Film Fest Honours Trumpet Legend

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Pauly Cohen performs in Sunrise. Photo copyright C. Cunningham

Legendary Big-Band trumpeter Pauly Cohen was given a lifetime achievement award in Sunrise, Florida on Oct. 26. It was bestowed by the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival just after a screeing of a film about his life by producer Bret Primack, who introduced his 2013 film entitled Taking Charge - The Pauly Cohen Story.

Primack first shot some film of Cohen in 2011 and once he returned home realised that Cohen's story needed to be told.

“On the occasion of Pauly’s 90th birthday last year I decided to come back down to Florida, shoot some more interviews and the band playing, and try to capture this man’s remarkable story.”

Cohen played trumpet with some of the biggest superstars of the Big Band era: Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw and Charlie Barnet. But he regarded his work with the Count Basie Orchestra in the 1970s as the dream gig.

“I was the only white man in a black band. Finally I said to “Base” that I would like to do a solo. “What do you want?” he replied in his very deep voice. I want to play What’s New I replied. He said “OK, but what about Poor Butterfly?” That was his favourite tune. I said I would play that too, so that is how I got two solos. I wanted to be in front of the band to show how much I can do. After 50 or 60 years playing the trumpet I think I know something!”

Cohen related to a packed audience at the Sunrise Civic Centre that a troubled home life is what led him to a career in music.

“The reason I became a trumpet player is because I could not stand my parents bickering all the time. So I took up the trumpet as a way of getting out – I moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan and took up residence at the Forest hotel where all the musicians hung out.”

After 75 years in the business, he is a goldmine of anecdotes about every luminary of the Big Bands, and he confided one in particular to the Sunrise audience.

“I’m going to tell you a story about Buddy Rich nobody knows. The people who knew Buddy – musicians and music stores – they would give him equipment, gratis. So he had this one rehearsal and this pedal broke. He took it and threw it out the window! “How dare somebody give me a free pedal that doesn’t work!” The balls this guy had was amazing.

"I took a look at that and I said I’m not going to win any arguments with this man. At that time I was a nasty kid myself, and I wasn’t going to take anything from him! I told the contract people the next day I can’t do this. I went to CBS and that’s how I got my job on the staff of CBS, because of Buddy being such a God-damned louse!”

Cohen takes obvious delight in surviving for so long and being the last of the great trumpet players of the Big Band era.

“It’s amazing what age and maturity can do for you. It’s not easy being 91, but I play the horn better now: the competition is finished and I’m still here!”

Cohen's band can be heard every Thursday at 130pm in Margate at the Northwest Focal Point Senior Center.  Tickets are free but in great demand.

For more about the film, visit this website:

For more about the Film Fest, their website is

Clifford Cunningham

Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist currently affiliated with the National Astronomical Research Institute. He did his PhD work in the history of astronomy at James Cook University, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. He is the author of 12 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honour by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in 1990.

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