Monday, December 14, 2015


Kenn Cox
Inside the Knight Suite at the Carr Center Sunday evening, a long overdue tribute to the late jazz pianist Kenn Cox was held. Over four decades Cox, who died in 2008 of lung cancer, was respected around the universe as a top tier jazz pianist, composer, educator, deep thinker, and entrepreneur. Cox’s  musical accomplishments are too vast to list in a blog post. Around Detroit, he led some heavy jazz bands such as the Contemporary Jazz Quintet, the Guerilla Jam Band, and Kenn Cox and Drum.

The 90-minute tribute concert was well organized and hosted by one of Cox's protégés bassist Rodney Whitaker. Whitaker and Cox's relationship date back to the early 80’s, and during the first set, Whitaker prefaced each composition the ensemble performed with stories about his relationship with Cox.

For the first set Whitaker’s ensemble saxophonists Diego Rivera and Vincent Bowen, drummer Sean Dobbins, pianist Corey Kendrick and vocalist Rockelle Fortin performed compositions that were fixtures in Cox’s repertoire such as “Alone Together,” “You Go To My Head,” “Lamar” and “Cherokee”.  The first set was a hip dress rehearsal of sorts for the second, which featured Cox’s originals. Before the set began, Whitaker conducted a Q&A with Cox wife, Barbara.

She talked some about their marriage, revealing Cox was drawn to her early on because she was into Sun Ra, Thelonious Monk, and Archie Shepp. She also talked about the times they took one night trips to Chicago to hear Miles Davis and Jackie McLean. The Q& A closed with her reading excerpts from Cox’s journal. Then Whitaker's ensemble nearly burned up the bandstand with Cox’s original “Mandela’s Muse,” followed by “Cultural Warrior,”  “Love Dance,” "Buhanina,”  and “Beyond A Dream.”.  

Trumpeter Rayse Biggs and vocalist Shahida Nurullah were special guests. If Cox were in attendance, chances are he would’ve favorite how wonderfully Nurullah sang “Love Dance” and how angelically Rockelle Fortin sang “You Go To My Head”. 

There were many OMG moments during both sets. The tribute was befitting a jazz musician of Cox’s influence and genius. Honestly, it’s impossible to single out a standout solo or showstopper because each musician – including the four students from the Michigan State University Jazz Orchestra – showed up with their A-plus game.
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