Appreciation by Jack Kenny

Tony Coe was special: master clarinettist, a tenor player of daring, a soprano player of taste.  He moved between bands and genres with fluidity and ease: Humphrey Lyttelton, Clarke -Boland, Dankworth, Mike Gibbs.  His range of associates was wide: Derek Bailey, Peter Brotzman, Lol Coxhill. He was awarded the Danish Jazzpar Prize. It is probably true to say that his gifts were more recognised outside the UK than within.

He was on about twenty albums with the Clarke-Boland band.  One session at Ronnie Scott’s was superbly recorded.  Two tracks stand out. ‘You Stepped Out of a Dream’. There are no solos, it is just a saxophone section of consummate musicians breathing as one, rhapsodically surging out the chorus. Ronnie Scott, Derek Humble and Johnny Griffin all alongside. The recording is so good and detailed you can even hear the Coe sound in the mix. The second track is the one with Coe blistering out the solo with abandon on ‘Sax No End’.

‘Captain Coe’s Famous Racearound’ was written at the time of the Jazzpar award and showcases his writing.  Coe’s knowledge and love of contemporary classical music is clear. He plays clarinet, and tenor and soprano sax.

Above everything it was the sound of his tenor that held the attention.  It was sheer beauty especially on ballads, ’Loverman’ on the 1978 ‘Coe Existence’ album.  Coe breathily sidles serpently around the core theme. His playing is elusive and illusive avoiding the obvious and the cliched. The breathy tone and the harmonic richness transmit music suffused with loneliness and vulnerability.

Tony Coe loved the clarinet and the album he made with pianist John Horler at the Appleby Festival, ‘Dancing in The Dark’ (2007) is pure music.  Coe considered it one of his best performances.  ‘Body and Soul’ is particularly fine and illustrates the sheer beauty of his rosewood clarinet and the liquidity of the playing.

‘Body and Soul’ is also a track on the album that is his most startling. an extraordinary session recorded at Willisau, Switzerland (Nutty 1985) . Tony Oxley is on drums and Chris Laurence is on bass accompanying the tenor player in ‘Body and Soul’. There is everything in that solo; it’s an extraordinary amalgam of styles and influences ranging from Dolphy to Griffin. This is avant-garde jazz with roots, with sensitivity, with innovation.  The rest of the album is just as astonishing.

Tony Coe is irreplaceable, an utterly unique voice.

Selected Discography:

Swingin’ Til the Girls Come Home (1962)

Some Other Spring (1964)

Some Other Autumn (1971)

Zeitgeist (1976)

Coe-Existence (1978)

Tournee du Chat (1982)

Le Chat se Retourne (1984)

Nutty on Willisau (1985)

Mer de Chine (1987)

Canterbury Song (1988)

Captain Coe’s Famous Racearound (1995)

Days of Wine and Roses (1997)

Street of Dreams (1997)

Ruby (1998)

Dreams (2000)

Dancing In The Dark (2007)