Arnett Cobb, Tenor Sax Giant

The Nashville Jazz Workshop was pleased to present A Centennial Celebration of Arnett Cobb, with Kirk Whalum, as part of the Jazz on the Move series on Sunday, January 28, 2018 at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.

For those who attended the program, and anyone who wants to learn more about this jazz giant and see and hear some of his work, here are some useful resources.

Wikipedia entry, with bio and discography

Arnettcobb.jazzgiants.net (bio, photos, discography, & videos)

Selected video


Go Red Go, Blow Arnett Blow: The Life of Arnett Cobb, by Ingrid Montgomery-Swinton.
This is a fascinating piece of work done as the author’s Masters Thesis at the University of Houston. The author is also a family friend as well as an academic and jazz-lover. She ventures into Greek mythology and Jungian psychology, which gives the work an extra dimension.


Arnett Cobb was a  tenor saxophonist from Houston, Texas, who rose to prominence in the 1940s jazz scene as lead tenor and arranger for Lionel Hampton, earning the reputation as “The Wild Man of the Tenor Sax.” He is considered to be the originator of the “open prairie” tone and “southern preacher” style, and many jazz artists credit him as a major influence, including Kirk Whalum. Cobb, along with Illinois Jacquet, developed the “Texas Tenor” sound which was later to make its way into popular music through David “Fathead” Newman and King Curtis.

The roots of Kirk Whalum’s unmistakable rich tenor sound are in his Memphis soul upbringing. From there, he studied and performed in Houston, Texas, where he was mentored by Arnett Cobb.  Kirk’s recording career includes more than 25 solo recordings, including several #1 album. He has received three Dove Award nominations, an NAACP Image Award nomination, and two Stellar Awards (Gospel music’s highest honor). An 11-time Grammy nominee, he won a Grammy award for Best Gospel Song with “It’s What I Do,” co-written with Jerry Peters. Kirk has recorded with top artists including Barbra Streisand, Al Jarreau, Luther Vandross, Larry Carlton, Quincy Jones, and, most notably, Whitney Houston, whose smash hit “I Will Always Love You” was fueled by Kirk’s famous sax solo.

Here’s what Kirk Whalum has to say about Arnett Cobb: “The day I met Arnett Cobb I played a little something for him. He waved me to stop after about a minute of playing my very best and fastest licks… Then he said, lovingly, “You’re playin’ too many notes and you ain’t sayin’ a damn thing. . .  that was probably the most important day of my formative years musically! Arnett became my primary mentor. . . Arnett’s daughter Lizette put his ring on my finger a few days after the funeral. . . I still weep when I hear him play ‘The Nearness of You.'”


Jazz on the Move is in its 12th year, presenting a combination of lecture and performance focusing on a major artist in jazz history. The series takes place on a series of Sunday afternoons at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, in January through April. Programs are also offered at other community venues later in the year as funding permits. For more information about the series, click here.