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Al Cobine: Another Indiana Jazz Legend Passes Away

Al Cobine, the noted Indiana bandleader, composer/arranger, and saxophonist, has passed away at the age of 82.

Al Cobine, the Indiana bandleader, composer/arranger, and saxophonist who helped raise Bloomington’s music scene to national stature, passed away Thursday afternoon at the age of 82.

A native of Richmond, Indiana, Cobine came to Bloomington in the 1950s to pursue a doctorate in political science, but ended up becoming a widely renowned big-band leader instead. He put together orchestras and arrangements for Henry Mancini, Johnny Mathis, Elvis Presley, and many other popular artists. He also directed a Bloomington-based ensemble for decades.

The Stuff Of His Music

Cobine’s own compositions and interpretations of songwriters such as Hoagy Carmichael form an important part of the saxophonist’s contribution to the legacy of Indiana jazz. Songs such as “October in the Air,” like the best of Carmichael’s work, evoke the laidback, lyrical mood of the region.

Cobine is viewed by Indiana University jazz professor David Baker as the link between the Carmichael era and the modern era of jazz education at IU. (Cobine was also a wonderful singer; check out his renditions of Carmichael’s “Skylark” and “Can’t Get Indiana Off My Mind” on Cobine Plays Carmichael.)

Making A Small World Larger

In addition to his compositional contributions, Cobine is cited by former colleague Dominic Spera and Baker for helping to expose talent from the IU School of Music to the wider professional music world. He took students and faculty on the road with him as he backed Mancini, Mathis, and others.

Cobine was also a major presence in the local community. His bands played at the Little 500 and he wrote for groups such as the Singing Hoosiers and Bells of Indiana. Though he never finished his doctorate, he did serve two terms as a member of the Monroe County Council in the 1990s. “He will be much missed, man,” says Baker. “I loved him.”

What with the recent loss of pianist/vibraphonist Buddy Montgomery, it’s been a sad week for Indiana jazz.

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