In Memoriam: Tony Coe (1934 – 2023)

Anthony George Coe (November 29, 1934 – March 16, 2023) was an English jazz musician who played clarinet, bass clarinet, and flute as well as soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones.

Born in Canterbury, Kent, England, Coe started out on clarinet and was self-taught on tenor saxophone. At just 15 years of age in 1949 he played in his school’s (Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys) trad band and two years later, aged 17, became a full professional with Joe Daniels. In 1953, aged 18, he joined the army where he played clarinet in the Military band and saxophone with the unit Dance Band. After demob in 1955 he spent some time in France with the Micky Bryan Band (Micky on piano, Gerry Salisbury (valve trombone), Harry Bryan (trumpet), Lennie Hastings on drums, and Coe on clarinet), before rejoining Joe Daniels. In 1957 Tony’s father went to see Humphrey Lyttelton and, as a result, Tony spent just over four years with Humphrey’s band from 1957 to the end of 1961. This was a period when Coe was brought to the attention of critics and fans as well as giving him some degree of international fame. He left Lyttleton at the end of 1961 to form his own outfit.

In 1965, he was invited to join Count Basie’s band (‘I’m glad it didn’t come off – I would have lasted about a fortnight’) and has since played with the John Dankworth Orchestra, the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band, Derek Bailey’s free improvisation group Company, Stan Tracey, Michael Gibbs, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bob Brookmeyer, and performed under Pierre Boulez as well as leading a series of groups of his own, including Coe Oxley & Co with drummer Tony Oxley. He played clarinet on Paul McCartney’s recording of “I’ll Give You a Ring” released in 1982 and saxophone on John Martyn’s 1973 album, Solid Air.

Coe also worked with the Matrix, a small ensemble formed by clarinettist Alan Hacker, with a wide-ranging repertoire of early, classical, and contemporary music, the Danish Radio Big Band, Metropole Orchestra and Skymasters in the Netherlands. He has worked additionally with the Mike Gibbs big band and the United Jazz and Rock Ensemble.

Coe recorded on soundtracks for several films, including Superman II, Victor/Victoria, Nous irons tous au paradis, Leaving Las Vegas, Le Plus beau métier du monde and The Loss of Sexual Innocence. He also composed the film score for Camomille.

Coe died at the age of 88.