by Jason Mellard / Center for Texas Music History at Texas State
Episode #15: Arnett Cobb Born
On August 10, 1918 jazz artist Arnett Cobb was born in Houston. His first instrument was the piano before learning the saxophone with the Wheatley High School Band. In 1936, Cobb joined Illinois Jacquet and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson as charter members of Houston’s influential Milt Larkin Orchestra. Cobb and Jacquet both pioneered a distinctive, expressive saxophone sound, often unmelodiously shorthanded as the “honking” Texas tenor. Jacquet got the sound down on record in 1942’s “Flying Home” with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. When Jacquet left Hampton’s group that year, Cobb joined on, further refining the bold, Texas style that would soon resonate across bebop and rhythm and blues.
Cobb struck out on his own in 1947 and developed a successful recording career on the national stage where he also helped along younger artists like Red Garland, Jackie Wilson, Dinah Washington, and even provided an early break for James Brown. A 1956 car crash injury proved a setback. Cobb returned to Houston, continuing to record and managing a night club while confining his tours to Texas through the early 1970s. The phrase “Texas Music” often brings to our ears the sounds of country and conjunto and blues, but Cobb’s example reminds us of the enormous contributions Texas (and Houston in particular) have made to the history of jazz.
Laurie E. Jasinski, Gary Hartman, Casey Monahan, and Ann T. Smith, eds. The Handbook of Texas Music. Second Edition. Denton, TX: Texas State Historical Association, 2012.
Dave Oliphant. Texan Jazz. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.