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Kelan Phil Cohran (1927 - 2017)

Getty Images / Photo by Robert Abbott Sengstacke

Kelan Phil Cohran (1927 - 2017)

Kelan Phil Cohran, an influential Chicago jazz musician who co-founded the Artistic Heritage Ensemble, has died, according to multiple news sources. He was 90.

His son Tycho told the Chicago Tribune that his father died Wednesday, June 28, 2017, at the University of Chicago Hospital.

Cohran was born May 8, 1927, in Mississippi and grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. He played trumpet in a band led by Jay McShann and then played in a U.S. Navy band while serving in the military.


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After his service, Cohran moved to Chicago. In the late 1950s, Cohran joined up with the legendary Sun Ra and His Arkestra. He played with the groundbreaking experimental jazz band from 1959 to 1961. His trumpet playing was featured on the records “Fate in a Pleasant Mood” and “Angels and Demons at Play.”

When Sun Ra moved to New York City, Cohran stayed in Chicago. He had a significant impact on music development. In 1965, he co-founded the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. The nonprofit organization has helped influence and cultivate musicians all over the globe. He also helped create the influential Artistic Heritage Ensemble with Pete Cosey.

Cohran started the Afro-Arts Theater in Chicago. One of his students was Maurice White, who would go on to become the leader of Earth, Wind, and Fire. Cohran invented an instrument that he called the frankiphone, which was used on some of Sun Ra’s early albums. The instrument is also known as the space harp. White incorporated a version of the frankiphone in the music of Earth, Wind, and Fire.

“I think he had a profound influence on many organized groups,” AACM co-founder Muhal Richard Abrams told the Chicago Tribune. “They more or less cut their teeth in Chicago, and their major influence was Phil Cohran.”

Cohran continued to perform and record; his latest album, “Singles,” was released in 2007. His eight sons carry on his legacy with their nine-member band, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.

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