Chaka Khan and Earth, Wind & Fire's Maurice White studied with him.
The globally influential Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) was co-founded by him.
And generations of musicians drew inspiration from the pioneering work of Chicago composer and multi-instrumentalist Kelan Phil Cohran. He died Wednesday at the University of Chicago Hospital at 90, said his son Tycho Cohran.
"He was a major contributor to the whole structure and the idea" of the AACM, said Muhal Richard Abrams, another co-founder of an organization that changed the course of music starting in 1965.
"I think he had a profound influence on many organized groups," added Abrams. "They more or less cut their teeth in Chicago, and their major influence was Phil Cohran."
Cohran played and recorded with the groundbreaking Sun Ra Arkestra in the late 1950s; invented an instrument he dubbed the Frankiphone — a version of an African kalimba or "thumb piano," which White brought to Earth, Wind & Fire; created the Affro-Arts Theater, which in the 1960s was a South Side epicenter of experimental arts; and founded the Artistic Heritage Ensemble, which influenced bands as far-flung as El'Zabar's avant-garde Ethnic Heritage Ensemble and Earth, Wind & Fire.
Born May 8, 1927, in Oxford, Miss., Cohran moved with his family to St. Louis when he was about 10, immersing himself in the city's robust jazz scene and playing alongside trumpeter Clark Terry in the late 1940s. Pianist-bandleader Jay McShann, who had given a young Charlie Parker his first major job, hired trumpeter Cohran and "that was where I really learned to swing," Cohran told DownBeat magazine in 1984.
The ears-wide-open, "space is the place" aesthetic of Sun Ra immediately appealed to Cohran's spirit of musical daring. But when Ra left Chicago in the early 1960s, Cohran stayed, playing multiple instruments in Abrams' Experimental Band (a precursor of the AACM).
He took the idea a step further in the late 1960s establishing the Affro-Arts Theater on South Drexel Boulevard as a nexus for music, drama, comedy, instruction and political activism. Khan and White learned there.
Cohran continued to rehearse, teach, perform, inspire and expand his universe, developing expertise in astronomy, nutrition and other seemingly far-flung disciplines.
Perhaps no ensemble was more profoundly influenced by him than the aptly named Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, staffed by his eight sons. The group started out performing on Michigan Avenue and at "L" stops in the 1990s, eventually moving to New York, appearing with Prince, winning a measure of international recognition and becoming the subject of the documentary film "Brothers Hypnotic," which aired on PBS' "Independent Lens" series in 2014.
Said his son Tycho Cohran, "He was about his people, dealing with descendants of slaves and what could he do to help them get out of the predicament they've been in during the last 400 years."
Born in 1927 in Oxford, Mississippi, Philip Cohran played with Sun Ra's Arkestra and co-founded the AACM (Association/or the Advancement of Creative Musicians) before establishing the A/fro-Arts Theater in 1967. The honorific title Ke/an was bestowed on him by Chinese Muslims on a tour of China in 1991.
Robert Lott (TMGI Films)
M Cohran (Cohran Foundation)
Dwight McFarland Bey
Stephen “Kwesi” Mack