<> J. Lawrence Cook <>

Last modified: Sunday, 14 August, 2016

* Lisa's maternal Grandfather (shown above at work in the QRS factory in New York) was J. Lawrence Cook: possibly the foremost exponent of the art of making rolls for player pianos.  Harvey Roehl writes in his book "Player Piano Treasury" (Second Edition, Vestal Press 1973, page 184):

Player Piano Treasury No story on the making of 88-note piano rolls would be complete without proper recognition of J. Lawrence Cook, considered by many to be the "Dean" of American roll arrangers.  Mr. Cook started in this activity in 1921, and ... he arranged literally thousands of music rolls ... The vast majority of the music rolls cut during the 1930's and 1940's are the work of J. Lawrence Cook, and anyone who has followed this type of music in that period has to be familiar with his works simply through the sheer weight of numbers!

* A 1974 catalogue of Player Piano Rolls from the Q.R.S. Music Company has this to say:


QRS 1974 CatalogJ. Lawrence Cook is indeed a legendary name in the Player Piano industry.  His first QRS recording was issued in 1921, and Mr. Cook has been recording music rolls ever since!  "Cookie", as his friends call him, was the only artist to be retained full time by QRS during the lean Depression years and is responsible for almost every QRS Roll issued from 1931 until 1961!

Mr. Cook was born in Athens, Tenn. and was orphaned at the age of three.  Raised by relatives who provided him with piano, violin and clarinet lessons, he began composing his own songs.  At the age of fifteen, he purchased a home roll perforator and began punching his own rolls in the hope of attracting the attention of a music publisher.  His skill and knowledge thus acquired landed him a job in the arranging department of the world's largest manufacturer of Player Piano Rolls, the QRS Music Company.  His incredible talents enabled him to survive over five decades of changing musical styles!

* The 90th Anniversary Edition of the QRS Piano Roll Catalog & Musical Thingamajigs, issued in 1990 introduces its Jazz Personality Series of rolls thus:

QRS 90th Anniversary CatalogJ. Lawrence Cook (1899-19771) was the undisputed master of piano roll recording for over 40 years.  Between 1921 and 1961, he recorded thousands of rolls for QRS which remain unequalled for their balance and imagination. This JAZZ PERSONALITY SERIES of rolls, in which he ingeniously duplicated the styles of many great artists, contains some of his finest work.

1. The catalogue is in error here: J. Lawrence Cook actually died in 1976.

* J. Lawrence Cook's two children were Lisa's Uncle Jean (Jean Lawrence Cook, Jr.), who was Dean of Students at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and Lisa's mother, Annizella.  Born in 1899, J. Lawrence Cook died in New York in 1976.

* Lisa has many fond memories of the man she calls "Grandpa" and was amused to learn of his nickname "Cookie".  Certainly J. Lawrence Cook was favoured in being retained by QRS during the Depression but they did greatly reduce his income and, to support his family, he was forced to take a second job: as a night watchman with the US Postal Service.  Lisa recalls that Grandpa told her how he would show up for work at the Post Office in the evenings after putting in  a full day's work at QRS, take a look around the premises to ensure that all was secured and then spend a few hours catching up on his sleep in a cart used to sort the mail!

* Lisa also recalls her Grandpa telling her that, during the time he was making almost all the rolls put out by QRS, his rolls were issued under a variety of pseudonyms to give the impression of a sizeable arranging staff and conceal the fact that they only had one full-time arranger employed.

Music Ruler

(click to enlarge)

* We only have two original recording of Lisa's Grandpa's music:

[Harmony LP Sleeve]
(click to enlarge)

An undated 12" LP on the Harmony label called Piano Roll Party in Hi-Fi.  This features six J. Lawrence Cook medley rolls reproduced on the Hardman Duo piano.

(view track listing)

[Cadence LP Sleeve]
(click to enlarge)

An undated (1955?) 10" LP on the Cadence label called Popular Favorites on the Player Piano by J. Lawrence Cook.  This features eight rolls and sleeve notes by one Al "Jazzbo" Collins.

(view track listing)

* Thanks to the great generosity of Professor Alan Wallace from Knoxville, Tennessee, we've been able to listen to Lisa's Grandpa on CD!  Alan is a big enthusiast for the music of J. Lawrence Cook and has transferred onto a double CD a dozen 78 sides and a Harmony LP St. Louis Blues and very kindly sent us copy.  In spite of the surface noise on the original recordings, we've been thrilled to hear Grandpa on CD and have been played the CDs frequently.

* In 2001, Lisa was invited to the annual dinner of the Player Piano Group as a special guest and at one point she was invited up on stage to play one of Grandpa's rolls on a player piano. We have an even more extensive photographic record of the PPG's 2002 annual dinner.

Tiger Rag CD CoverAt the 2002 dinner, we learned of a new CD available on the Shellwood label, featuring new recordings of J. Laurence Cook rolls performed by Julian Dyer, Dan Wilson, Philip Legg, and Shellwood's own Mike Lorenzini.
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