Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hall of Fame Inductee Marlin Cooper more than a teacher


For 44 years, Marlin Cooper has taught instrumental music all the way from elementary school students to college age adults, giving lessons, directing bands and teaching an appreciation for music.

But more than being a teacher and instructor, Cooper was an educator and many a student learned far more than just music.

"Marlin Cooper was more than a music educator, he taught life skills to our students," says Jim Mair, who succeeded Cooper as Director of Instrumental Music at Kansas City Kansas Community College. "He taught life skills to our students, was a constant and positive role model in their lives and encouraged them to be best that they could both musically and personally."

"It's incredible what he's got people to do on their own," said Jim Carson, a trumpet in one of Cooper's jazz bands in his 27 years at KCKCC. "You learned playing in the band is just like life and everyone has to be responsible."

"He helped me handle myself in many ways," agreed Cliff Hall, a trombone player and vocalist who would follow Cooper into teaching. ""He'd tell you like it is but not in a degrading way and yet there was nothing he wouldn't do or go out of his way to help you."

"The way he communicates with everyone is an education," added ageless saxophonist Dwight Foster. "The tops, he levels with you but he does it in a way that makes you feel comfortable and want to perform to the best of your ability."

Inducted into the Music Educators Hall of Fame in Wichita this past spring, Cooper will be inducted into the Mid-America Education Hall of Fame at KCKCC Saturday, Nov. 3.

A fund-raiser for the KCKCC Endowment Association, the dinner and 17th annual induction ceremonies are open to the public and tickets can be reserved by phone at 913-288-7166 or by e-mail to

"I'm really excited and looking forward to it," Cooper says of his induction. "I was part of helping the Education Hall of Fame get its start and there are a lot of great people on that wall for whom I have great respect and great memories."

Growing up in the small western Kansas town of Moscow, Cooper inherited a saxophone from his older brother, earned high ratings in state music contests and has been playing one ever since.

A 1961 music graduate from Ottawa University, he was a member of an Ottawa band that spent four months on a 1960 USO tour performing at military bases in 14 countries including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Guam, Wake Island and the Philippines.

After two years of teaching in schools in Plains and Ness City in western Kansas and a Master's degree in music from Pittsburg State in hand, Cooper came to KCK where he would teach at Coronado Junior High for eight years before coming to KCKCC with the opening of the new campus in 1972.

During the next 27 years, he taught Music Appreciation to more than 2,000 students and directed bands with more than 1,000 students including many who have continued to have outstanding music careers.

The most famous, Bobby Watson, was recognized by Downbeat Magazine as the most outstanding jazz sax soloist in the U.S. Watson now directs the jazz program at UMKC. Others include Jim Poplau, Brandon McCray, Kenny Glover, Mark Howard, Dwight Foster, Tim Baskin and John Cushion.

Six times, his students were chosen to perform at the International Association of Jazz Educators national conventions in Boston, Atlanta, San Diego and Washington and numerous jazz band awards included Gold Medals in International Jazz Festivals in New Orleans and Washington, D.C.

Cooper made travel a part of his student's education, taking the jazz band on more than a dozen trips including three outside the U.S., the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland in 1985, the Mexico City Jazz Festival in 1990 and the Canadian Jazz Festival in Banff, Alberta in 1996.

Others were to Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles and New Orleans.

For many students, it was their first venture outside of Kansas City.

"The trips really broadened the students' conception of education," says Cooper. "Every time we took a trip, you could see them mature and become more responsible. And they had a high impact on their lives. It's something they'll remember forever. There's a lot more to education than just music. To accept individual responsibility not only for their music but themselves was always a big theme in all of my teaching."

In 1978, Cooper took a one-year sabbatical to study saxophone and earn a degree at the Conservatory of Bordeaux in Bordeaux, France, and has continued to travel, making trips with his wife, Pat, to such widespread countries as Australia, India, Croatia, China, Italy, Russia and most recently, Norway and Iceland.

Now retired, his wife, Pat, was in education for 30 years. She was an adjunct English instructor at KCKCC for several years and taught English and French in the Shawnee Mission and Olathe school districts. The couple has two children, Aaron, 32, a producer for CNN News in Washington, D.C., and Melanie, 30, a pediatrician who completed her residency in New Orleans and is currently on a critical care fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

In 1999, Cooper took early retirement from KCKCC as part of a program he helped negotiate as a member of the National Educators Assn. and then returned to the classroom as an elementary school instrumental music for one year at Gardner-Edgerton and six years in the Shawnee Mission School District.

While no longer teaching, he's still performing. A member of the Worlds of Fun Band for 10 summers many years back, Cooper has played in countless bands including the last seven years with the Able Ramirez Band, which performs each Tuesday night at Finnigan's Hall (formerly the Gold Buffet) in North Kansas City.

But his most fun is putting on a one-man show of saxophone music and comedy for retirement communities.

In his third year as Marlin Cooper Music, he'd already performed his 100th show of 2012 by Sept. 1.

"I recently experienced one of his one-man shows and he had ladies up dancing to his beats with their walkers in tow," says former student Tim Ney.

'To me, Marlin Cooper is a music machine," continued Ney. "He has forever made music somewhere, for somebody. I have yet to know a season where Marlin was not involved in the community either creating music himself or helping others express themselves through music."

Looking back, Cooper says: "The best thing about the college was I loved the students and consequently I liked my job. Every year we produced marvelous students, many of whom are now accomplished musicians and educators in their own right. I was also fortunate enough to take the jazz band to a number of international jazz festivals.

"But none of it could have happened without the support of Pat. There were so many nights and trips being away because of my involvement with the music program. I couldn't have done any of it had it not been for Pat's support through my whole career."