Johnny Coles, a trumpeter and fluegelhornist who illuminated some of
the best jazz groups of the
1950s and '60s with his warm, soft sound, died on Dec. 21 at University of Pennsylvania
Hospital in Philadelphia. He was 71.
The cause was stomach cancer, said Darlene Drummond, his niece.
Coles was born in Trenton, N.J., and his family moved to Philadelphia when
he was still a child.
There he joined a pool of first-rate jazz musicians who would move on to New York and greater
recognition. Among them were Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath and John Coltrane.
Coles' style had a connection to Miles Davis, and arranger Gil Evans hired
him for many recording
sessions in the early 1960s. Besides taking part in the trumpet section of the famous Evans-Davis
collaborations "Porgy and Bess" and "Sketches of Spain," Coles contributed some well-known solos
to Evans' 1960 album "Out of the Cool." He also recorded under his own name for the Epic and
Blue Note labels.
In 1964 he toured with Charles Mingus. Later in the decade he was a member
of Herbie Hancock's
sextet and toured with Ray Charles. He performed with Duke Ellington and Count Basie in the
1970s. He also played in the early incarnation of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band and was a regular
presence around New York as a leader and a sideman in groups that paid tribute to Count Basie,
Charles Mingus and Tadd Dameron.
No immediate family members survive.
Coles, who was 5-feet-3, continued
to play trumpet as recently as the
summer, despite the cancer that left him weighing only 60 pounds
before his death, friends said. In February, Coles received the PECO
Energy Jazz Festival's "Living Legend of Jazz" award during an all-night
jam session at the African American Museum. Funeral arrangements
were incomplete. Coles, who was divorced, is survived by several
nieces, nephews and cousins.
~ Ron Wynn