her band's wonderful music. Her contributions to ensembles remind me of the viola parts in Mozart's string quartets. (She is also great at what Punch Miller used to call 'fast fingering'.)

Shaye has an instinctive understanding of rhythmic possibilities, subtle and surprising harmonies and progressions, even when improvising at high speed. She can 'bend' notes to great effect and in exactly the right places. 

She always works hard to encourage great teamwork from the band, not just to display her own skills. Her playing takes account of (and usually directs) all that is going on around her.

In fact, she seems to be the arranger of the music for Tuba Skinny - discovering long-forgotten gems from recordings made by jazz bands and string bands and jug-blower bands 80 - 90 years ago, and making them sound completely fresh and exciting, with all the armoury of breaks, stop chords, long-held notes, offbeat rhythms, clever introductions and codas, key changes and so on. Shaye holds all this in her head for an astonishingly wide repertoire of tunes.

Shaye also takes great care in setting tempos before a tune is started. And when a fast tempo is required, she and the band ensure it is maintained with excitement and no dragging later in the tune.

On top of all this, Shaye is also one of the best traditional jazz pianists! You can enjoy evidence of this by clicking on
THIS VIDEO.
And her talents do not end there: she may also be heard and seen on You Tube playing the violin and the accordion (and even the spoons!) very well indeed.

Enough. Why not click on here, sit back and enjoy Shaye and her friends doing what they do best. Great stuff from all the other members of the band too. Their singer is Erika Lewis:
CLICK HERE   
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Cheeky Footnote
Here's Shaye on her Fifth Birthday. She was sleeping off the effects of a substantial Thanksgiving Dinner. I bet she was dreaming her way through the chord sequence for Carpet Alley Breakdown!
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