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Jazz greats to be honored at Don Redman Heritage Award and concert

June 26, 2013|By COURTNEY BRADFORD | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Eddie Gomez will perform Saturday, June 29, at Clarion Hotel & Conference Center Ballroom in Shepherdstown. He will be awarded with the Don Redman Heritage Award.
Submitted photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- —  “It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.” Or so the Duke Ellington classic goes.

And for jazz musicians Buster Cooper, 84, and Eddie Gomez, 68, music has lead them to some swinging careers. 

This year, both musicians will receive the Don Redman Heritage Award, which is presented by the Harpers Ferry Historical Association and the Jefferson County NAACP. 

The 12th annual award ceremony and concert will be 6 p.m. Saturday, June 29, at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center Ballroom in Shepherdstown. Gomez and Cooper will perform during the free concert. In addition, The Howard Burns Quartet also will perform.

Each year the Don Redman award is given to musicians for their contributions “in jazz education and music as well as the individual musicianship, humanity and dignity that illuminate the spirit of Don Redman.”

Buster Cooper

Buster Cooper first started playing the trombone when he was in high school in the early 1940s. Cooper was getting into music when big-band jazz was in its heyday. In fact, big band was what inspired him to pick up the trombone.

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“My cousin had a little big band, and I loved the sound of it,” Cooper said during a telephone interview. 

Inspired by the band, Cooper became a musician. At age 19, he went professional and started touring with the big boys.

Cooper played with a small band in Texas in the late 1940s with jazz and big-band leader Nat Towles. Cooper gigged with Lionel Hampton in 1953. However, Cooper is best known for playing with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

He toured with Ellington for 10 years from the early 1960s until Ellington’s late days in the early ’70s. Touring with Ellington allowed Cooper to travel the world.

“I’ve performed all over America and even in 100 other countries,” Cooper said. “And I’m still traveling.”

Cooper has also performed with Quincy Jones, at two presidential inaugurations, on TV and even for the queen of England. 

“Everything was first class,” Cooper said. “(My career’s) been very good to me.”

Still, he likes to keep things humble with the simple phrase, “Anything you love comes easy.”

Eddie Gomez

Puerto Rico native Eddie Gomez, like Cooper, discovered his love for music at a young age.

“My mother would always sing to me when I was young,” Gomez said during a telephone interview. “My love of music was, in a kind of way, through singing, but I had always wanted to play an instrument.” 

So in middle school, Gomez picked out the double bass. Although jazz was not as recognized in school in the 1960s as it is today, he managed to practice it. 

As a student, Gomez and one of his friends would get together and play jazz when the mood hit them. Of course, the music doesn’t stop there. Gomez was so involved with music, he went to a performing arts high school in New York, and after high school, he continued his studies at Juilliard School.

By the time he was 18, Gomez had started his professional career. He played a few gigs here and there, but one night he had the chance to play with the legendary Benny Goodman. Gomez’s professional life didn’t take off right away, because he needed to finish his studies at Juilliard. Gomez left to go completely professional at the age of 21.

Gomez’s biggest break was when he joined the Bill Evans Trio.

“It was a monumental step forward. I was frightened; it was harrowing,” Gomez said. 

In a matter of a few weeks, Gomez’s life had been flipped upside down. Suddenly, he was traveling all over the country and even the world.

“In Europe I was at the airport and people were already asking me for my autograph.” Gomez said. “One of the shocks was going to Europe and seeing how accepted jazz was.”

Along the way, Gomez played with other jazz giants such as Miles Davis and Gerry Mulliganwon and won two Grammy awards. Now Gomez has the honor of winning yet another award.

“I was so thrilled when I found out (about the Don Redman Award),” Gomez said. “To be honest I wasn’t very familiar with Don Redman, but when I did some research and saw what a big influence he was on the jazz world, I was truly honored.”

If you go ...        

WHAT: Don Redman Heritage Awards & Concert

WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday, June 29

WHERE: Clarion Hotel & Conference Center Ballroom, 233 Lowe Drive, Shepherdstown, W.Va.

COST: Free

CONTACT: Call 304-535-6298

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