Cooper-Moore Credit: Courtesy the Artist

Born Gene Ashton in 1946, Cooper-Moore grew up in a house built by his great-grandfather in the Virginia hills west of Washington, D.C. Though he’s associated with New York City’s ecstatic jazz scene, where he’s played piano since the 1970s alongside the likes of saxophonist David S. Ware and bassist William Parker, rural self-reliance remains at the root of everything he does. He first learned improvisation as a child playing piano in the local Baptist church, and he’s taken the concept beyond music to the tools he uses to make it—if there’s no instrument on hand, he can create one. He’s equally at home playing a Steinway grand piano at the Vision Festival and plucking a harp made from the handle of a gardening hoe and some fishing line on a subway platform. And while his latest recording, a self-titled duo with tenor saxophonist Stephen Gauci, delivers bracing free jazz, if you skim his discography you’ll find him playing funky bass lines on an amplified diddley-bow with the trio Digital Primitives, matching percussive patterns with Hamid Drake behind Assif Tsahar’s snaky bass clarinet on the 2005 album Lost Brother (Hopscotch), and singing the blues about the aging process on one of the solo releases he sells on his website. But in any setting, his guiding aesthetic is a determination to instigate an authentic emotional exchange between him and the audience. Since he’s playing at a venue with a piano as part of Dog/Days—a week of free concerts at Constellation and the Hungry Brain that precedes the Chicago Jazz Festival—we’re bound to hear a bit of jazz, but here’s hoping that Cooper-Moore mixes in some of the other tools in his bag of tricks.   v