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On Center: Emmet Cohen Trio, Houston Person will unite in a cross-generational concert at Penn State

by on April 25, 2019 11:38 AM

For the third year in a row, the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State will open its season by showcasing a rising star of jazz at Schwab Auditorium. But when the 2019–20 season gets underway September 12, the up-and-coming talent will be joined by a master of the genre.

The Emmet Cohen Trio provided the music bed for last September’s Schwab concert featuring vocalist Veronica Swift. This time pianist Cohen and his trio mates will be accompanied by Houston Person, a hard bop jazz saxophonist who, in his long career, has recorded everything from disco and gospel to pop and rhythm and blues.

A charismatic performer, Cohen began playing piano at age 3. His “nimble touch, measured stride, and warm harmonic vocabulary indicate he’s above any convoluted technical showmanship,” writes a reviewer for DownBeat.

The pianist, who has a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music and a bachelor’s from the University of Miami, won the American Jazz Pianists competition in 2014 and was a finalist in the Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition in 2011.

In addition to leading the Emmet Cohen Trio, he is a member of Christian McBride’s trio Tip City, the Ali Jackson Trio, and the Herlin Riley Quartet. He also performs regularly with Benny Golson, Jimmy Cobb, Jimmy Heath, Kurt Elling, and others.

Cohen is the force behind the Masters Legacy Series, a set of recordings and interviews honoring legendary jazz musicians. The ongoing project seeks to provide musicians of multiple generations a forum to transfer the unwritten folklore that is America’s unique musical idiom.

His albums include Masters Legacy Series Volume 2 (2018) featuring Ron Carter, Masters Legacy Series Volume 1 (2017) featuring Jimmy Cobb, and New Directions (2016) with Herlin Riley.

Person also played piano until he switched to tenor saxophone at age 17. He studied music at South Carolina State College. Later, he pursued advanced music studies at the University of Hartford. As a member of a U.S. Air Force band based in Germany, Person played with jazz notables including pianist Cedar Walton.

“He’s one of the best,” trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie said of Person. “… He’s got bull chops.”

Person established his reputation as a bandleader with a series of soulful recordings in the 1960s. For much of his career, though, he was known for his partnership with jazz vocalist Etta Jones. Between 1975 and 2001, Person and Jones recorded 16 albums together.

The saxophonist has performed on almost 70 albums as a leader, including 2018’s Remember Love with Carter, plus more than 60 as a sideman.

“I have always admired Houston Person for his huge tone, bluff humor, and pointed obbligato,” writes a Village Voice reviewer. “… Person lucidly rides the beat with figures you think you’ve heard but haven’t. These are not recycled licks or clichés; they simply seem familiar. … Ask him what’s important in his music, and Houston Person notes that, ‘It’s important that it’s relaxing … relaxes you and makes you feel good.’”


Tickets for 2019–20 presentations go on sale in July at

John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts.


John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
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