Honored posthumously, February 17, 2007
Jim Coogan left us in November, 2006 in his 76th year after a prolonged battle with leukemia. The veteran accordion player who also served in the U.S. Navy received a very touching honor as he was laid to rest alongside his County Roscommon bride Cecelia (who predeceased him by two years) with a dual honor guard composing sailors and box players he played with over many years in the Irish music scene. He took great pride in serving both his native country in the Armed Services and that of his wife and grandparents from County Waterford where his devotion to traditional Irish Music for over 50 years made him one of the most respected elder statesmen in recent years.
He was born in Yonkers in 1930 and as a young man he was exposed to the Irish music through the McNulty Family, the Flanagan Brothers and even his contemporary Joe Derrane who as a teenager in the 1940s excelled at the C#/D accordion which Jim would later take up as a young man in the Navy in the 1950s. Later he would join the Irish Traditional Musicians Association in New York which preceded Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann in America and the Yonkers Ceili Club. He soaked up detail after detail about the players who kept the music alive in New York, most especially the box players which came in handy in his later years as he became a much valued historian of times gone by thanks to his ready and colorful recall.
His curiosity and expertise about accordions and squeezeboxes increased as he got older and in recent years he put to good use at The Box Office where he sold accordions. As a salesman, he took great delight in “going on the road” with a selection of new accordions relishing the fact that they were in demand again and a critical part of the traditional Irish music scene. Along with the inside-out knowledge of the box, he offered his great wit and wisdom through his story telling so you always got more than you bargained for if you came upon him.
In the past decade he developed a mighty reputation as a welcoming session master for a coterie of musicians who weren’t as steeped in the tradition as he was. He helped introduce and encourage many a younger musician to embrace the music and enjoy the socialization that comes with sharing a tune or a laugh. His sessions at Ireland’s 32 in Suffern may not have lasted long but they touched many musicians who enjoyed his folksy yet steadfast approach to traditional music. Even broader was his reach online in cyberspace where he made many friends also around the world with his mix of nostalgic, historic or critical thoughts.
His legacy of music fell most profoundly on his daughter Mary who was part of that impressive generation of New York women in the 1980s who gave birth to the worldwide touring group Cherish the Ladies, of which she is founding member. He witnessed and participated in many of their stage and recorded triumphs that reached a pinnacle when they were invited to play for President George W. Bush in the White House for St. Patrick’s Day, 2005. He and Mary recorded a CD together Passing Time and he also appears on Mary’s Christmas CD and on Cherish the Ladies’ recordings At Home and The Boys Won’t Leave the Girls Alone.
– Paul Keating