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‘A champion for the musicians’: Bobby Sanabria remembers jazz advocate Cobi Narita

Cobi Narita
Martha Cooper
City Lore
Cobi Narita

We are saddened to hear that a few days ago Nobuko “Cobi” Narita passed away at the age of 96. Cobi was a supremely important figure to the NYC jazz world in particular as a champion for the musicians. At the age of 14 her family was interned in the Gila River Relocation Center in Butte, Arizona with other Japanese families during World War II. Cobi moved from California to New York in 1969 and began producing shows featuring a who’s who in jazz, including Henry Threadgill, Abbey Lincoln, Jimmy Heath, Billy Harper, George Coleman, Clark Terry, Jerry and Andy Gonzalez, Hilton Ruiz and Andrea Brachfeld to name just a few. I credit her with giving me a start in NYC as a bandleader and music educator. Cobi worked at the Jazz Interaction Collective where she developed the Jazz Line, a phone service club list.

In 1973 she was asked to help run the Collective Black Artists, a repertory orchestra, artist collective, and not-for-profit support organization for underprivileged musicians. In 1976 she founded the Universal Jazz Coalition which not only offered performances, but jazz workshops and seminars as well. While sponsoring and producing concerts in parks and venues around the City. She finally opened her own space, the Jazz Center of New York at 380 Lafayette Street in 1983 where legends like Dizzy Gillespie and Jaco Pastorious would frequently drop in to check out up and comers and their fellow legends that she would book.

In 1996 she started the organization, the International Women of Jazz which provided vital exposure for women in the field. In 2007 City Lore bestowed upon her a People's Hall of Fame Award. A tireless advocate for America's greatest art form as a promoter, producer, presenter, sage of wisdom, educator, friend and mother to us all, she was a savior and supporter of the careers of many. We will miss you, Cobi. You will forever live in all you touched!

Bobby Sanabria is an eight time Grammy-nominee as a leader, drummer, percussionist, composer, arranger, conductor, documentary film producer, educator, activist, and bandleader. A native son of the South Bronx born to Puerto Rican parents, he has performed and recorded with such legends as Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaría, Dizzy Gillespie, Chico O’Farrill, Ray Barretto, Cándido, Henry Threadgill, Larry Harlow, and the Godfather of Afro-Cuban jazz, Mario Bauzá.