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Pauly Cohen: The legend continues in Manalapan

At 93, local jazz icon Pauly Cohen will be swinging this Saturday night. How about you?

"What's-a matta with you guys — you waiting for a streetcar?"

At 93, trumpeter and bandleader Pauly Cohen likes to keep things moving, and the between-songs lull during the final rehearsal for Saturday's big show has gone on long enough.

From a chair facing the band, Cohen's cajoling, punctuated with a warm cackle, lifts the 17-piece Pauly Cohen Big Band into a swinging version of "Come Fly With Me," filling the room with the joy that comes from hearing a great band play great music as well as anyone has played it.

On Saturday, June 25, the orchestra will be in the spotlight at the Palm Beaches Theatre in Manalapan for a concert titled "Tribute to a Living Legend," honoring a career that has seen Cohen, for five years the lead trumpet for Count Basie's band, perform with Benny Goodman, the Dorsey brothers, Frank Sinatra, Quincy Jones, Artie Shaw, Earl "Fatha" Hines and Dizzy Gillespie.

What fans may notice about Cohen is that he now is using a wheeled walker to get around.

"My feet are no good anymore. I don't know why," he says, looking at them. "Yeah, [the walker] has brakes, in case I get going too fast."

Cohen's signature cheerfulness is quite healthy, and he remains a vigorous taskmaster in front of the band, though he says, not for the last time, "This is the best band I've ever played with."

At rehearsal this week at the Northwest Focal Point Senior Center in Margate, where he can be found every Thursday from 1:30 to 3 p.m. (it's free, though they pass around a donation box labeled, "For the band"), Cohen bobs and weaves from his chair, pointing out soloists and punching the air.

It's a nearly packed house of 60 to 70 fans, many clearly too young to be center residents, who greet each song with cheers, applause and approving murmurs. "Bee-ootiful," one guest says to another.

Cohen will connect three major dots on his resume Saturday night with a performance of "Fly Me to the Moon," which Sinatra and Basie recorded on the 1964 album "It Might As Well Be Swing," with an arrangement by Quincy Jones. It will be performed Saturday by a guest vocalist, local jazz-scene veteran LeNard Rutledge.

The Miami native, whose set also will include "Since I Fell for You" (arrangement by Miami icon and Basie veteran Melton Mustafa) and "I've Got You Under My Skin," sang with Cohen for the first time at Thursday's rehearsal. His performance, filled with sophisticated phrasing, style and swagger, drew cheers from the crowd.

Rutledge also seemed energized to be in the room with "a legend of South Florida."

"I heard he's 94 [in October]," Rutledge says, "but he sure doesn't act it."

The Pauly Cohen Big Band will perform 5 p.m. Saturday, June 25, at the Palm Beaches Theatre, 250 S. Ocean Blvd., in Manalapan. Tickets cost $25, $35 VIP (includes a glass of wine). Call 855-728-8497 or go to PalmBeachesTheatre.org.

bcrandell@southflorida.com

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