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Take Five with Tony Kofi

Tony Kofi By

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About Tony Kofi

A two-time winner of the BBC Jazz Awards among others—Tony Kofi is a British Jazz multi-instrumentalist born of Ghanaian parents who plays alto, baritone, soprano, tenor Saxophone and flute. He cut his teeth in the Jazz Warriors of the early '90s, and went on to establish himself as a musician, teacher and composer of some authority. Tony's playing has been a feature of many bands and artists he has worked/recorded with include The World Saxophone Quartet, Donald Byrd, Eddie Henderson, The David Murray Big Band, Abdullah Ibrahim, Macy Gray, Harry Connick, Jr., Jamaaladeen Tacuma's Coltrane Configurations and Ornette Coleman.

Instrument(s):

Alto, soprano, baritone and tenor saxophones; flute, and percussion.

Teachers and/or influences?

I am self-taught.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

My music teacher at school told me at 15 I'd never be a musician because it takes focus, dedication and practice. Hmmmm!

Your sound and approach to music.

My sound and approach to music is to tell the truth no matter what, I've always believed that music is synonymous to life; you express yourself every day around family and friends so why not do that in music to the people listening to you? They deserve to hear your story too.

Your teaching approach

For me it's all about patience, students all have different learning levels and capabilities for retaining information, so you can't rush them. If they love it and show enough interest then you can teach then anything.

Your dream band

I don't have a dream band in particular, all of the musicians I've had the privilege of working with in the past have been a dream come true. Sam Rivers, Andrew Hill, The World Saxophone Quartet and Ornette Coleman have been dreams that all came true as well as the many UK musicians I'm currently working with. I'd love to work with Wayne Shorter, now that would be something

Road story: Your best or worst experience

Hmmmm! Worst experience (cringe) was we were in Budapest, last day of a very long tour and I think I had one too many to drink the night before, I overslept and had five minutes to pack a big suitcase for the airport, of course everyone that morning missed their flights home and all eyes were on me. Best experience was getting asked to sit in as a dep in the World Saxophone Quartet and being given the job right there and then on stage. "And on alto and soprano saxophone, the newest member of the world saxophone quartet is... drum roll please... Tony Kofi" That was the icing on the cake for me.

Favorite venue

Ronnie Scott's, 606 Jazz Club, Vortex Jazz Club. I've been playing here for many years and they treat musicians with great respect.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

I think it has to be my composition "First Breath." I wrote it for my son Mingus who was born at seven months and watching him at first struggle to breathe and then finally seeing him take his first breath really inspired me to write most of my music based on life events.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

Well first of all I'm leaving something for the next generation and other generations to come. Music is like a blueprint for learning something unique about a certain musician. What musician like Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Max Roach left as well as many others is an invaluable gift. That's why I believe in sharing what I've been blessed with, because you surely can't take it with you.

Did you know...

I've been an avid chess player since I was 10 years old; I play it every day, with people I know and don't know. I just love how it allows you to map things out in your mind even before you make your move.

The first jazz album I bought was:

Although not a hard core jazz album, I love the mood of Grover Washington's Winelight, which set me up for what was to come.

Music you are listening to now:

Oliver Nelson: Blues in the Abstract Truth (Impulse!)—A genius album with a list of the greatest jazz musicians to walk this planet.

Desert Island picks:

Charlie Parker Charlie Parker with Strings (Verve)—I never get tired of listening to this album, it's beautifully recorded and you can really feel Bird's soul speaking to you.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

I think jazz has evolved and taken on new dimensions. It's a lot more diverse and appeals to all ages now so that is a plus for me. Isn't this how jazz started in the first place? It'll keep on evolving and changing and who knows, it may come full circle again a hundred years from now.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

Keep your ears switched on and an open mind, there's so much great music out there and they all deserve to be heard.

What is in the near future?

Well currently I'm getting ready to launch my new album project, Point Blank which I'm very excited about because I played the whole album on one of the unsung saxophone family, baritone saxophone.

What is your greatest fear when you perform?

Losing my ideas, thankfully it's never happened What song would you like played at your funeral?

"Harvest for the World" by the Isley Brothers. It carries a very strong message that I've known since I was a young boy, nobody on this planet should ever go hungry, that's the message I still stand by, it would solve so many problems if the people sitting on top this food would release it.

What is your favorite song to whistle or sing in the shower?

I never sing or whistle in the shower, it's about the only time I can switch off from music.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

Carpenter (not part of the '70s duo group).

If I could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

I think it would have to be Thelonious Monk. I would ask him the thought process behind his amazing composition "Trinkle Tinkle" which still baffles me to this day, I've never heard anything like it, and why he chose to stop composing. Then we'd have a feast fit for kings.
About Tony Kofi
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