“When the mallets are in the hands of the exceptionally talented Jim Cooper, it’s an extraordinary and inspired performance vs. the mere ordinary ”
— Grand Rapids Society Newsletter
Jim Cooper, the award winning vibraphonist and composer has led numerous groups, appearing as both soloist and sideman. He has shared the stage with such jazz icons as Frank Wess, Milt Hinton, Marcus Belgrave, Ira Sullivan, Joe Lovano, Buddy de Franco and Jon Faddis and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, as well as many musicians from Chicago, West Michigan and Detroit. Jim has appeared at The Chicago Jazz Festival, Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase, Sutton’s Bay (MI) Jazz Festival, Lansing Jazz Festival, Grand Rapids Jazz Festival, South Haven Jazz Festival, and clubs and concerts in Phoenix, Cleveland, San Francisco and Denver.
Jim's came from a musical family. Growing up on Chicago's southside, he was influenced early by his his Mother and Grandmother playing piano and his Father and Grandfather played all kinds of records from the Harmonicats, Mario Lanza and C&W to Jimmy Smith to the Dukes of Dixieland. At nine years old, he was singing along with records and playing his first instrument, a metal Jay's Potato Chip can This incessant drumming convinced his parents to buy him a rather cheap drumset but, it didn't last long and was destroyed in a few days. After the family moved to the south suburbs of Chicago, in junior high school, he sang and played drums in a top 40 rock group. In high school, he switched to keyboards, playing rock music of the 60s. In junior college he studied classical piano and percussion and discovered how playing the vibraphone blended perfectly with his drum and piano skills. Composing in college he was accepted into Ralph Shapey's composition class at the University of Chicago. In 1972, while a junior at Michigan State University, he acquired his first set of vibes and returned to Chicago to learn jazz on the vibes. Inspired by what Cooper calls the 4-Bs (Berger, Bags, Bobby, Burton), he practiced diligently, going to jam sessions, played in a free-jazz group.
In the 1980s, Jim began an association with one of his musical mentors, the late Chicago pianist and composer Bob Dogan. The Jim Cooper/Bob Dogan Quintet performed in and around Chicago at many clubs and events. Dogan encouraged him and stressed how important it was to keep writing original music. In honor, Cooper recently composed "A Token For Dogan a tribute to the late pianist.
As a Delmark recording artist in the early 90s, he recorded two CDs, Tough Town (1991) and Nutville (1992), with Bob Dogan and the late, great multi-instrumentalist Ira Sullivan, aJazz Times review calling Cooper, “a warm vibist who goes for the heart.” Starting up his own Jazmyn Records label, he released three more CDs, Itchin' to Groove, Chi-Town Sessions and his most current, Make Someone Happy, a live, hard blowing session which features an outstanding, hard driving Chicago quartet also featuring Ira Sullivan. In the 90s, Jim was leader of the group, “Mallet Madness,” an interesting sextet featuring the "three malleteers Kathy Kelly, Thaddeus Tukes and himself with a trio. They played a few gigs around Chicagoland as well as a “Jazz in the City” performance sponsored by the Jazz Institute of Chicago.
Jim's first chance to record came in 1986 when he was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant. Later awards included a WYCE-FM "Jammie Award," with organist Jim Alfredson, and a 2015 "Best Jazz Composition Award" from ArtPrize for his song, Third Circle. In 2019 his song, “Mallethead” was included in the book, The City Was Yellow, Chicago Jazz and Improvised Music 1980-2010.
Interested in becoming a teacher, he decided to study to teach in the public schools but, was sidetracked into, getting a masters degree instead and has taught music at Lake Michigan College since 2001. Jim has taught jazz vibraphone for the Jazz Institute of Chicago and Northwestern University. Since 2001, he has taught jazz during summers at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp and presents clinics and masterclasses throughout the midwest. He currently endorses Musser vibes and Mike Balter mallets and is working on a new recording project and a book of over twenty of his compositions and arrangements.
THE JIM COOPER QUINTET
The Jim Cooper Quintet recently united in 2023 after years of performing and recording in Chicago during the 1980s and 90s. In the band is Jim Cooper on vibraphone, Art Davis on trumpet/flugelhorn, Tom Vaitsas on piano, Dan Delorenzo on bass and Phil Gratteau on drums. Their recent performances include a Tribute to Ira Sullivan at the Jazz Showcase, a Cooper composition showcase last December at the Green Mill for the Chicago Jazz Composers Collective and a 2023 fall performance at the South Haven Jazz Festival in Michigan.
Their current repertoire includes originals by Cooper, the late great pianist Bob Dogan, Ira Sullivan, Cedar Walton and arrangements of classic jazz standards. Some of Cooper's compositions include A "Token For Dogan," and "The Chief," a tribute to a Chicago legend, drummer, Wilbur Campbell.
To hear selections of the Jim Cooper Quintet at the Green Mill on SoundCloud click here.
JIM COOPER REVIEWS
- “. . . the more you listen, the more you appreciate the quiet but marked strength of Cooper’s style . . . he impresses with his stylistic range and the harmonically assured manner in which he draws his fellow players together.”
- “Cooper is not just a strong soloist but an accomplished band-leader as well, he played with a degree of subtlety and craft one does not often encounter in the work of performers far better known than he.”
- “. . . he’s no kid, judging by his mature lines . . . a warm vibist who goes for the heart.”
- “There seems no limit to the range of Cooper’s moods and themes: he delves deeply into each tune, from bop to bossa....he maintains openness through his warm, unfettered lines.”
Cleveland (OH) Jazz Report
- “. . . nothing tricky, nothing overly glossy, and nothing so sophisticated that it’s lost touch with the streets.”
- “...your vibes are warm and true, the McCoy!”
- “Cooper gave the evening the sort of depth of modern jazz knowledge you’d expect from a Chicagoan.”....masterful vibraphone playing..."
Grand Rapids Press
- "Jim is the real deal, he's been there, done that and has been woefully under-recorded during his long career."
International Association of Jazz Record Collectors
- "An imaginative improviser, Cooper delivered quicksilver solos and propulsive rhythms..."
AZ Music Scene
- “...a very good player of standards and originals...deserving wider recognition."
All Music Guide
- "Cooper never missed a note, the man is as smooth on the vibraphone as a baby's hand in the breeze."
Burlington (IA) Hawkeye