Monday, October 3, 2011
THE LEGAL COMMUNITY:
Attorney Paul F. Cohen Practices Law, Sings While Drumming
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles sole practitioner Paul F. Cohen is on a one-man mission to prove that he can do it all.
He is an accomplished drummer, who has played with some of the best jazz musicians of all time, including Charlie Mingus, Bill Evans and Archie Schepp, and continued playing through the years while maintaining an active law practice.
But this was not enough for him.
Cohen, 73, is now singing, and recently released his debut vocal album in which he is both the chief crooner and the drummer.
“Playing and singing at the same time is murderously difficult,” he admits, since his hands, feet and voice are all doing different things at the same time.
“It’s worse than patting your head and rubbing your tummy,” Cohen says, explaining it’s more like “I’ve got to pat my head, rub my tummy and play different time signatures with each foot.”
He laughs and adds, “I’m not sure what the applicability to life is, but there’s some metaphor there.”
Life, Cohen says, is what informed the song selection on his 12-track album, entitled “I Want You Back.”
“All these songs mean something to me, so at least it seems to me that I’m revealing something of myself in them,” he relates.
Some of the songs are a return to his childhood, Cohen says, such as “I Get The Neck of the Chicken,” from the 1940 film “Seven Days’ Leave,” which his mother would play when he was growing up. As a teenager in Harrisburg, Pa., Cohen says he played in the orchestra for a community theater production of George Gershwin’s “Girl Crazy,” and so singing “But Not For Me” evokes memories from that time.
The jazz standard “Alone Together,” Cohen notes, makes him think of “being at home with my family,” while “My One and Only Love,” is all about his wife, retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Isabel Cohen, whom he met in a bar in Harlem in 1958.
Paul Cohen was set to enroll at Penn Law School that fall, but he decided to attend the Lennox School of Jazz., which had offered him a scholarship.
He studied with Max Roach, a drummer and pioneer of the bebop style of jazz, and went on to play with Grammy-Award-winning composer and conductor Gunther Schuller, jazz saxophonist Archie Schepp, bandleader Don Ellis, clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre, bassist Percy Heath, and vibraphonist Milt Jackson.
Eventually, Cohen says, he grew tired of the late nights performing and touring. He enrolled in law school at New York University, but continued to play around Manhattan on weekends and found the time to record an album with Schepp.
Being a lawyer became his day job after he graduated, but he didn’t quit his night job either. Cohen continued to play and study the art of drumming with Freddie Gruber after settling in California with his wife.
His vocal training began in 1987 after he “sat in” on a gig with singer/pianist Ira Lee, a renowned vocal coach, and asked, “Do you think you can teach me?”
(This same approach had worked for Cohen as a boy, who at the age of 12, approached jazz drummer Henry Adler at his store during a family trip to New York and asked for lessons.)
Cohen says he has been taking weekly lessons from Lee for the past 20 years, and would sometimes sing during gigs, but never while playing the drums.
This changed two years ago, when Jane Getz—an accomplished jazz pianist with a 30-year recording career—approached Cohen after one of his performances and suggested he record a vocal album, with him singing and playing.
“It just seemed like it would be a fun thing to do,” Cohen says, “and my wife, of course, says ‘Do it, do it, do it,’ because she says she loves my singing.”
Getz and her husband, two-time Grammy honoree Bob Tucker, co-produced Cohen’s record. Both also perform on it, with Getz on piano and Tucker on guitar.
Los Angeles Magazine critic Greg Goldin—whom Cohen says is a long-time family friend—wrote the liner notes, in which he gives a glowing review to the music. “The voice, like the man, is wry, intimate, clever and knowing,” Goldin writes, while the songs “resonate with the journey, love and love-lost and love-regained, but not without a necessary tincture of rebellion and irony.”
Aside from Goldin, Cohen says he has not had any written reviews of his album, although his fellow board members on the California Jazz Foundation reportedly all like it.
The album is currently for sale on cdbaby.com, iTunes, Amazon, and at Amoeba Music, Cohen says, although the formal release party is set for Oct. 8, to coincide with his performance at the Hollywood Studio Bar and Grill.
A second appearance is in the works for November at Nola in downtown, and Cohen says he is also hard at work identifying material for a second album.
Cohen disclaims any expectation of becoming the next big jazz vocal sensation, or of quitting the practice of law should this occur.
“It would certainly be tempting, but I can’t imagine that happening,” he says, because “I do enjoy practicing too.”
“I want to work, and I want to play,” Cohen says, and having his own practice has helped him to balance his interests.
“Being able to say ‘I’ll be in the studio today’ is nice,” Cohen admits, as is his ability to run out the door for a jam session on a moment’s notice.
“It’s nice that I don’t have to report to anybody,” he says, and “if I don’t have anything to do, I can run home, grab my drums and be ready to go in five minutes.”
Even though he had once grown weary of traveling and touring, Cohen is ready to give it a second go-round.
“I would love to have somebody call me and say, ‘Go on the road,’ ” he says. “If I’m not in court that week, I’d do it.”
Right now, he adds, he doesn’t have any trials set, “so if anybody wants to swoop me up for a tour, this is the time.”
CD Showcases Cohen’s Unusual Musical Talents
By MARC B. HAEFELE, Staff Writer
There seem to be enough celebrated rock drummer vocalists around—think Levon Helm, formerly of The Band; Don Henley, formerly of the Eagles; and every now and then, Ringo Star, formerly of the Beatles. But jazz drummer vocalists are relatively scarce—the only well known one who comes to mind is Bing Crosby.
Paul Cohen is a very experienced jazz drummer and a good one. And now he’s taken it upon himself not just to sing, but to record a CD of a dozen ballads—mostly lesser known, but nearly all of them very good. And to show off a voice previously unheard, at least outside the courtroom. What kind of voice is it? A bit high pitched, somewhere between that of Mose Allison and Chet Baker, let’s say. He uses it quite well, generally speaking, and even flaunts a nice crooner vibrato on his take of “Laura.” There’s plenty of musicianship here, if not yet the showmanship you’d hear from a truly experienced club performer.
But Cohen will deal with that oversight in his live debut Oct. 8 at the Hollywood Studio Bar and Grill. The kid shows a lot of promise, and hey, he’s only 73. And he’s already made it from Sole Practitioner to Soul Practitioner.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company