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Coogan Brings Cool Tunes to Town

Weston native Chris Coogan loved music from the moment he began piano lessons as a child, but it was not until his senior year at Amherst College that he wanted to be a professional musician. "I was so scared that I wouldn't be able to make money as a musician, but I said you know, I'm going to give this a go," he says.

But his music career is thriving. Coogan, founder of the jazz-centered Chris Coogan Quartet and director of the Good News Gospel Choir, has performed with some big names, including Dave Liebman, Ronnie Spector, Bette Midler, Donna Summer, Will Lee, Rob Mathes and Kristen Chenoweth and has arranged music for Teo Maceo. He worked as music director for jazz guitarist Sal Salvador, appeared on "Celebrity Jeopardy" and wrote and performed gospel music for PBS.

The singer and jazz pianist, who grew up in town and whose mother is a first grade teacher at Hurlbutt Elementary, started the Good News Gospel Choir in 1993, which has more than 50 members. Coogan has changed the idea of traditional gospel music to make it work for his audience.

"Gospel, of course, is music of black America in church, and so I'm teaching pretty much a white congregation and pretty much a white choir to enjoy and love this music," he said. "I love that as a genre, it has the ability to bring people together in music, with joy."

In addition to performing in his Weston-based band Old School and directing choirs, Coogan teaches music to 20 to 30 kids every week.

"You light a fire under a kid, you make them eager to learn ... you figure out what floats their boat and you use that as a way to learn the basics, technique. You want to get them to a place where they're practicing consistently and they're into it," said Coogan.

The Chris Coogan Quintet will perform at 8 p.m. Friday at the Norfield Grange at 12 Good Hill Road in Weston. Doors open at 7:30. Tickets are $20 at the door. He promises a "grab bag" of pieces and to get the audience singing.

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