by W. Kim Heron
Barbara and Kenn Cox.
We just received the sad word that Detroit musician and musical activist Kenn Cox died Friday morning after a long illness.
What comes to mind first is that Cox, 68, was as passionate about the way the music was represented as he was about presenting it. That’s why, along with his wife, Barbara, he was a mover in the Societie of the Culturally Concerned, which honored Detroit musicians from the bebop era stars and as far back as the generally forgotten Harry P. Guy of the early 1900s.
Likewise, whenever Metro Times screwed up a historical fact — for instance, the musical genealogy of who had learned from whom — Kenn was at the typewriter castigating us and setting the record straight. The last typewriter lashing was when we mistakenly referred to a program honoring the then-ailing Donald Walden as a benefit. Kenn was adamant that we’d turned the event for a U-M music prof into a “pity party.” Not that he wouldn’t give a pat on the back when we did right. He just wanted it all to be right.
What comes to mind next is what it was like to see him when the music came together the way you knew he wanted it to. For instance, when his group — Kenn, pardon me, I can’t recall whether it’s Kenn Cox and Drum, or Kenn Cox and the Drum, or which exact variation — at the Detroit Jazz Fest a couple years ago set off a conga line across the pyramid performance space. Or a couple summers back at Baker’s Keyboard with his trio when his pianistic expressions just flowed, including a splendid “Jitterbug Waltz,” if memory serves me. (That was right about the time that Blue Note reissued his work with the Contemporary Jazz Quintet, which brought mentions in places like The New York Times, not to mention the jazz press.) And there was a Detroit Jazz Fest back many years with the Phil Lasley group Fire when the finale shot into a sonic outer space before landing amid the much-deserved applause.
Maybe you know that riff from Rahsaan Roland Kirk: “Music that makes us cry / Love that money can’t buy / Let’s all search for the reason why.”
Kenn could make you cry — and search.