Originally published in 50 Miles of Elbow Room issue #1 in 2000

2017 postscript:

Cooper-Moore received the Lifetime Achievement award at the 2017 Vision Festival in NYC. Below is a brief piece I wrote for the festival program:

"I believe it is my work to express in the Music the pain of loss and injustice, and to give expression to the victory of outlasting our losses and to our facing down adversity. And in the Music I feel it a duty to remember the struggle and the overcoming, and to express faith, forbearance, and hope in a better world."- Cooper-Moore

Cooper-Moore's life story, which can sometimes come across like a tall tale from the folk tradition that he often references, is uncommonly full of creativity and ingenuity. As a child growing up in segregated Virginia, the elders in his town recognized his facility with music and recruited him to be the pianist in their community, to perform at church events, plays, and other functions. This formative role, where music was both a service and a pleasure, helped to shape much of what was to come for him.

As a young man, he was exposed to jazz via records and magazines and was inspired to pursue that direction. A bit later he got to experience the music live and recalls “going to the mountaintop" when hearing John Coltrane and others who played music at the highest level. At around the same time, he also relished the excitement of going to nightclubs where people would carouse and carry on. His music embraces both of these worlds, simultaneously intellectual / spiritual and earthy, expressed with power, energy, beauty, humor, brave daring, and a big heart. 

Music and art have also been a means for personal reinvention: a new name, new instruments of his own design and creation, new experiences, new relationships. He has performed for all levels of society: from the usual concert venues and clubs to the "high art" world, dance, theater, schools, storefront churches, parks, subway stations...anywhere there is an opportunity to connect with people. In particular, he uses music and his instruments to teach life lessons to children in underserved areas throughout the United States and beyond.

As one who wants to contribute to a better world, he is unafraid to prompt and provoke, to add tension and fire. He is restlessly creative and seeks freshness, which he often finds in mentoring and collaborating with younger musicians. He emphasizes rigor and high standards, leading by example and approaching every performance as a chance for a mutual peak experience with his audience.

Cooper-Moore has said that he was inspired to be a musician in order to serve people and to "be one of the cats." That has been his path and our reward. It is wonderful that Arts for Art and the community honor him now, in recognition of his substantial past achievements, with gratitude for his crucial contributions, and in support of what is to come.