Tony Coe | Photo
Tony (Anthony George) Coe. British saxophonist (mainly tenor), clarinetist,
bass clarinetist, bandleader, composer. Born Canterbury, Kent, November
The musician of tomorrow will face a continuously growing
jazz tradition that since its beginnings has constantly taken up elements
from various forms of world music. This situation calls for wide-ranging
players, for a combination of the performing and creative artist who is
able to enter into the spirit of a great variety of idioms without losing
any part of her or his own creativeness.
Tony Coe is a distinguished example of such an artist.
His playing reflects extreme instrumental skill, exceptional stylistic
many-sidedness, and profound musical originality. He is almost unrivalled
as far as versatility is concerned. And his career personifies a sizable
part of jazz history. With the passing of time he has extended his horizons
considerably, adding to the more traditional areas of jazz a variety of
modern musical idioms including totally free improvisation as well as
classical and contemporary art music.
Coe has an amazing talent for most reed instruments,
his main one being the tenor sax. He has quite often been cited as the
finest and most original clarinetist in contemporary jazz. In addition,
Coe is a noted composer and arranger as well as performer. Alban Berg's
music has been a main influence. In extended form and deploying very large
orchestras some of Coe's works deftly bring together elements from art
music, jazz, rock, etc. It is Coe's intention by virtue of The JAZZPAR
Prize to spend more time on composing.
Over close to four decades Coe has made invaluable contributions
to more kinds and genres of English and European music than maybe anyone
else. The list includes mainstream jazz, bebop, post-Coltrane combos,
jazz-rock, free improvisation, chamber music, film / TV scores, symphony
orchestras, etc. He functions with perfect ease in all these categories
and has consequently through the years been a key member of numerous important
ensembles. (Probably, he is best known to the general public as the tenor
saxophone soloist of Henry Mancini 's music for the Pink Panther
And mind you, all this is not the consequence of compliance
or lack of self-confidence. On the contrary, it is the scope of Coe's
mental and physical capacities that enables him to deal with so many sorts
of music. His comprehensiveness is most useful in dealing with the very
liberal conventions of jazz.
Coe's work reveals exceptional natural freedom and authority.
His sinuous way of phrasing, his assured and wildly extrovert solos often
have an extremely refreshing effect. His timing is highly individual.
One especially important Coe trademark is his many long ascending and
falling lines, which often have a flowing, convoluted, or serpentine character.
Thus, Tony Coe is not a musical chameleon. By virtue
of rather small alterations his kind of avant-garde swing seems to fit
everywhere. As an improviser he is clearly recognizable, as his playing
undergoes no great modifications, according to the type of music surrounding
him. In short, Coe's capability and way of expressing himself enable him
to exercise all this versatility while still maintaining his own style.
No mean achievement.
Coe has continued producing beautiful examples of modern
mainstream jazz as well as stepping across musical boundaries. Curiosity
directed towards the heritage as well as the possibilities of the future
is part of any creative process. If not exactly an innovator Coe is a
very competent and gifted transmitter of the tradition and an experimenter
at the same time.
All in all, Tony Coe, the first non-US recipient of
The JAZZPAR Prize, is a complete musician as well as a true jazz master.
The choice of him as The 1995 Winner is in perfect agreement with The
Prize Criteria. Two of the primary motives of The Prize are in fact to
honor artists who are specially deserving of further acclaim - and to
draw attention to music from different parts of the world since jazz today
is a truly global art form.
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