RIP Tony Coe (1934-2023)

Sebastian writes:

Sad news. One of the understated greats of British jazz, saxophonist and clarinettist Tony Coe, passed away peacefully yesterday at the age of 88.

The following tribute from Tim Garland’s Facebook page is re-published with his permission:

Here is to my very first teacher, who lived round the corner from me when I swapped clarinet for the saxophone, down in Canterbury. I remember being in a wine bar age 14 (!) playing the clarinet very badly, and he walked in. I was SO embarrassed to be playing in front of him but his odd-ball friendliness put me at ease. He had a singular approach to improv, eccentric, sophisticated and un-conformist! The first year I worked with Chick he pointed out that the wide intervals and altissimo register I used sounded a little like Paul Gonsalves, Ellington’s iconic tenor player. I knew though that it was Tony, who spoke in terms of leaping intervals, that had been the abiding influence. I remember listening to Tournee Du Chat ( from the 1980’s?) and realising just HOW different, and separating, my musical interest was to the kids around me! “Canterbury Song” was so special as that was my home city and reminded me of my embryonic career. Tony was in the trio with Malcolm Creese and John Horler, before that concept morphed into Acoustic Triangle and I took over. I never stopped referring to Tony and I know there will be loads of anecdotes from friends in our jazz community. I looked up to him as a 14 year old lad, amazed at what he could do.

Maybe the best Tony I ever heard was on Norma’s album Somewhere Called Home. The trio with John Taylor on piano – has all three artists accommodating / lifting each other to perfection. Tony, here’s to the nights I would stay up to listen to Jazz Today, and hear a voice I knew I’d never forget. RIP Tony Coe.”

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I have a personal memory: he generously wrote and thanked me for one of the very first reviews I wrote for LJN in 2009, a review of a concert with Tina May and Nikki Iles:

“Tony Coe – JazzPar winner in the days when it was Europe’s top jazz prize- is one of the unique voices of world jazz. Coe is quiet, generous. His hand gestures as he handed back responsibility for the melodic line to the ladies… had an eighteenth century Watteau or Claude grace about them. Ellington’s “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” , a duet with May, Coe on clarinet scarcely rising from the chalumeau (lower) register, was special. Beauty, grace, etiquette, maybe they’re due for a return….”

This morning I went straight to be reminded his utterly sublime clarinet playing on Egberto Gismonti’s “Café” from the 1987 ECM album ‘Somewhere called Home’ with Norma Winstone and John Taylor. In sadness and massive respect.

Anthony George Coe. Born 29 November 1934. Died 16 March 2023.

LINKS: Biography

Tony Coe playlist on Spotify.


Categories: News

13 replies »

  1. The unforgettable “Somewhere Called Home” album featuring Tony Coe, Norma Winstone and John Taylor was pivotal in igniting my interest in jazz. It is no exaggeration to say it was life-changing for me and I am listening to it again, gazing out the window at grey skies. The opening track, “Cafe”, transports me to another world, every time. Thank you, Tony Coe, for your exquisite music.

  2. Sad news indeed. Tony was one of that first generation of British jazz players who did not blindly follow the American players but developed their own distinctive style.

    • Tony was influenced by Paul Gonsalves playing but, I, like you believe that he was a true original, based in the overall tradition of jazz.

  3. Tony Coe was to London what Emil Mangelsdorff was to Frankfurt or Vince Guaraldi was to San Francisco: a virtuoso, world-class player across genres who was perfectly happy to stay close to home. So now Steve Beresford is the last man standing of The Melody Four.

  4. I first heard Tony play in the late 50’s [I was an RCM student at the time] in a pub in Hampstead playing the great “Trad” repertoire. Sadly cannot recall the name of the group! Like all the truly great players although becoming one of our most creative and gifted improvisors this knowledge of the roots of jazz [like Getz who spent time in Jack Teagarden’s band] gave him the ability to develop a unique musical voice. Since those early years I kept in touch going to see him play in all genres and he once covered the alto/clarinet chair in my 20’s band. When I organized a recording of French song {“Jazz Piquant”] in my studio some years ago with Tina May [another very sad recent loss] Tony was the perfect foil for Tina’s voice! Living near him in Faversham my visits to him became restricted by “Covid”. My chats with Tony about music in general I treasure because his overall knowledge of all repertoire were always inciteful. Probably, although his tenor playing was magical, I don’t think he had a peer when it came to the clarinet. The last time I heard Tony play was on soprano at my 80th get together with fellow players. He felt at home – and I treasure the memory. Martin Nicholls

  5. What a person! At the end of the Appleby Jazz Festival in 2000, the final(?) act on Sunday was A quartet of Tony Coe(Saxello(a slightly curved soprano sax), Alan Barnes(woodwind), Dave Newton(piano) Andy Cleyndert(?) (Bass). The drummer, Winston Clifford had been involved in a car accident and was absent. A fantastic set. Tony played ‘April in Paris’ on tenor sax and devoted it to his mother. Without a doubt, the best soprano saxophonist I have ever heard.

  6. This is deeply sad news… Tony holds a very special place in my heart. Especially after the privilege of working with him on my Ellington album ‘Love You Madly’ (1999) with Brian Priestley (another unsung hero of British jazz – let’s celebrate them while they’re living!). Whether it was on tenor, soprano or clarinet Tony’s inspiration flowed so effortlessly from him. I treasure the moments we made music together, including the stern looks to “just sing the words” or “make better music with fewer notes”, and his tangential musings on art, philosophy and politics. RIP Tony

  7. As a band boy in the Buffs military band i came to know Tony as a hopeless soldier who spent lots of time sleeping but the most amazing muscian who inspired us all. National service brought young musians into the armys musical life who later became renowned performers i should add we also welcomed Les Reed into our ranks, what a pianist, composer and didnt do to bad playing clarinet when we had marching band…Kept in touch with Tony at Buffs Band re-unions. always joined in a impromto play together , great days never to be forgotten

  8. A unique musician with a masterful understanding of his art and craft. I enjoyed many of his performances and am thankful to have known him personally.

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