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.