"Your vibes are warm and true, the McCoy!” inscribed Studs Terkel on the inside of his book, Division Street.  Studs signed it after hearing Jim Cooper play vibes on his radio show one night.  Though under-recorded and mostly under-the-radar, jazz vibraphonist and composer Jim Cooper has been called someone, “deserving wider attention,” by the All Music Guide.

No stranger to the land of jazz, Jim has been playing the vibraphone for over 40 years, leading numerous groups and appearing as both soloist and sideman. Besides playing jazz dates of every kind around Chicago and beyond, he’s had the fortune of gigging with such outstanding musicians as Art Van Damme, Larry Vuckovich, Frank Wess, Milt Hinton, Marcus Belgrave, Ira Sullivan, Buddy de Franco, and Jon Faddis with the Chicago Jazz Ensemble.

During Jim’s life behind bars he’s performed in many concerts, clubs and festivals, including The Chicago Jazz Festival, Sutton’s Bay Jazz Festival, Lansing Jazz Festival, Grand Rapids Jazz Festival, West Michigan Jazz Society, Paradise Valley Jazz Party (AZ), Chicago’s Millennium Park, Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase, Chicago’s Green Mill, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit and has recently been making the trek to New York City to sit in at Small’s Jazz Club and Fat Cat.

A native Chicagoan, Jim played drums and keyboards in rock and blues bands in high school and later, classical piano and percussion before concentrating on the vibes.  Perhaps hearing Milt Jackson and Gary Burton in concert as a teenager may have put the bell in his ear. He bought his first set of vibes in Detroit while a student at Michigan State University. After being at MSU for a year, he moved back to Chicago and spent lots of time playing in southside coffeehouses, basements, clubs and jazz parties.

Hearing the words, “Go North Young Man,” he made the move to Chicago’s northside, a hotbed of jazz clubs and jobbing dates.  He met pianist/composer Bob Dogan, just off the road with Buddy Rich, and formed a musical partnership that lasted nearly twenty years.  Dogan became a mentor in both playing jazz and composition and is featured on three of Cooper’s CDs.

Two of these CDs, Tough Town and Nutville, on the legendary Delmark jazz label, also feature the amazing multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan.  Cooper received rave reviews, with Jazz Times calling him "a vibist who goes for the heart..." These early 1990s recordings also feature many compositions by Bob Dogan. 

Other recordings Jim released as a leader include Itchin To Groove  and Chi-Town Sessions, both on his own Jazmyn Records label. Itchin’ To Groove features a great lineup of musicians from Michigan and includes his award-winning song, Third Circle. Chi-Town Sessions is a combination of various sessions Cooper recorded in the 1980s and features over ten exciting musicians.

Cooper started playing in the Phoenix, Arizona area in 1990 when his parents moved there. He landed a gig right away at the Paradise Valley Jazz Party and ended up performing with pianist Armand Boatman and jazz legends Frank Wess and Milt Hinton. Since then, he makes annual trips to Arizona to perform and teach.

Relocating from Chicago to Michigan in 1997, following a teaching assignment in Taiwan, Jim found many fine jazz players to perform and record with including clarinetist Harry Goldson, pianist Steve Talaga, reedman Ken Morgan and pianist Jeff Haas.

Around 2005, Jim was asked to play vibes in a swing era band that Detroit area clarinetist Dave Bennett had formed.  He played and recorded with Bennett’s, “Tribute to Benny Goodman,” which performed in concert halls and festivals throughout the Midwest.  The Burlington Hawkeye wrote, "Cooper never missed a note, and never mind he plays traditional two-mallet style, the man is as smooth on the vibraphone as a baby's hand in the breeze."

Looking for a steady band to work with he co-founded The Cooper, Hay, Van Lente Group, featuring drummer Mike Van Lente and the late pianist/composer Dave Hay. Their CD, Trio Musik, was nominated for 4 Jammie Awards in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Grand Rapids Press recognized Cooper’s command of the vibes, writing, “…his masterful vibraphone playing and the rhythmic interplay between band members make Trio Musik a special project.”

In 2008 Jim was invited to join the Musser Performing Artist Roster sponsored by Conn/Selmer. He also has long endorsed Mike Balter mallets.

In 2014 he started playing with organist Jim Alfredson and recorded Dirty Fingers, a Tribute to Big John Patton which received a Jammie Award in 2014 from WYCE-FM.  One of Cooper’s current working groups is with Alfredson and drummer Jeff Shoup.

While working on his undergraduate degree in the 1980s Jim realized how much he loved music education. He has since taught all age groups from kindergarten to adults. After receiving his M.M. degree from Northern Illinois University in 1997, he was asked to teach jazz classes at the National Institute of the Arts in Taiwan. When he returned, he  moved to the quaint town of Saugatuck, Michigan. 2018 will mark Jim’s 17th year as a summer jazz instructor at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp where he teaches jazz band, piano and improvisation to junior high school students. Jim has taught vibes at Northwestern University and for the Jazz Institute of Chicago. Jim has taught at Lake Michigan College since 2001, currently teaching jazz piano and jazz theory. He gives clinics and workshops in jazz vibes, improvisation and performance around the country and has experience as an adjudicator at school jazz festivals.

Currently, Jim is involved in a new record projects.  His clinics and workshops focus on vibraphone, improvisation and combo performance.

“When the mallets are in the hands of the exceptionally talented Jim Cooper, it’s an extraordinary and inspired performance vs. the mere ordinary!”

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