Page 1




Conceived, Written, Edited and Designed by Ingrid “Nicque” Montgomery-Swinton Printing by Visual Communications Imaging Group, VCi

Go Red Go, Blow Arnett Blow The Life of Arnett Cobb

Special Thanks to

Lizette Cobb, Museum of American Music History-Texas Paul Magaziner, VCi Group Rudy Flores, Jr., USA Photographer Brian McMillen, USA Photographer Tim Motion, UK Photographer Edward Gottlieb, William Gottlieb Photography Archive at the U.S. Library of Congress Kemo Curry, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library Tim Ronk, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library Stuart Larson, MFA, University of Houston Clear Lake Professor of Applied Design and Graphic Arts Debra Blakely, Ph.D., University of Houston Clear Lake Professor of Communication Vivian Atwater, Ph.D., University of Houston Clear Lake Professor of Humanities-Art History John Gorman, Ph.D., University of Houston Clear Lake Professor of Humanities-Literature Anne Henry, MFA, University of Houston Clear Lake Professor of Communication and Art Teresa Chance, University of Houston Clear Lake CAMP Kathleen Higgins, University of Houston Clear Lake CAMP Sam Bruno, Ph.D.,University of Houston Clear Lake CAMP Charley Bevill, University of Houston Clear Lake Writing Center Armand Bayou Montessori School, Houston, TX

Cover photo: Arnett Cobb, Bourbon Street Toronto 1974 (live) © Gerry Bahl


to my late grandfather, William “Bill” Prestwood and the memory of Arnett C. Cobb, two wise and compassionate souls.

PREFACE “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”—Oscar Wilde



ver the past year I have worked on the idea and execution of this project. I have spent countless hours researching facts, reading oral histories, interviewing eyewitnesses, viewing archives and visiting exhibits in order to prepare myself to pull all of the pieces of this dynamic story of legendary Jazz Tenor Saxophonist Arnett Cobb into a creative and interdisciplinary format. The design is intended to not only capture the modern eye, but also engage the young and old with a layout that enlightens the discerning reader while creating an interaction between the optical and cerebral experience. In order to achieve this multifaceted literature that communicates an accurate depiction of Cobb’s biography, I needed to include and create captivating visuals that enhanced the narrative. These visuals include: photographs, found objects, illustrations, archives and original designs. My inspirations were drawn from an array of works from fine art of the High and Harlem Renaissances to modern digital collages. Also inspiring were the covers of vintage jazz albums for their mood-stirring pop culture themes and innovative typographic layouts. The decision to create a booklet about a jazz musician was an obvious choice for me. I love jazz music. I love how it performs as a muse to other art disciplines and vice versa. I respect the history of it being one of America’s treasures and contributions to the world. I admire the stories of jazz musicians’ lives imitating art and the contributions of the early musicians from their struggles of commercialism

versus individualism from the eras of big band swing to bebop. Most importantly, I revel in the opportunity to promote the importance of expanding the audiences for jazz performances through educating people about this American art form that was birthed out of African and European music and cultures. One of the ubiquitous ways to educate and promote a subject is to illustrate and narrate the stories of individuals who have lived, breathed, and fully experienced that life. No story is more modeled with enlightening power than the life in this show-and-tell tale of Arnett Cobb. Cobb was my superior preference for many reasons. Being a close family friend made him an apparent choice because I had many first hand accounts of his life. Even with the personal relationship and knowledge already established, the facts and archives uncovered in this journey revealed so much more than just a normal biography of the typical musician. Yes, there was the life struggle with substance abuse that’s often typical in those settings and the stereotypical struggles of racism that black entertainers encountered even in the North during the 1930’s and 40’s. More intriguing about Cobb’s story is his archetype characters he exhibits while experiencing life’s trials and tribulations. Cobb’s story is filled with examples of historical triumphs and incessant pain with raw truthfulness about friendships and band experiences. Cobb’s contributions to jazz saxophone with the “Texas Tenor” sound branded him as an original “Texas Tenor,” yet equally important are his first hand accounts given in two vital oral histories. The Smithsonian Institution conducted a face to face interview in 1978 by Stanley and Helen Dance. In 1979, the Texas Jazz Heritage Society, (now known as

Museum of American Music HistoryTexas) conducted the second interview for the Houston Metropolitan Research Center – Houston Public Library. These oral histories give intimate details about Cobb’s life story beginning with how he began playing tenor saxophone to his near death experiences, losing his beloved wife and the dramatic tales of working with other famous legendary musicians. The oral histories mentioned in the previous paragraph serve as the foundation of reference for this booklet. While reading, then listening to Cobb’s testimony, I began to see that not only was this the story of a musician who accomplished success in the city of New York then later returned home to Houston to make great contributions there, but more so a profound story of survival, perseverance and triumph in the face of great hardship. Delving deeper, his life begins to take on the appearance of a Sisyphean or Chironian Myth and other archetypes from several angles. Early in his childhood he is the victim of a tragic accident, which he suffers from for the rest of his life. He cheats death during that accident, only to have more calamities later in his life where he escapes death again. In spite of permanent physical disabilities as a result of these accidents, he continues to push forward in life with his passion for the music and a strong faith in God. One constant element of Cobb’s story that strengthened his faith in God was the Prayer of Serenity, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,” which he discovered in the New York Daily newspaper

while recovering at the hospital after his first major spinal surgery. He clipped the prayer out of the paper and kept it under his pillow for the duration of his convalescence. The Serenity Prayer is an integral component of the “Twelve Steps” in the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program, which I found to be an interesting irony. This is an intriguing idea from a Jungian analysis that the prayer doesn’t free him from his practice of self-medicating alcohol consumption, but rather bridge him over the trouble waters of life. Carl Jung was a Swiss Psychiatrist who created psychological archetypes and emphasized understanding the psyche through exploring the worlds of dreams, art, mythology, religion and philosophy. Cobb’s life resembles two Jungian archetypes that were significant to me. The “Hero” as in the Greek myth of Sisyphus, known as the absurd hero by Nobel Prize winning French Algerian novelist Albert Camus, is a story of a king who is punished for challenging the Greek gods by having to push a boulder up a steep hill only for it to fall down after reaching the top because of its weight and then having to repeat the process. Jung’s intrinsic human nature psychoanalysis of this tale would compare the significance of the serenity prayer in Cobb’s life to the large stone in Sisyphus that our problems in life must be coped with and are not automatically eliminated. Cobb’s return to the music after repeated debilitating incidents became an endless repetition of hardship of the man’s existence against nature. Giving up the stone would mean

giving up on life. Jung’s archetype the “Wounded Healer” that originated with the Greek myth of Chiron, the centaur who was physically wounded, but by overcoming the pain of his own wounds became a compassionate teacher of healing. Like many musicians, centaurs were notorious for being overly indulgent drinkers and carousers, therefore

appearing to have tumultuous and destructive lifestyles. Cobb, like Chiron, was different than some who chose to live a life of womanizing and illegal substances. Chiron was said to be the last centaur and highly revered as a teacher and tutor. The Greek’s Chiron was synonymous with Cobb in that he had numerous notable

disciples: Benny Golson, Kirk Whalum, Gary Wiggins, Shelly Carroll and Horace Alexander Young, to name a few. The perspective I have on Cobb’s story is not so much as a successful musician, but even more as a dynamic human story of survival with great efforts to live honorably. Using pictures and other visuals in addition to the text, my goal is to design a creative narrative effectively communicating a message that helps us understand that we can transcend beyond our issues, our problems and troubles and not have suffering label us as who we are. Arnett Cobb was in our lives as an inspiration and testimony to that. As a designer and student of humanity it is important for me to tell stories. My overall goal of this booklet was to exhibit a creative display of words, designs and visuals to communicate the complex story of man versus nature that would appeal to diverse groups. I hope the same joy is shared in reading and viewing this booklet as it was in creating it. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the persons that without their love and support, this would not be possible. To my mother, Billie Montgomery, thank you for ALL that you do and have taught me. To my grandmother, Faye Prestwood and great aunt, Maxine Curvey, you are a gift from God! To my sister Lizette, together we can paint the town jazzy red and to my son Jackson Prestwood Swinton, this is for you. —Ingrid “Nicque” Montgomery-Swinton

—Arnett Cleophus Cobb

“I’d clock my style as just straight-ahead jazz; nothing other than just straight-ahead jazz: melodic jazz.”

♦♦God Grant Us Serenity To Accept The Things We Cannot Change♦♦ ♦♦Courage To Change The Things We Can And Wisdom To Know The Difference ♦♦

I took the 50 lessons, my mother financed it. “My Father died of tuberculosis when I was six years old. The last thing he got for me was a grey Chesterfield overcoat and a new pair of shoes. I loved that coat!” –Arnett “Rooster” Cobb

And went





















But with













there. I’m sawing







►PG 9




The first time Arnett Cobb realized that playing the tenor saxophone was what he wanted to do in life was while playing locally in Houston with the Phyllis Wheatley High School stage band in 1931. The band would play for school functions and on Saturday nights they would get paid four dollars to play at the Ethiopian Café on Milam Street downtown. That amount of money was good for a fourteen year 6













saxophone. C-melody






one Now,








It I


said was know



you a


“I a






“The main thing I had to learn was the fingering of the horn and what the notes meant on the horn: A, B, C, D, E, F G. Once I had that, I was ok, because having piano and having violin prior to the saxophone, I had no problem with the music part. Once I got the fingering

“I was just, let’s say coasting. I dont think I was even searching for what I

national, and that was wanted to do. I began to really get into it because I made my first money at

Duke Ellington.

He was

fourteen years old. I played a picnic the nineteenth of June in Humble, Texas,

the greatest band leader. I and I played an intermission out at the barbecue and drank strawberry soda!

of the instrument, I

didn’t know anything about

knew the notes and

I had a ball! I was the youngest thing in the band. I made four dollars on that

just put two and two together. It’s just a matter of knowing when to press, how many to press at one time, which is

Jimmie Lunceford. Nothing trip, but I remember comig back on the truck: I was tired, and I went to sleep,

but Duke Ellington from his

coordination you

and I put my money in my shoe. When I got home I went to get my money out


old records. -Arnett “Hamburger Red” Cobb

–Arnett “Hoss” Cobb 8

Well, I knew more about

of my shoe. My shoe was untied and my money was gone!” –Arnett

old considering this was during the Great Depression and you could buy bread for three cents. By now, Cobb was settled on the tenor saxophone as his instrument for life, but this was not always the case. Born August 10, 1918 in Houston, Texas into a musical family, Cobb, the only child of Robbie Howard and Albert Cobb, learned basic piano from his grandmother. Growing up on Nance Street in Fifth Ward, Cobb would ride the streetcar downtown on Saturdays to the Ben Zindler building where he would take violin lessons. While attempting to be the only violinist in an 80 piece marching band, the band director at Wheatley High School offered him the only available instrument, a c-melody saxophone that Cobb gladly took. While he was happy to play an instrument that could be heard in the marching band, he longed to be a part of the newly formed stage band under the direction of Percy McDavid. The c-melody sax was not considered a jazz or stage band instrument. As fate would have it, one day while desperately wanting to be excused from his first period Latin class, Cobb was requested to report to the auditorium to fill in for a tenor player who was sick. Later Cobb discovered that doctors told the tenor player that whatever illness he had ended his saxophone playing days; the rest is history. ►PG 12


I had pluerisy and didn’t even know it! My mother



e he m t o nd g call --she was a tuberculosis specialist, but I ke A r a . t te r.. s o e had pluerisy. Dr. Robie, that woman was e He t h h t C o er . ;I h d something else. She told my mother m d t n l n o y o a to s m m d nd s u and she examined me and told her r e y o a o t b H m ea ,I k n l y i n , it was just a matter of time. m o s ta om lbs 6 o a r st r o f 1 f t u w rib 2 That’s medical science o 7 H ry I lived with my grandfather, a very 1 tt e o e v t for you. And here I e rn k strict man... She’d come and I’d see c t A I , ba un am, that young, !– k o her maybe once or twice a week at c c im si h d s l gonna die with the most, where she boarded me out. a il ul k e o w c to p l u e r i s y. on And she would buy my clothes, she tI h a d p th te kept me neat. She put the best shoes e n –A.C. g a n th in o w i o on me, and she had holes in hers, with w t o ss i e n t k com erm s a newspaper there that would wear o p a out, walking and she’d put another tn to w t u I B ge ed piece of newspaper in there. That’s b — o f e t o m the kind of mother I had. –Arnett ay d w a a h g e in ht r e m h g ou the g u m i Y o e o ca s. br w b m l s I y 19 M wa n 1 e h y. ed d h w ig bo e y w m on Robbie Howard

carried me to the doctor, and they had what you

10 10

It was in 1928, I was 10 years old when I took my lunch money to catch the trolley car downtown to the theater where my aunt worked. It was four cents to ride the street car and my mother was at work; she didn’t know I was at the movie, but my aunt let me in. I came out between shows and go across the street to the Greek restaurant, and I’m in a hurry to get back to catch what I wanted to see. I ran the light and as small ►PG 17



Lunceford Band, The Duke Ellington band, Count Basie, Claude Hopkins, the Tin Bradshaws...

“Milton would be one of the horns, and I would be the other. You see, Milton wasn’t much of a take-off man. I was the one getting most of the take-off in the band. He was a beautiful, straight solo and melody; everything was light.” -Arnett

LEADER! ...WE played all the after parties for every big band that came to Houston; the


Arnett and Milt 1937

situation-- he’s a GOOD ORGANIZER, a GOOD BUSINESSMAN, and was a GOOD

Before graduating from Wheatley High School in 1935, Cobb would have several professional performing experiences that proved cathartic to him later becoming a legendary tenor saxophonist. During the summer of 1933, Cobb was hired by Frank Davis of Nortonville, Louisiana to tour with his band for three months. One of the trumpet players in that band was another Houstonian Chester Boone, who in 1934 formed his own band bringing along Cobb and another saxophonist, Eddie Vinson to play locally in Houston. Vinson was from Cobb’s rival school band Yates High. Cobb and Vinson played in Boone’s band six nights a week at the Harlem Grill on West Dallas Street in Fourth Ward, taking fifty percent of the door at a ninety-nine cents admission charge. This yielded Cobb roughly thirty-four dollars a week, which meant he now made more than his mother’s ten dollars a week salary as a domestic worker. Cobb would now relieve his mother, Robbie Howard, of her financial duties of buying his clothing and providing for him. Cobb continued to play with Boone for two years before joining the new Harlem Grill house band led by a former Boone band member and close friend, Milt Larkin in 1936. Larkin and Cobb had been friends for a couple of years, since meeting at after school practice sessions along with Sam Smalley, Illinois and Russell Jacquet. Most guys during those days played by

When I got with Milt Larkin, we had a band that we billed with Milton Larkin supervising the


“Milton did look out for me. I can go to the strengths that Milton and I lived together and we shared a house together, and he cooked and saw that I ear, so they would get together reading music and playing harmonies for kicks. While still with the Boone band on a road trip to Dallas, Cobb’s career as a musician almost came to an abrupt halt when he became very ill from lack of eating properly because of trying to save money. When he returned home to Houston fifty pounds thinner and incredibly ill, Cobb was hospitalized and learned he had pleurisy, a viral infection of the lung membrane. Doctors informed Cobb’s mother that they were giving up on him and it was only a matter of time before he died. Devastated, Cobb’s mother confined him to the house and refused to let him continue with the band. One day, Milt Larkin showed up with a newly altered uniform for Cobb, a white jacket and tuxedo trousers. Unbeknownst to his mother, Cobb had been secretly rehearsing with the band. The band was booked for a Prairie View A&M alumni dance, but as Cobb proceeded to leave his mother began to protest and demanded that he not go. “Get that damn uniform out of here because he aint gonna wear it,” she shouted! Cobb’s aunt was finally able to convince his mom to let him go. “You’ve got him on your apron strings and you’re gonna kill him,” she explained before the two sisters cried and carried on. Cobb explained, “My mother turned me loose and I’ve been going ever since.” During the six years with Larkin, 14

▼Arnett Cobb

▲Milton Larkin

ate, and when I bought my first car, Milton taught me how to handle it, and he wanted me to have it because we were close together.” —Arnett

Cobb had many significant experiences as a young man and the two became very close. Since Larkin had to get permission from Cobb’s mother and agree to be responsible for him while they were out on the road, Larkin became like a father figure. Cobb’s father died of tuberculosis when he was six years old. On April 29, 1939, at the age of 20, Cobb married his soul mate Elizabeth Wayne of Houston, Texas, who became an integral part of his management. Larkin’s band featured great talents at different times, losing most players to other bands and the World War II draft. During Cobb’s tenure with the Larkin band the roster included Cedric Haywood (piano), Eddie Jefferson, Calvin Ladner, Roy Eldridge, Eddie Hutchinson, Lester Patterson, Willie “Light” Tompkins, Lawrence Cato, Henry “Doe” Mills (drums), Tom Archie, Frank Domanian, Eddie Vinson (alto saxophone), William Luther (trombone) Wild Bill Davis (guitar) and Illinois Jacquet (alto saxophone). As one of the most successful regional bands, they played at all the after parties for national big bands like Jimmy Lunceford, Count Basie and Duke Ellington in addition to local “white only” private parties, festivals, and many dances. Cobb remembers this band as a family band with much love and learning. Cobb learned invaluable lessons in transposition for instrumentation from Cedric Haywood 15

▲El Dorado Ballroom, Houston, TX 1941


and band management from Milt Larkin. In 1942, Cobb left Houston with Milt Larkin’s band going to Chicago for a stint at the Rhumboogie, backed by Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis’ located at Fifty-Fifth Street and Garfield Blvd. Initially the band was only booked for a month, but with a packed house every night they were asked to stay for another month which turned into nine more. One of the band’s routines involved having a Texas map on the bandstand because during that time the tune “Deep in the Heart of Texas” was popular, which created pandemonium in the audience after Cedrick Haywood put his swing arrangement on it. Many times while in Chicago, the band had the dubious task of reinventing themselves because of the Texas musician shortage caused by World War II. Uncle Sam forced the Larkin band to recruit and use local musicians. Cobb stayed with Larkin at the Rhumboogie for five of the nine months before being recruited by Lionel Hampton to replace outgoing Illinois Jacquet. Hampton had a strong proclivity for tenor saxophone players because of his enormous admiration for Herschel “Tex” Evans, the great “Texas Tenor” from Denton. Jacquet left the Larkin band one year prior to the trip to Chicago when he took a vacation to California and never returned. Hampton had previously asked Cobb to join his band while in Houston

◄Continued from p. 13

POW!! I FELL OUT IN THE STREET. as I was, I couldn’t see, I ran out and the man hit me.

Everybody crowded around me and somebody said, “Call an ambulance!” —they should have never said it. I jumped up and ran. I didn’t want my mother to know about it... I didn’t know I was hurt. I went back into the theater...And you know when I told my mother? I was married living in New York; and she wanted to go down my throat and wanted to know why I didn’t tell her...but I had suffered. Suffered because I had fear. See I had come up with fear, because kids were threatened in those days; and that’s why it’s not good to cast fear in kids today. Because they don’t have any confidence or trust and they are scared that something’s going to happen to them. And love is the greatest force in the world. But my mother loved me.

My grandfather

loved me; he loved his kids, but I said they had a poor way of showing it, when they cast fear in you. —Arnett “Hoss” Elizabeth Wayne Cobb


at the El Dorado Ballroom the year Cobb and Elizabeth were married in 1939, after hearing about Cobb’s big Texas tenor tone. Because of rumors of musician mistreatment and abandonment, Cobb was not ready to leave his comfort zone with the Larkin band. In order to not directly tell Hampton no, Cobb used a tactic he was informed by other musicians that would surely deny one a job by asking for an advance of pay. Cobb told Hampton he was in debt for $500 and asked if he could pay off his debt, then he would be happy to join. Cobb never heard back from Hampton; so it worked, but now three years later Hampton was still interested. Hampton finally got his wish to have a natural big tone tenor, who became known as the “Wildman on Tenor Sax,” exciting crowds with his robust wailing solos as he paraded through audiences. During the five years that Cobb played with Hampton he made his first recording of Flying Home [no. 2] for Decca records in the Hollywood Studios. “Cobb was a major asset to the Hampton’s band as co-writer, writer, reed-section arranger, lead saxophone, featured soloist and 18

I told my wife, I say, I’m coming home, because things wasn’t right in the band, see. I’d been a vicitm of circumstance and my back was giving me a lot of trouble. My doctor said I’m going to have to come off the road...I had my very good friend, Harry Davis who was a plain clothes d e t e c t i v e ▼ Arnett Cobb accompany me to give my notice to Hamp, ‘cause I didn’t want any tricks, you know... Hamp didn’t say anything to me, but he had his masseur put a light on me... And so still playing games with guys in

Our band had the showmanship thanks to Arnett Cobb. We had the crowds lined up around the corner in New York City and The Earl Theater in

▲Lionel Hampton

Philadelphia. Arnett came up

a gangster-like situation; cussing in front of the wives, wasn’t right. Since Hamp had a license to carry a gun and he let Leroy the valet carry it for him everywhere; it just got to be a gangster band instead of friendly, and that was too much for me, and I didn’t want any more of it. I really didn’t, because you can’t play happy under those circumstances. I’m a timid young man, and I want to play with my heart, and I was scared to death somebody going to do something wrong to me, and that’s what it was getting to! —Arnett

with a routine where he and Johnny Griffin would throw their coats and the audience would go wild! —Lionel Hampton ▲ Lionel Hampton and Arnett Cobb, Aquarium, New York, NY, June 1946


talent scout. Gladys Hampton, Lionel’s wife, and Elizabeth Cobb helped manage the band and Cobb’s mother did the tailoring.” Having grown weary of the mobstyle management of the Hampton’s, while missing the family oriented band he found in Milt Larkin, “Cobb left Hampton in 1947 and formed his own combo. Cobb was immediately signed by Ben Bartz of Universal Attractions for management and booking. With Ben’s direction, Cobb performed and toured extensively through 1949,  Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. “http://www.tshaonline. org/handbook/online/articles/CC/fcobs.html

20 20

because of Hershel Evans. Illinois

“You see Hamp’s a tenor freak

▲ Arnett Cobb and Walter Buchanan (bass), Apollo Theatre, New York, N.Y., August 1947

Jacquet was an alto player, he put him on tenor.” –A. C. 21

▲ Arnett Cobb and The Mobb at Birdland, 1952

while recording such hits as Dutch Kitchen Bounce, Big Red’s Groove, Go Red Go, (Cornell University’s pep yell) and Big League Blues for the Apollo label.” Cobb’s band members included: David Page, Michael “Booty” Wood (trombone), George Rhodes (piano), Walter Buchanan (bass) and Poor Jumping George Jones (drums). “During this time in Cobb’s life he was at his mainstream peak producing a string of hits including Jumping’ the Blues, Lil Sonny, The Shy One, and Smooth Sailing (Ella Fitzgerald’s signature scat) on the Columbia label; Night, Light Like That and Flying Home Mambo on the Atlantic label; and other popular tunes for these and other labels. His combos and support became a career-building platform for Red Garland (playing with Miles Davis), George Rhodes (Sammy Davis Jr.’s music director), George Duvivier (bassist), Dinah Washington, comedian Redd Foxx, Jackie Wilson, Arthur Prysock, and many others. Cobb scouted James Brown, positioned him as his opening act, and took him to New York to sign with agent Ben Bartz at Universal.” Also during this time were some of Cobb’s toughest challenges in life. He would have three surgeries including two spinal surgeries, one in 1948 and one in 1949; then a hip surgery in 1951 all  Handbook of Texas Online, s.v...


 Handbook of Texas Online, s.v...


as a result of a childhood incident. One day when Cobb was 10 years old, he slipped away from home without his mother’s approval and caught the trolley car downtown to go to the Majestic Theater where his favorite aunt worked. Before the movie began, Cobb went across the street to get a sandwich. When he attempted to cross the street again to return to the theater he was struck by a car, which knocked him down. Although he was injured, Cobb jumped up and ran away fearing his mother would discover his disobedience. The consequence of not receiving medical attention for that accident would cause Cobb to suffer from incessant pain throughout his life. Cobb did not tell his mother of being hit by the car until many years later after he was married and living in New York City. Before his hip surgery, Cobb played a number of dates in Philadelphia. In September, Columbia records in an effort to increase its representation in the rhythm and blues arena, signed Cobb and his combo to a recording contract. In that same month Cobb appeared with his band at the Earle Theater in a re-opening of stage shows at that location. The show also featured The Ravens, Dinah Washington, and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. Later that year Columbia records releases Smooth Sailing and Your Wonderful Love. After recovering from his hip surgery in 1951, Cobb moved to Columbia record’s Okeh label to concentrate on the sound of rhythm and blues. In January of 1952, Cobb recorded 24


two popular standards for Okeh – Charmaine and I’m In The Mood For Love. The next month he performed at the famous jazz club in New York City, Birdland, where was introduced as “Arnett Cobb and The Mob,” his band’s new name coined by PeeWee Marquette. In 1956, this biggest challenge of all came when he was in a car accident that crushed both his legs. While driving on a return trip to New York City, Cobb hit a tree in Connecticut after blacking out. His wife suffered severe internal lung injuries and a broken arm, while his 3 month old daughter who was in a carrier in the back seat escaped unscathed. After surgery to rebuild his legs, Cobb would spend a year in bed and a lifetime on crutches. Because the doctor failed to make the legs even, forgetting to add a bone extension from his hip to his left leg, he had to wear special footwear for him to walk. “Against doctors’ advice, a year later he began performing and touring coast to coast. Cobb was living in New Jersey at the time, but the long, cold, snowy winters made working too taxing on his mobility, so in 1959 he disbanded once again and moved back to Houston permanently.” When Cobb returned to Houston, he formed a band and played at Club Ebony as the house band before  Handbook of Texas Online, s.v...


I was 16 miles outside of Hartford, CT. in a little town called Meridian that had staggering system of lights and I just cruised. I got to the almost last light and swallowed my own saliva, and it hit my windpipe and I gave a cough to kick it out

and blacked

out, driving... I

ended up in

a filling station

yard and hit

a tree dead

on center,


▲Arnett and daughter, Lizette Cobb

- missed the pumps, thank God...The motor went under the car instead of coming back on me and my wife... “I COULDN’T FEEL MY LEGS.” —Arnett “Speedy” Cobb

▲ Welcome back parade, Third Ward, Houston, TX 1960.

▲ Arnett Cobb and Illinois Jacquet, Nice Jazz Festival 1982


becoming the club’s manager. “He also organized regional orchestras for touring acts such as Sammy Davis, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles and Dinah Washington to name a few. Most importantly Cobb committed a significant amount of his time to nurturing young musicians. Many major recording R&B, soul, and jazz artists of the day called upon him constantly for arrangements, band personnel, and gigs.” After a bout of tuberculosis where Cobb spent time in East Texas recuperating, “he narrowed his touring to the Texas region from 1959 to 1973. He continued recording from 1957 for the Prestige label, then he recorded extensively with VeeJay, Prestige, Muse, Black and Blue, Bee Hive, Progressive, Soul Note, MCA, and the Fantasy labels between 1957 and 1988.” In March of 1958, Cobb and his band were featured in a Houston show with Clifton “King Bee” Smith that also included Buddy Johnson and his band, B. B. King, Sam Cooke, Ernie Freeman, The Dubs, and Drifters. “Cobb began an international touring schedule in 1973 with his daughter, Lizette as his personal manager three years after his wife died of a sudden pulmonary hemorrhage, a chronic problem resulting from the car accident in 1956. He toured consistently, in the U.S., Europe, and Japan, with the Lionel Hampton Allstars, as a member of the renowned 28

 Handbook of Texas Online, s.v...  Handbook of Texas Online, s.v...



 Handbook of Texas Online, s.v...  Handbook of Texas Online, s.v...  Handbook of Texas Online, s.v...


Arnett Cleophus Cobb Born in Houston (Fifth Ward), TX, August 10, 1918, to Robbie Howard and Albert Cobb


At age 10 is hit by a car in downtown Houston in front of the Majestic theater.


At age 13, took violin lessons. Entered high school at Phyllis Wheatley. Received first saxophone a c-melody and performs professionally for the first time at an Humble, TX Juneteenth celebration. Moved to tenor saxophone to fill a musician spot in the stage band at Phyllis Wheatley.


Went touring with the Frank Davis band in Louisiana and Mississippi during the summer.


Played with the Chester Boone band for two years at the Harlem Grill.


Graduated from Phyllis Wheatley High School


Leaves Boone for Milt Larkin’s band playing at private parties and Harlem Grill.


Married Elizabeth Wayne Cobb


Plays at the Rhumboogie in Chicago, Il with the Larkin band. Leaves Larkin for Lionel Hampton’s band.


Creates first recording of Flyin’Home [no. 2] for Decca records in Hollywood, CA with the Hampton band.


Leaves Hampton to start own band. Receives first recording contract with Apollo records. Records Swingin’ with Arnett Cobb. Records The Complete Apollo Sessions and Blows for 1300.


Has first spinal surgery. Recorded Dutch Kitchen Bounce, Big Red’s Groove, Big League Blues and Go Red Go (Apollo)


Has second spinal surgery.


Has hip surgery.


Daughter, Lizette Carlotta Cobb is born January 11, 1956. Involved in car accident that crushes both legs and severely injures Elizabeth, his wife.


Cobb Recorded seven albums for Prestige records including: Blow Arnett Blow, Go Power!, Smooth Sailing, Party Time and The Best of Arnett Cobb. Moved back to Houston and formed a local band.


Managed Club Ebony after recovering from tuberculosis. Records More Party Time, Movin’ Right Along, Blue and Sentimental, Sizzlin’ and Ballads by Cobb (Prestige).


Wife, Elizabeth Wayne Cobb dies suddenly February 12, 1970.


Records Chittlin’ Shout for P-Vine records.


Begins international solo and festival touring schedule. Records Again with Milt Buckner (Black & Blue) and Jazz at Town Hall (Classic Jazz).



Records Arnett Cobb Is Back (Progressive), Live at Sandy’s!, More Arnett Cobb and the Muse All Stars Live at Sandy’s (Muse).


Nominated for Grammy Award for best jazz instrumental performance for Live at Sandy’s.


Records Funky Butt (Progressive).


Records Live (Timeless).


Records Keep on Pushin’ (Bee Hive).



“If I can make a contribution through some of the things I’ve been through that could help the youngsters coming up. So be it!” —Arnett

Texas Tenors, as a featured soloist, and from 1985 to 1989, with his own ensemble, Texas Jazz and Blues featuring Jewel Brown.” Cobb once stated that the doctor asked him whether he wanted to be able to sit or stand; he said he wanted to stand. “Cobb was an out-standing performer, writer, arranger, and tenor saxophonist who was totally self-taught. His saxophone technique and music style directly influenced Illinois Jacquet, Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin, Red Prysock, Houston Person, Sonny Stitt, Stanley Turrentine, King Curtis, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Benny Golson, Kirk Whalum and a generation of musicians in jazz, swing, R&B, soul, and funk music.” “Cobb was nominated for a Grammy award in 1979 for best jazz instrumental performance Live at Sandy’s, (Muse). He shared a Grammy with B. B. King in 1984 for best traditional blues performance Blues n’ Jazz, MCA. In 1986 he founded the Jazz Heritage Society of Texas, which established the Texas Jazz & Blues Archives at the Houston Public Library. At the age of 71, Arnett Cobb died in Houston of complications with emphysema on March 24, 1989. He has received many posthumous awards from the state of Texas and acclaimed music organizations, as well as additional recordings that have been re-mastered internationally. •

Shares Grammy award with B.B. King for best traditional blues performance, Blues n’ Jazz. Founded the Jazz Heritage Society of Texas.


Records Showtime (Fantasy).


Records Live in Paris (Nice, France) and Jumpin’ at the Woodside (Bluebird).

Records Tenor Tribute vol. 1 & 2 (Soul Note)


Cobb dies March, 24,.


Records The Wildman from Texas (Collectables).




Jazz Heritage Society of Texas, Arnett Cobb oral history transcript. Provided by The Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library, Houston, Texas; Louis Marchiafava and Charles Stephenson; February 11, 1988. The Smithsonian Institution, Arnett Cobb oral history transcript. Provided by Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey; Stanley and Helen Dance; August, 1978. Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. “http://www. fcobs.html

Cover © Gerry Bahl, courtesy of Back cover © PeeWee, UK. 4 Courtesy of Lizette Cobb 6 Courtesy of Lizette Cobb. 7 Courtesy of Lizette Cobb. 8 Courtesy of Lizette Cobb. 10 Courtesy of The Arnett Cobb Archive, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library. 11 Courtesy of The Arnett Cobb Archive, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library. 12 Courtesy of The Arnett Cobb Archive, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library. 13 top; Lizette Cobb, top right, Courtesy of Milt Larkin Archive, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library. 14 Courtesy of Milt Larkin Archive, Houston... 18 Courtesy of The Arnett Cobb Archive, Houston... 17 Courtesy of The Arnett Cobb Archive, Houston... 18 Courtesy of The Arnett Cobb Archive, Houston... 19 © William P. Gottlieb, 20 © William P. Gottlieb, 21 Courtesy of The Arnett Cobb Archive, Houston... 22 Courtesy of Lizette Cobb 23 © Marcel Fleiss, Birdland 1952. 25 Courtesy of Lizette Cobb 26 Courtesy of The Arnett Cobb Archive, Houston... 27 Courtesy of The Arnett Cobb Archive, Houston... 28 © Tim Motion, 29 Courtesy of Lizette Cobb 33 Courtesy of Lizette Cobb


The following reference texts were used in researching first hand accounts for the written narrative as well as the direct quotations:


33 33




The Life of Arnett Cobb  

A pictorial narrative on the life of jazz music's legendary "Texas Tenor" saxophonist, Arnett Cobb of Houston, TX. The final thesis project...

The Life of Arnett Cobb  

A pictorial narrative on the life of jazz music's legendary "Texas Tenor" saxophonist, Arnett Cobb of Houston, TX. The final thesis project...