90th Birthday Celebration for Kelan Phil Cohran Preview-The Jazz Foundation of America honors a jazz legend


Kelan Phil Cohran, born in Oxford, Mississippi on May 8, 1927, is a jazz musician best known for his trumpet contributions in the Sun Ra Arkestra in Chicago during 1959-1961 and for his involvement in the foundation of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, (AACM), a non-profit organization founded in Chicago in 1965 by pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams, pianist Jodie Christian, drummer Steve McCall, and composer Phil Cohran. Its mission has been the nurturing, performing and recording of serious original music and its purpose to support and encourage jazz performers, composers and educators. Its influence and outreach have “touched nearly all corners of modern music”.

Kelan Phil Cohran; photo courtesy of The Jazz Foundation of America

 While most of Cohran’s contributions to Sun Ra were on trumpet, some also show his interest in stringed instruments such as zithers. Early in his career he invented an instrument he called “The Frankiphone”, aka “The Space Harp”, heard on some of Sun Ra’s early albums. This instrument is actually an electrified mbira or kalimba, and apparently inspired Maurice White to use an electric kalimba with Earth Wind and Fire.

 On the occasion of his 90th birthday, this Monday, May 8th, 2017, The Jazz Foundation of America will present Kelan Phil Cohran with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contributions in creative music as well as his tireless efforts as an educator and arts activist.

 The Award will be presented at a free celebration/fundraiser held at the new location of The Chicago Academy of Music (CAM) in St. Adalbert’s Church, 1650 W. 17th Street, from 6:30 P.M. until 9:00 PM. Hosted by internationally known multi-instrumentalist and jazz innovator Sir Kahil El’ Zabar, Creative Executive Director, CAM, this will be a spontaneous outpouring of affectionate regard in musical form. El’Zabar, a former chairman of The AACM, is proud and delighted to host the event.

Sir Kahil El'Zabar; photo by Elliot Mandel

  The first hour will focus on words about and possibly from Phil. The second hour will feature a large collective ensemble performance conducted by El’Zabar, with donated music by pianist Robert Irving III, flautist/saxophonist ArteeDuke” Payne, bassist Junius Paul, cellist Khari Lemuel, and others.  There will also be a reading by poet Keith M. Kelley. The purpose will be to play healing music with lots of love! Afterward will be closing statements. This will be a showcase of dedicated musicians performing an improvised tribute to Cohran, a birthday honoring in remembrance and praise of his life and influence.

 The Jazz Foundation intends with this event to bring greater attention as well as overdue recognition to Cohran’s global impact and his multiple contributions to art and culture, including his work as a founder and director of The Afro Arts Theater, The African Heritage Ensemble, and as a key figure, mover and shaker of the entire Black Arts Movement.

 There will also be a celebration today, Saturday, May 6, 2017, from noon to 3:30 at Northeastern Illinois University, 700 East Oakwood Blvd, organized by The AACM and Douglas R. Ewart, multi-instrumentalist and instrument builder.


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