Ezell Cooper had a sign outside one of his record stores proclaiming ‘IF IT’S NOT AT COOP. . . IT DIDN’T COME OUT!”
He offered all kinds of records at Coop, but Mr. Cooper’s specialty earned him a nickname: “The Jazzologist.”
Mr. Cooper, 89, whose health was declining, died on December 23 at the Jesse Brown VA Center, according to his son Pierre Cooper.
Long before people found music on a regular basis through Spotify and Google, “people came from all over town” to its stores to find the music they liked, his son said. “They were like, ‘Doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo doo,’ and he was like, ‘Oh, it’s Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue.’ ”
People waiting for a bus came inside and got lost in the trash cans.
“They would come and buy music,” her son said, “and then they would miss the bus.”
Mr. Cooper started in the music industry in the 1960s. He worked in the warehouse of Mr. T’s record store before moving to his store at 16th Street and Stony Island Avenue, according to his son. In the 1980s, he bought the store and named it Coop’s Records. He later expanded and operated two more Coop stores, at 87th Street and Ashland Avenue and 47th Street and Lake Park Avenue.
His stores were magnets not only for jazz aficionados, but also for students at Chicago Vocational High School and the University of Chicago.
“They asked him, ‘What are you playing, Mr. Cooper?’ said his son. “He was giving them a history lesson. He could say, ‘Well, I saw Miles Davis in 1971.’ Or: “I saw Gene Ammons”, and he could tell you what they were playing and be able to critique the concert, he would make recommendations on what they should listen to.
In 1996, Billboard magazine described Coop’s as “more of a hair salon than a record store. . . where long-time customers regularly discuss topics as diverse as the weather, finances, politics or everyone’s love: music.
Pierre Cooper eventually opened Coop’s Underground in the storefront next to Coop’s at 87th Street and Ashland Avenue, filling it with techno, house, hip-hop and rap.
Mr. Cooper was born in Memphis, Tennessee, attended Manassas High School and studied English at LeMoyne-Owen College, a historically black college. He learned to type quickly, a skill he used while serving in the military in Germany and Italy, according to his daughter Karen.
After heading north on the Great Migration, Mr. Cooper worked at Hillman’s grocery store at State Street and Washington Street.
Once he started operating his stores, he and his friend Alvin Carter-Bey would go on trips to restock trash cans, hunt for jazz treasures at estate sales and tiny record stores in places like Detroit. , Memphis, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh.
Mr. Cooper was “a South Side legend,” said Dusty Groove record store owner Rick Wojcik. “He was part of this unique group of people who met in a garage in an alley near 51st and Saint-Laurent. They would have battles playing jazz records.
“We were called the ‘Alley Cats,'” said Carter-Bey, a radio host on WDCB-90.9 FM.
For decades, DJs met on Sundays at the garage of Pops, “an older guy who smoked cigars,” Carter-Bey said.
In addition to “Coop”, Wojcik said the other DJs were known by names such as Butterball, Big Henry, Clydell, King Rip, Killer Joe, Big O, Little Earl, Lil Mike, Playboy, Raindrop, Sarge, Syl and Sly Fox. .
They would bring their own speakers and turntables to battles, where “they would use the best equipment”, Carter-Bey said. “They would spend thousands of dollars on needles.”
A contestant brought in coffin-shaped speakers he made himself.
The crowd scored them by points. Participants lost points if they placed a needle in the middle of a track rather than at the beginning. They would be judged on the entertainment of their presentation and their records.
“A favorite was Ella Fitzgerald, with her scatting, and Count Basie,” Carter-Bey said.
The winners collected money from a passed hat.
In his later years, Mr. Cooper helped Wojcik at the Dusty Groove. When his memory started to fade, he faithfully kept calling the store to say he couldn’t come that day. As a sign of affection and respect, Wojcik and his employees always thanked Mr. Cooper for his call and assured him that he could come when he felt better.
Mr. Cooper is also survived by his daughters Olivia and Sue and his sons Clifton, Godfrey, Orlando, Paul, Alonzo and Nathaniel, nine grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
His family hopes to hold a memorial service this spring where they will play jazz.