By J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu
By the time bassist Todd Coolman arrived at the Skidmore Jazz Institute in the summer of 1997, he had the kind of résumé you need a wheelbarrow to carry around: he’d played with sax icon James Moody for nearly 30 years, had two discs of his own under his belt, and worked with major players like Horace Silver, Gerry Mulligan and Stan Getz.
While an accomplished educator, Coolman wasn’t just coming to Saratoga Springs to be part of a summer program that has turned out a cadre of natural born musical killers – change-makers like Christian Scott, Ryan Cohan, Myron Walden, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” bandleader Jonathan Batiste. He was also there to shadow Milt Hinton, the octogenarian bass legend who made his bones with Cab Calloway and had been the spiritual anchor of the Institute since its founding in 1987. When Milt passed in 2000, Coolman had the opportunity to step into those shoes.
To be frank, though, Coolman wears his own shoes, and has worn them comfortably. Eighteen years after arriving at Skidmore, he is now the Director of the Institute, leading an esteemed faculty that includes both established veterans (Jon Faddis, Gary Smulyan, John Riley and Vic Juris) and gems of the current generation (Michael Dease, Jeb Patton and David Wong). Todd will be the quick-witted – and, occasionally, sharp-tongued – emcee when the Ron Carter Golden Striker Trio opens this year’s Skidmore Jazz Institute Concert Series tonight (Tuesday, June 28) at the Zankel Music Center, and again next Tuesday (July 5) when pianist Bill Charlap brings his trio to the perfect acoustic venue for its solid standard sound.
But Coolman hasn’t just settled into the role of year-round educator. (He is also a tenured professor at SUNY Purchase.) A few weeks ago, Todd dropped his fourth album as a leader – the Sunnyside recording Collectables. Featuring present Institute faculty member Bill Cunliffe on piano and past faculty member Dennis Mackrel on drums, Coolman took advantage of Zankel’s aforementioned acoustics and recorded a tasty set of tracks that showcases both Coolman’s booming resonance on his instrument and his keen ear for an exciting composition.
I’ve always liked Todd Coolman. Aside from the fact that he’s gone all-in on a Greater Nippertown institution I hold very dear, he’s also a fly-fisherman and a fellow Red Sox fan – which means he’s a dreamer, and we need all the dreamers we can get. Todd was kind enough to take a few minutes out of preparation for this year’s season to speak about the Institute and his new disc:
Read the rest of this entry »