by Tom Peashey
These articles were originally published in the February 2009 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 37, Number 11).
For many years, one of the cornerstones of this paper has been the informative and insightful “Cozy’s Corner” column, penned by Michael “Cozy” Baker, one of — if not THE — best writers in our activity. Cozy, always a health-advocate and in very good physical condition, succumbed to a severe staph infection the morning of December 27 at the Veterans Hospital in Birmingham, AL, just a few days after his 60th birthday.
His treatment had been complicated by previously unknown drug allergies and led to over a month on a respirator in the ICU. In the end, the infection had destroyed his lungs and left the rest of his organs unable to survive. His loss to Drum Corps World and Publisher Steve Vickers is even more pronounced as Cozy had taken on considerable editorial duties and had become Steve’s right-hand in the publication of this periodical.
All that being said, Cozy represented an even more severe loss to the drum corps community.
He leaves behind a wealth of friends from coast to coast. The outpouring of grief from the road warriors of our activity has been amazing. The sheer numbers of people he touched positively in the activity is mind-boggling. Who was this “pen-ster” we all knew as just “Cozy”? His family was from Alabama — his final resting place. He began his drum corps career playing trumpet for a baton corps in Ohio. This is where he learned his life-long love of drum corps, but the activity wasn’t his only love. A graduate of Ohio State, he also loved college football, both Ohio State and Alabama.
Cozy was a Naval aviator, flying fighters off aircraft carriers. His retirement from the Navy allowed him to renew his love of drum corps, but on the way there he also had a love of scuba diving, being co-owner of a dive shop on Bainbridge Island (Seattle) for a while. He ended up back in Ohio and fell for the woman he described as his one true love, Laura. In a sad way, I learned just how much Cozy thought of our friendship as my phone rang one morning and Cozy said, “Tom, I need to talk to someone and I knew you would listen and understand.” He went on to tell me that the ambulance had just taken Laura away and she was gone. A sudden attack had taken her during the night. I knew then what our friendship meant to both of us, and yes, I listened.
He was a true nomad in drum corps. He went wherever he felt needed. He marched the 1994 season with Rochester’s Empire Statesmen and won a DCA World Championship. He did full seasons with the Kilties and CorpsVets. He was always there to help Cincinnati Tradition and, more recently, Derby City Knights. He touched everyone at the San Francisco Renegades and performed on several occasions. I’m certain there are others that escape me, but not to be forgotten was his one forage into corps management as founder and corps director of Mirage in Miamisburg, OH, in 1995-1996, including an appearance at Drum Corps Midwest in DeKalb, IL.
For over a decade, Cozy has volunteered to help run the DCA World Championships. He was always there to help in any way he could — put out a fire here, go for this there, run an I&E stage and generally assist in any way he could. Often, this was combined with taking notes to allow him to fill the pages of this paper with accurate, creative and soul-searching reports on all of the events of DCA weekend. Even in this reporting, he always shined through with reports of the “people” of drum corps rather than just the who, what, where, when and why of the weekend.
He ALWAYS boiled drum corps down to its basic common denominators, the fans and the performers. This was the humanity of the man. A special mention of his passion for people and for causes — while helping his dear friends Bob and Ann Sullivan (corps fans extraordinaire), he became the spearhead for making sure that “handicapped-friendly” included both DCA and DCI Championships.
Perhaps some quotes from some of those he touched would be appropriate. These are from Drum Corps Planet — http://www.drumcorpsplanet.com — with permission from DCP Publisher and great Cozy friend John Donovan.
Steve “Hairbear” Masters, a close friend: “Cozy had a writing style that was as ‘quirky’ as those eyeglasses he was fond of wearing. His desire was to make the reader think! His great wealth was the sheer number of friends he managed to acquire along his journey. I would ask all of you to join me in celebrating the life of a true legend of drum corps — a life lived with no apologies and no regrets!”
Brian Downing (who never met Cozy, but was a fan): “As a reader, I will miss him. As a citizen, I thank him. As a fellow veteran, I salute him. Fair winds and following seas, Cozy, may you truly enjoy your ‘final tour’.”
Roger Grupp, Minnesota Brass soloist extraordinaire: “He let his true ‘fandom’ hang out. He loved everything about drum corps. He loved all the people. He had fun and good things to say about everyone and every corps he came in contact with. He wasn’t afraid to go a little overboard! He loved words, too! He was absolutely shameless in his punning and other word play, and seemed to love every clever turn of a phrase — and boy, could he make them up!”
Fred Windish, former DCA PR Director who knows what it was to “lean” on Cozy and draw on his energy and ability: “What a wonderful man. Here’s a guy who put most of his life on hold to make the drum corps world a better place.”
“Hairbear” shared more memories with us talking about the brilliance of the man: “Think for a moment about this. Naval aviator (carrier-based jet pilot), scuba enthusiast, musician, business owner, jewelry salesman, writer and singer (good one, too!). His latest ‘adventure’ was as a ‘gringo’ living a ‘bohemian’ lifestyle in Mazatlan, Mexico. He had developed a friendship with a jazz piano player from Paris who was performing a solo in the resorts and clubs along the beach. Cozy would sing and play riffs on his trumpet.”
Steve also told us that Cozy was well along in writing a novel (this I would like to see) and was fluent in Serbian and Spanish. What more could the man do? Unfortunately, I can’t help but wonder if it was during this prolonged stay last winter in Mexico where he picked up the exotic bug that stole him from us.
Steve Vickers and Drum Corps World have lost a huge talent, tireless worker and close friend. I join him in that loss, as does all of DCA. The activity has lost a warrior of the highest caliber whose weapon was the strongest weapon of all — the stroke of a pen and a deep love of the activity. To his brother and sister and the rest of his family, we thank you for allowing us to share your brother over these many years and hope that you take solace in knowing that your brother Michael meant so much to so many, touched lives near and afar, and brought so much enjoyment to so many.
Cozy’s “porch” is now officially empty, never to be stood on again, but while the man may be gone, he will not be forgotten. I can only imagine the smile on the faces of the many corps legends who have gone before him — Petrone, Costello, Bruni, Notaro, Winkleman, Genaro, Jones, Royer and so many more — as they now have their own scribe to pen their successes and twist their words with a gentle love and passion, and show them what may have made Cozy the drum corps activity’s greatest fan. I can’t help, as we start this New Year, but think of our dearly beloved friend, but find myself humming the strains of Auld Lang Syne in tribute to him. Now that he would have appreciated. I turn out the porch light for the last time. Rest in peace old friend.
Here are a few more articles by DCW staff members.
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From Jim Centorino . . .
The drum corps community and fraternity has lost a VIP. When I received your e-mail I was stunned and saddened. When I told my son Jimmy, he was also deeply saddened. We have lost a true friend.
In these times of dwindling drum corps numbers and participation, it had become increasingly clear that Cozy Baker had become one of the most important and ardent supporters of the drum corps activity. His columns had evolved into the realm of going past getting the “story behind the story” and were not only extremely informative, but warmly personal. It was a heavy load that Cozy’s shoulders supported that now becomes even that much heavier for those left in his wake.
It seems like only yesterday when Cozy became our navigator from the hotel where my son and I played the National Anthem at the DCW luncheon (practically in his ear) to the Rose Bowl when DCI was held in Pasadena. He obtained a map from the hotel concierge and proceeded to act as the human GPS, directing us to the stadium before you could say “On the starting line . . . ” and helping us to a “primo” parking place. At the show, it became his personal goal to get me and Al Chez together to talk about old times, recent times and current times, and that became one of the best of times.
Among his stories about his own marching experiences, my favorite had to do with his “Nouveau Art Deco/Dali-designer, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired” spectacle frames. He was told that he couldn’t march with them on (by an alumni group he performed with). Somehow he managed to slip them on during the performance, but, when it came time to bring his horn up, the glasses flew off his head and landed somewhere on the field. Getting them back (which he did gracefully) became a story that bore repeating.
For those who knew Cozy, he was a character, a personality, a talented man and a friend, and I know that so many others share my heartfelt sentiments. The drum corps community and fraternity has lost a brother.
May he rest in peace and let us be comforted by the knowledge that his by-lines will be fondly remembered by us mortals and will now be written in the sky.
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From Scott Wolfe . . .
Cozy knew my father from college marching band. So, the time we spent chatting was unique. But his perspective on drum corps was priceless.
We also shared via e-mail his love for his time spent in Texas. He was always encouraging of the drum corps in Texas and that was something I personally appreciated.
I was very fortunate to meet Cozy finally (by accident!) backstage at the DCA mini-corps competition in 2007. I was very thrilled at the experience, but even more so now that I will not have that pleasure again.
Life is fleeting and we must live it while we have it, because as with Cozy, we may not get a second chance.
He will be missed.
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From Christina Mavroudis Dempsey and Emily Mavroudis
The glasses, notepad, DCW press pass, hat, conversational shirt and quick smile — all will be missed, but more than anything, the passion for drum corps.
Cozy wanted to live the life of a Renaissance man and he did, becoming a role model for many of us — out there, doing it, living it, not just writing about it.
Enthusiastic, quirky and always motivating, Cozy was an iconic fan for both DCI and DCA. Even his name made you feel welcomed.
He will forever be a kindred spirit that we will miss something fierce.
Thank you for touching our lives.
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From Bill Flaker . . .
On the last Saturday of June 2007, the CorpsVets traveled to Bridgeport for the “Barnum Festival” contest and parade. That was the first time I met Michael “Cozy” Baker.
During the evening, Cozy informed me that he had forgotten his cooler and food, and that the concession stand lines were outrageously long. I told him to go to the Hurricanes’ souvenir table and ask for my wife, Linda. She hooked him up with a sandwich, drinks and snacks to get him through the night.
The next day at the parade, the CorpsVets were lined up across the street from the Hurricanes when Cozy came over to visit. He wanted to have a small honor guard for the parade, but had no equipment to do so. No problem, as the Hurricanes lent the corps the equipment they needed.
The smile on his face as they marched down the street was huge and that told the story.
As I was covering the DCA I&E event last year, I went into Cozy’s venue to make my observation notes to put in my article for DCW. As I left the room, he introduced me over the microphone to the audience. His comments about me were both complimentary and humbling, and even though we only knew each other for a short time, I was very fortunate to have known Michael “Cozy” Baker. His dedication and assistance to the entire drum corps community will truly be missed.
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From Steve Vickers, DCW publisher . . .
Over the years that Cozy has been contributing articles and columns for Drum Corps World, we became good friends. He was a bit eccentric, but was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever known. And he was also one of the most unabashedly enthusiastic supporters of the drum and bugle corps movement — at ALL levels — that I have known in my 47 years involved in the activity.
The past year and a half, in addition to his regular “Cozy’s Corner” feature, he was also helping me generate additional ideas from our growing roster of writers to cover more aspects of the junior, all-age and alumni groups as features editor. His regular “cheerleading” for DCW to the staff was always positive and resulted in some excellent content for the paper.
Two years ago I was in charge of a special exhibition here in Madison to showcase the Madison Scouts Alumni Reunion Project during DCI week. Cozy volunteered to help me that day and he ended up being the person who marshalled the buses and equipment trucks for the participating groups that night. He was always ready to jump in and do whatever it took to make a project or an article or a performance come off without a hitch.
At some of the DCI Championships, we have had a booth to give away copies of the newspaper and sign up new subscribers. The photo at right was taken in 2000 at College Park, MD, during one of his times helping promote DCW.
His belief in the print medium and his unending drive to make the drum and bugle corps activity stronger were a constant encouragement to me and members of the DCW staff.
Cozy Baker was a one-in-a-million fan and friend!