By Susan Pierce
As the son of an Army family, Tom Cordell taught himself to blow a cornet by listening to the bugle calls on his dad's base in Salt Lake City.
By age 11, he played trumpet well enough to sit in with the local Salt Lake GI Jazz Band at an NCO Club gig. He continued to play his horn as his dad's military assignments, then his own hitch in the Army, stationed him in Europe, Spain, and several state-side bases before he landed in Chattanooga in 2000.
Gigs at Blue Orleans restaurant and Nightfall have introduced the 60-year-old musician to Chattanoogans, but tonight he'll play for a much wider audience when he and a quartet of friends perform at RIverbend Festival.
Cordell's improv jazz is frequently compared to that of the late Miles Davis, the trumpeter known for introducing bebop, cool jazz and jazz fusion to Americans. Cordell's sound is Davis' post-bebop, a cool jazz he describes as free-form.
"Tom has a real authentic jazz sound that is a Miles Davis sound," said Beth Meyer, co-owner of Blue Orleans restaurant, where Cordell plays monthly. "We try to offer a variety of music; he's one who plays a lot of true jazz pieces that people like to hear."
"His has a fairly straight-ahead, traditional jazz ensemble sound. It's very melodic and audience-friendly," said Richard Winham of WUTC.
"I probably really started turning onto Miles while I was in Spain in 1968. I was in the Army and couldn't wait to get out and start playing again. Miles' cool, avant-garde sound really grabbed me," said the trumpeter.
"Now I'm more into it all, but his cool sound is what I use a lot. I probably know 25 to 30 Miles Davis tunes."
Tonight at Riverbend, Cordell will be joined by Jim Ankar on bass, Darren Patrick on percussion and pianist Bill Hackler. Cordell is particularly excited that Allison Kerr is driving in from Nashville to sing with the quartet.
"She's a really hot jazz singer," he promises jazz fans.
His set will range from "Seven Steps to Heaven," from Davis' hard bop era, to Cordell's own signature piece, "Bessie's Blues," lyrics he wrote to a Thelonious Monk tune.
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