Artist of the day: Buster Cooper
For years, the city's jazz musicians came to the Garden in St. Petersburg to learn from 80-year-old trombonist Buster Cooper, a local treasure, a godfather who was born here and returned after traveling the world and playing with masters.
Duke Ellington named the tune Trombone Buster after his longtime bandmate, who has had the ear of the queen of England and the president of the United States. But at the Garden, he's just Buster, Gibbs High School class of 1947, student of the legendary Al Downing, who taught Buster the rules. You play, then let others play. The jam is the thing.
When other jazz titans pass through town, they pay homage. Guitarist George Benson. Pianist Freddy Cole. Trumpeters Wynton Marsalis and Randy Brecker. Brecker's brother Michael, the late tenor saxophonist. Trombonist Slide Hampton. Producer Quincy Jones.
"For me, this is my jazz home," said local jazzman Jim Morey, 31. "This is where I learned it. The Garden's always been here. Buster has always been here every Friday and Saturday. There's nothing else like this."
Earlier this week, it looked like Cooper's reign at the Garden was down to two performances, on Friday and Saturday, before the restaurant closed for good. But the late word is the Garden will remain open, so there's a chance Buster may keep playing.
For more on Buster Cooper, click here to read Luis Perez's story. And check out John Pendygraft's video of Cooper performing below:
Photo: Scott Keeler, tbt*