Sidney Cooper, Big Band and Studio Musician, Dies at 92

Woodwinds maestro played with Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show Orchestra in NYC.

NEW YORK — Big band and studio musician Sidney Cooper, who played woodwinds with some of the biggest names in the business including Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey, died Monday in Lake Worth, Fla. He was 92.

His daughter Carole Cooper and her husband Richard Leibner are talent agents at NS Beinstock in New York.

Cooper also arranged music and was a longtime member of the Tonight Show Orchestra when the show was based in New York and hosted by Johnny Carson. He played a range of wind instruments, including alto sax, clarinet, flute and piccolo.

Cooper began his professional career at the Fallsview Resort in the Catskills in New York before landing a job as a staff musician at NBC. There he played for a retinue of variety shows during the 1950s and ’60s, including Eddie Fisher’s Coke Time, The Steve Allen Show, Masquerade Party, Hullaballoo and Carson’s Tonight Show.

Cooper did not relocate to Los Angeles when Carson took the Tonight Show to Burbank in 1972. Instead, he worked as a studio musician in New York, collaborating with the likes of Billie Holiday and Miles Davis and on Broadway musicals including 42nd Street.

In 1974, he toured with Sinatra. He also appeared and played in several Woody Allen films including Alice (1990), Bullets Over Broadway (1994) and Everyone Says I Love You (1996).

Cooper was born in 1918 in Montreal, the youngest and only son of Isadore and Rosie Kupperman. Canada was a stopover for the family; Isadore worked for a New York furrier, which sent him there to open a Montreal outpost. Isadore died when Cooper was a child, and his mother Rosie moved back to New York and remarried, adding two step-brothers to the household that already included Cooper’s three older sisters.

Family legend had it that Cooper’s paternal grandfather was a cantor in Romania.

“The older relatives of my family told me that Isadore was a good singer also,” Cooper wrote in his 2008 memoir, It Looked So Good in the Window. “So I have to credit my father and his father with the mysterious need I had to become a musician.”

In addition to daughter Carole, Cooper is survived by his second wife Patricia (his first wife, Ethel predeceased him); another daughter Nancy; grandchildren Adam, Jonathan and Emily; and great-granddaughters Lily, Ellie, Melody and Jolie.

Services are scheduled for noon Thursday at Riverside Memorial Chapel in Manhattan. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations go to the National Endowment for the Arts.