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Kelan Phil Cohran
A founding member of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), composer Kelan Phil Cohran first came to prominence as a trumpeter for blues bandleader Jay McShann in the early 1950s and cosmic jazz legend Sun Ra later in the decade. He was born in Oxford, Mississippi and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, but he relocated to Chicago in 1953 to study the Schillinger system, a musical system of mathematical variations that results in infinite melodies and harmonies. Cohran, however, felt that the Schillinger system lacked structure and spirit, and he cut short his studies.

As a member of Sun Ra’s Myth Science Arkestra, Cohran invented what he called the “Frankophone,” an electric mbira/kalimba that he used on some of Sun Ra’s early albums. He later presented his own compositions in his group The Story Tellers and was a part of Muhal Richard Abrams’ Experimental Big Band. Cohran’s musical abilities also spread to the harp, cornet, zither, French horn and saxophone.

As an inexhaustible renaissance man, Cohran has spent time as a historian, a mathematician, an astronomer, an educator, a community activist and a shaman. He has taught at Malcolm X Junior College and run his own record label, Zulu Records, and his prenomial is an honorary bestowal that means “holy scripture.” Cohran’s sons now comprise 8/9ths of the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, a New York-based jazz group that began as a street ensemble. Cohran currently teaches music at Northeastern Illinois University’s Center for Inner City Studies. (Scott Morrow)

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