Tom Cora (born Thomas Henry Corra) (September 14, 1953 - April 9, 1998), was a United States cellist and composer, best known for his improvisational performances in the field of experimental jazz and rock. He recorded with John Zorn, Butch Morris and The Ex, and was a member of Curlew, Third Person and Skeleton Crew.
Tom Cora was born in Yancey Mills, Virginia, United States. He made his musical debut as drummer on a local television program and in the mid-1970s he played guitar for a Washington, D.C. jazz club house band. He took up the cello while an undergraduate at the University of Virginia and studied with cellist Pablo Casals' student Luis Garcia-Renart and later with vibraphonist Karl Berger. During this time he formed his own group, The Moose Skowron Tuned Metal Ensemble and began constructing instruments for it
In 1979 Cora moved to New York City where he worked with Shockabilly guitarist Eugene Chadbourne, introducing the cello to the honky tonk circuits of North America. He performed at improvising clubs and venues in New York with John Zorn, Fred Frith, Andrea Centazzo, Butch Morris, Wayne Horvitz, David Moss, Toshinori Kondo and others. Cora also collaborated with George Cartwright and Bill Laswell which led to the formation of the art rock band Curlew in 1979 . Cora remained with Curlew for over ten years and appeared on five of their albums.
In 1982 Tom Cora and Fred Frith formed Skeleton Crew, an improvising rock and jazz band best known for their live performances where they played various instruments simultaneously. Cora and Frith were each one-man bands on stage and for their act, Cora constructed musical contraptions he could play with his feet. The band existed for five years during which time they toured Europe, North America and Japan extensively. They made two studio albums, Learn to Talk (1984) and Skeleton Crew]The Country of Blinds (1986), the latter with Zeena Parkins who had joined the band in 1984. In October 1983 Skeleton Crew joined Duck and Cover, a commission from the Berlin Jazz Festival, for a performance in West Berlin, followed by another in February 1984 in East Berlin.
Cora was also a member of the improvising trio Third Person, formed in 1990 as a live collaboration with percussionist Samm Bennett and a "third person" who changed from concert to concert. Two CDs of some of their performances were released, The Bends in 1991 (with "third persons" Don Byron, George Cartwright, Chris Cochrane, Nic Collins, Catherine Jauniaux, Myra Melford, Zeena Parkins, and Marc Ribot) and Luck Water in 1995 (with "third person" Kazutoki Umezu).
Tom Cora performing with The Ex.
Cora performed with a number of other bands, including Nimal with Momo Rossel and post-rock quartet Roof. In 1990, he played two concerts with Dutch anarcho-punk band, The Ex, and the success of this collaboration resulted in Cora performing hundreds of concerts with The Ex and appearing on two of their CDs. In 1995 in The Netherlands, Cora and Frith collaborated on Etymology, a CD-ROM sound sample library of sonic sounds and wire manipulations.
Tom Cora died of malignant melanoma at the age of 44 in a hospital in the south of France, where he lived with his wife, singer Catherine Jauniaux, and their son, Elia Corra.
A month after Cora's death, a benefit concert in aid of his family was held at the Knitting Factory with appearances by Catherine Jauniaux, Fred Frith, George Cartwright, Zeena Parkins and others. A CD of this concert, It's a Brand New Day: Tom Cora Live at the Knitting Factory, produced by John Zorn, was released on Knitting Factory Records in 2000. But the good intentions of all concerned were never realized when Knitting Factory Records was bought out and Jauniaux received no royalties from the sale of the CD.
John Zorn also compiled "Hallelujah, Anyway: Remembering Tom Cora", a two CD set featuring a selection of recordings by Cora and some of the groups he recorded with, plus new recordings of Cora's compositions.
Cora appeared in Nicolas Humbert and Werner Penzel's 1990 documentary film on Fred Frith, "Step Across the Border", in which Cora and Frith are filmed rehearsing at the The Kitchen, New York City in February 1989.
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