Ken Cooper

Room 43, Chicago, IL

Ken Cooper

Story & photos by James Walker, Jr., Copyright 2010

  Hyde Park Jazz Society's weekly Sunday evening set recently featured a group of musicians that this listener was not familiar with. The Society has the reputation of introducing exceptional performers to this sophisticated crowd and on this occasion they were on point again. Trumpeter Ken Cooper was joined by saxophonist Dwayne Armstrong, keyboardist Vince Willis, bassist Tim Seisser and veteran drummer Robert Shy.

The first set featured a couple of selections made famous by Miles Davis - "Footprints" and "Seven Steps to Heaven." Willis demonstrated his keyboarding skills on "Footprints" while Cooper and Armstrong went back and forth with nice interchange on the latter. This was the first of many exchanges between these two brass players who play so well together.

The classic ballad "My Funny Valentine" highlighted all musicians and was on it's way to a climatic finish before Cooper inexplicitly moved the band into the next selection. All was not lost, as multitalented Vince Willis smoothly phased into Louis Armstrong's "When You're Smilin." Willis's vocals on this number were uncannily similar to those of the great Armstrong. This was by far the highlight of the first set, which concluded with "All Blues," featuring bassist Seisser.

Although this wasn't an evening dedicated to "Miles" Cooper evidently admires this icon as he opened the second set with the classic "So What" from one of the all time great albums - Kind of Blue. This listener can never hear too much from this album that was recently recognized as the "best" album in the past 50 years.

Willis again used his vocals as well as the keyboard on "What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life," as he dedicated this number to Anne Marie Usher, who was celebrating her 79th birthday. Vince sung this song with passion, with Cooper's muted horn easily recognized in the background.

In keeping with the Holiday season, the band rendered a nice rendition of "The Christmas Song," which again featured Cooper. A nice touch leading up to Christmas as this was one of the final Hyde Park sets at Room 43 . Unfortunately, they continue to experience problems with City of Chicago in securing appropriate liquor license for Room 43

This writer doesn't understand why the city is preventing this establishment from operating in a community that needs such a positive venue, and which caters to upstanding members of the community. As of this writing, they have been suspended for 30 days from providing entertainment at Room 43, an action which not only prevents Room 43 from generating revenue for the community, but also for a city that can ill afford to "thumb it's nose" at any legitimate revenue producing entity.

Room 43 has been nothing short of a great establishment and deserves to operate in this once blighted area. Patrons from all over Chicago have supported this venue and the club should not be denied future opportunities. If you are supportive of Room 43, call the City's Department of Business Affair's commissioner, Norma Reyes at 312-744-4090 and continue to do so until Room 43's license is fully reinstated.

For details about Hyde Park Jazz Society please refer to their website at www.hydeparkjazzsociety.com.

Robert Shy

Tim Seisser

Vince Willis

Dwayne Armstrong

Anne Marie Usher

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