Death of a famed tubist, 74

Death of a famed tubist, 74


norman lebrecht

November 26, 2022

Friends and family have reported the death of Floyd Cooley, principal tuba of the San Francisco Symphony from 1969 to 2001 and one of the world’s most highly regarded teachers.


  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I studied with Floyd – as much as I could afford to do so – between 1973 and 1975. He landed the S.F. Symphony job in 1969, when Ozawa was still there. I saw Floyd play the Vaughan Williams concerto with Ozawa conducting (1976, I think). Needless to say, he played it terrifically. I heard Floyd play in the S.F. Symphony numerous times, throughout the Ozawa, Edo DeWaart, Blomstedt and – partially – MTT years. His full, rich sound was hard to miss. Lessons with Floyd were long, informative and quite exacting (demanding) – just what a young hopeful needs to have. Every word he ever said to me keeps coming back now. He worked me a lot on tone production and phrasing. Most helpful, was that Floyd would work with you to come up with creative breathing solutions, in order to make a long phrase work. He was a genius in that regard. In those days, Floyd had some older and really fun instruments to try out at this place. I won’t go into that aspect (tuba ‘geek’ equipment talk). At that time, Floyd lived on a steep, hilly street in Daly City. It had a great view of the S.F. Bay Bridge. That was long before the geniuses who run S.F. allowed ridiculously tall high-rises to obstruct the view of the bridge. I lost contact with Floyd – I didn’t know he had left the U.S. to go retire. R.I.P. Floyd Cooley.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      That’s a wonderful tribute, Barry. I heard Floyd in the SFS for all those years too, and he was truly great. That brass section was never quite the same after he left…. you just knew something was missing.
      Floyd Cooley: a very special musician and artist.
      See you on the other side, my fellow bass clefster.

  • Susan Bradley says:

    Floyd was inspirational to me as a student tubist, via his CDs, especially his solo CDs. Glorious tone and superb intonation. I only had one lesson with him when he came to my home town; it was one hour of intense concentration on both sides, and probably equivalent to a term of lessons. When I came out of the lesson, the friend that was waiting to carry one of my tubas, actually said “Give me the car keys, you are not fit to drive”. I had many good lessons from great tuba players, but this was something else.
    Thank you, Floyd.

  • Plush says:

    Known in Chicago as a bon vivant and great drinking companion. Very witty and naughty. Such a great player. Sad news.

  • freddynyc says:

    Was he related to Carlton Cooley who was a longtime principal violist under Ormandy?

    • Greg Bottini says:

      No relation to Floyd AFAIK, freddynyc.
      (BTW, Carlton also served as principal violist in the Cleveland Orchestra and the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and was with the latter for its entire existence, first as co-principal, then as principal.)

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      I don’t really know. What I can tell you, is that his father was also a tuba player.

  • Arthur R Masciulli, Jr. says:

    The heavens will ring low & clear! Rest in peace Tone Meister!