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Kelan Phil Cohran has died

The Chicago bandleader and composer has passed away aged 90

The composer, multi-instrumentalist, AACM co-founder and Sun Ra associate Kelan Phil Cohran has died.

Born in Oxford, Mississippi, Cohran was raised in St Louis, Missouri. Following membership of a series of ensembles led by pianist Jay McShann in the early 1950s (and later a US Navy band) he was introduced to Sun Ra by saxophonist John Gilmore in 1959. Joining the Arkestra, Cohran contributed trumpet and the occasional stringed instrument to Interstellar Low Ways, Holiday For Soul Dance, Fate In A Pleasant Mood and Angels And Demons At Play.

Opting to stay in Chicago when the Arkestra left the city, he was a key figure in the 1965 formation of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and formed the Artistic Heritage Ensemble to perform at the AACM's debut show. This group's 1968 debut album On The Beach is revered by many, including Wire contributor Peter Shapiro, who described it as "astonishing" in a 2001 interview feature on Cohran (The Wire 207).

One of Cohran's innovations was the invention of the Frankiphone aka Space Harp, a modified version of the African kalimba. The instrument was subsequently adopted by Maurice White of R&B outfit Earth Wind & Fire as well as the Arkestra. He remained highly active throughout the 2000s and 2010s, including playing with Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, a group containing members of his family.

Subscribers can read Peter Shapiro's in depth piece on Cohran via our online archive here