CORCORAN Corky (Saxes Inc.)

Here is, for me, a very special recording. Corky Corcoran, a today forgotten musician, who spent most of his life on the tenor chair of Harry James big band, is here with only a piano and a bass and plenty (never enough) of space to blow in the Hawkins tradition. A warm sound. A tenor sound ! I'm happy to share with you "Corky Corcoran plays Something" RCS Records, Tacoma, Washington, Stereo/RCS 2555, 1970.

1940's and 1970's

There is not much literature about Corcoran outside of the Harry James band. Here is what John D. McCallum, a Corky's High School mate, tells us in the liner notes of this lp. That was in 1970…

When a man buys a ticket to Yankee Stadium or Madison Square Garden or the Rose Bowl, it's entertainment he's after. It follows that when he turns to good jazz he's looking for the same thing. This is a simple truth that Corky Corcoran, the great tenor saxophonist for Harry James for the past 29 years, tries to keep in mind when he plays "Something", "Funny Valentine, "Ah Moore", "How high the moon", "Happy reunion" and "Danny boy" in this collection that serves as a splendid solo showcase for his keen melodic and harmonic ear.
This is corky Corcoran at his best.
This is Corky Corcoran doing what he's been doing ever since he was a lad back in Tacoma, Washington, where he was born in 1924 –bursting with the sound that has been captivating jazz audiences since he first joined the old Sonny Durham band at 16. That was his first and last year with Durham, for in 1941 he joined the Harry James Music Makers and a remarkable big band career was born.
Corky is a tenor saxophonist in the great Coleman Hawkins – Ben Webster tradition. He has taken that sound and grown and matured with it over the years, until today his playing reminds one of all the qualities that have earned him the respect of fellow musicians and criticst he world over. Perhaps this sides will serve as a reminder that not all the great tenormen live in New York or Los Angeles.
While he proved long ago to be a master of the popular big band style, Corky, even as a teen age youth back at Stewart Junior High School in Tacoma, found the creative and self expression lure of jazz irresistible. I know. I played clarinet in the school band with Corky and can remember yet how he often stood in front of our student audiences in assemblies and brought the house down. In Tacoma, the name Corky Corcoran is legendary. He was the first of our set to strike out on his own and hit the big time. For a while, however, we never really knew wether the "big time" for him was going to be music or baseball. Legitimately speaking, Corky was a crackerjack baseball prospect, and played infield on our school and American Legion teams in an era when we were the best in the state.
Corky has always been a great believer in practice.
It may be a cliché, but practice makes perfect and in "Corky Corcoran plays Something" the maestro gives us a grade-A lesson in just how well those practice hours have paid off. His improvisations are sometimes fluent, sometimes graceful, and sometimes startling, but his special blend of sounds speaks essentialy the same language that has come to be known in the jazz as "the Corky Corcoran sound". Now, in this album, the pure quality of that sound is recaptured, the strangely stirring sound that can lift the hackles of his listeners whether they are impressionable kids on a college campus or paunchy graybeards having a night on Las Vegas, where Corky has spent most of his time with the James band since 1962 at the Frontier Hotel and the Desert Inn. Here Corky lives again. Here is the one and only, original, authentic, non-refillable Corky Corcoran -lyrical, dynamic, soothing- unforgotten and unforgettable. The record spins, and memory weaves a rich fabric…
Another Corky Corcoran story? Well, when he was 17 he left the Sonny Durham aggregation to join Harry James. Because he was under age, Corky had to be legally adopted by Harry and Betty Grable, then married to James, so that he could lawfully travel with the band. "That was one for the book", Corky said. "The beautiful Betty Grable for a stepmother".
Corky Corcoran's autograph

In Harry James, Corky had found a soul mate. Hary was as nutsy about baseball as his young saxophonist and even had his own ball team. The James All-Stars (baseball, that is) often played exibition games around the country between band engagements. Harry played third base. Corky shortstop. To this day, Corky wonders if perhaps James first signed him more for his fielding ability than his tenor sax artistry. "I'm not saying Harry didn't consider your musical talent" Corky said, "but in those days if you couldn't hit 350 he wasn't interested in hiring you for the band".
Today, most of Corky's time is spent in Las Vegas, where the James boys join such performers as Phil Harris and, until his retirement, Frank Sinatra. The rest of Corky's time is spent on tour and in teaching music clinics for the Leblanc Instrument Company, which markets a saxophone under Corky's name. It's a saxophone truly worthy of such a great artist as Corky Corcoran. In this classic album, taped from actual live performances, Corky is back at his pet job –playing tenor sax with his group. It allows him a measure of freedom of expression in his music that is absent when he has to function with the big band.

[Here I just want to say that I'm really not fond of the two other men on this lp. If it could be done again… I'll let Corky have 99% of the playing time !!! ]

Corky's colleagues in this album are two more James men. Jack Perciful, piano and John Smith, bass. Perciful has been with Jams since 1958, doubling as a fine arranger, and his the best pianist ever given to jazz by Moscow (Moscow, Idaho, that's it). He's a University of Idaho graduate. Smith has been with James for two years. Formerly he was with the Si Zentner and Stan Kenton bands. A very fine bass player, highly regarded by his fellow musicians, he has done studio recording work with such headliners as Jose Feleciano, the blind guitarist and Herb Jeffries, vocalist. The format of the trio is in striking contrast with that of the regular James setting, and the choice of material here and the manner in which it is used gives this album a special distinction.
A question that was once asked about his boss, Harry James, can now be asked about Corky: Why did it take so long for him to get around to recording an album of this kind? It can only be hoped that, on the strength of what I've heard here, no persuasion will be necessary to induce him, in the not to distant future, to return to center stage for an encore.

I've never find any other recording of Corcoran as a leader except the Keynote Recordings "Corky Corcoran and his Orchestra" with Emmett Berry, Wilie Smith, Allan Reuss, Dodo Marmaroso, Ed Mihelich and Nick Fatool. That was in 1945. Also very great Corky Corcoran !
Any information about this great tenor will be warmly welcome !


the jazzman said...

Hooray for someone else that likes Corky. I have albums with him as sideman but never as keader. Thanks for this.

the jazzman said...

"leader"....please, I can spell.