March 20th – Tribute to Cobi Narita / St Peter’s Church (New York)

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A true honor for ZULY and myself to be flown to New York by Cobi Narita’s family to honor her life achievements!

Watch our tribute to Cobi :

Cobi Narita, Tireless Jazz Promoter and Benefactor, Dies at 97

She produced concerts, helped musicians find work and started a women’s jazz festival. “Jazz in New York would not have been the same without Cobi,” one musician said.

A black and white photo of a broadly smiling Ms. Narita, her arms spread wide, descending stairs inside a modern-looking room with a high ceiling as a man in the background applauds.
Cobi Narita in 1993 during a jazz tribute at Saint Peter’s Church in Midtown Manhattan. “Her affect was low-key, but she had charisma and a gravitational field around her,” an associate said. Credit…Rachel Cobb

Cobi Narita, an indefatigable jazz impresario who for more than 40 years in New York City produced concerts, celebrated female artists in an annual festival and ran performance spaces, died on Nov. 8 in Los Angeles. She was 97.

Her death, at the home of a granddaughter, was confirmed by her son Robert Narita.

Ms. Narita — who grew up in California, spent most of World War II with her family in an Arizona internment camp for Japanese Americans, and moved to New York in her early 40s — was a unifying force in local jazz circles.

“Jazz in New York would not have been the same without Cobi,” the saxophonist Jimmy Heath told the website All About Jazz in 2006.

Loren Schoenberg, the founding director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, called Ms. Narita a respected benefactor who provided much-needed opportunities for performers in New York — a role that was later more formally adopted, at least in part, by Jazz at Lincoln Center.

“She started at a time when there was no organized world of jazz institutions to give financial aid to musicians,” Mr. Schoenberg said by phone. “Everybody was out in the ocean doing their own little projects. But Cobi had all these things going, and she handed out money to support people.”

He added, “Her affect was low-key, but she had charisma and a gravitational field around her.”

In 1976, Ms. Narita started the nonprofit Universal Jazz Coalition, an umbrella organization that for about 10 years helped musicians manage their careers, promoted and produced concerts, and distributed a newsletter about local jazz events.

Seven years later, she opened the Jazz Center of New York in a rented loft in Lower Manhattan, on Lafayette Street, where famous musicians like Dizzy Gillespie as well as up-and-comers performed. In 2002, she opened Cobi’s Place, on West 48th Street near Seventh Avenue, as a venue for singers, instrumentalists and dancers.

How The Times decides who gets an obituary. There is no formula, scoring system or checklist in determining the news value of a life. We investigate, research and ask around before settling on our subjects. If you know of someone who might be a candidate for a Times obituary, please suggest it here.

Cobi’s Place stayed in business for about a decade. The Jazz Center of New York closed recently but she had retired during the pandemic.

Over the years, Ms. Narita produced concerts and performances by, among others, the singers Abbey Lincoln and Dakota Staton, the saxophonist.

“Without producers like Cobi,” Ms. Lincoln told The Daily News of New York in 1993, “musicians like me would have a hard time having careers.”

In 1978, Ms. Narita organized the four-day Salute to Women in Jazz, which was renamed the New York Women’s Jazz Festival the next year and ran for more than 10 years. The event was held at the disco Casablanca 2, on the original site of the jazz club Birdland, on Broadway between 52nd and 53rd Streets. The event made news when Robert Tirado, the disco’s owner, abruptly increased the rent after two successful nights. Ms. Narita could not meet his demand, and he locked the festival out.

Ms. Narita quickly regrouped. The musicians played outdoors near the club for the third and fourth nights, using electricity from a nearby parking lot, instruments and a public address system from the Sam Ash Musical Instruments store a few blocks away, and chairs from the Roseland Ballroom. The pianist Mary Lou Williams and the singer Helen Merrill were among those who performed.

“A thousand people had to have lined up on the street,” Ms. Narita told All About Jazz. “It was amazing.”

George Wein, the producer of the Newport Jazz Festival, happened to be walking by and was stunned when he came upon the unscheduled street concert. He paid for Ms. Narita to use Carnegie Recital Hall (now Weill Recital Hall) for a bonus fifth night.

Ms. Narita’s financial backer in most of her ventures was Paul Ash, whose family owns the Sam Ash chain of musical instrument stores; Cobi’s Place was located above Manny’s Music, which was owned by Sam Ash. Ms. Narita and Mr. Ash met in 1973 and married in 1989. He died in 2014.

“They were like magnets, man, from the start,” her son Robert said. “Soul mates.”


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