The Prize Winner 1995

Tony Coe | Photo |

Tony (Anthony George) Coe. British saxophonist (mainly tenor), clarinetist, bass clarinetist, bandleader, composer. Born Canterbury, Kent, November 29, 1934.

   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 films.)
   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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