said that some of the best vocations begin purely by accident or as an
act of fate. In my case it was both. At age 17 my chosen vocation was
as a carpenter, something that I thought I’d be doing for the rest
of my life. Two carefree months short of my 18th birthday I was working
on my first building site, exited that I was about to turn this old house
into something beautiful. I’d been entrusted by my superior to remove
the old part of the roof and drop it into the basement of the hollow house,
but halfway through cutting the third frame, the wood splintered unevenly
and descended into the basement, only to catch the sleeve of my coat and
take me down three stories with it. As anyone who’s fallen from
a great height and survived will tell you everything is in slow motion,
a dream like state of mind – enough to force a change of career.
On my way down I was convinced my life was about to end. I closed my eyes
and totally relaxed myself to await my fate. It’s true that your
whole life flashes before you, but I also saw myself as a fully-grown
man far beyond my 17 years - I saw unfamiliar faces, that have now become
recognizable, strange places I had yet to visit, my children yet to be
born, and finally I saw myself blowing into this strange horn, the saxophone,
and performing musical conversations with faces I now know as my friends.
All this time I’m falling and wondering when I’m going to
hit the ground, I keep saying to myself that if I do survive this I’ll
follow though these strange and amazing visions.”
Now in 2004, it’s the sound of his band that gets you and not his carpentry skills. Right from the very first note, a piercingly strong sax tone, perfectly in unison with the piano melody, so much so you think it’s one instrument playing both notes. And the whole lot held down by a rhythm section that swings like it’s going out of fashion. This is the sound of Tony Kofi’s quartet, part of a larger organisation dubbed The Monk Liberation Front, who release their first album “ALL IS KNOW” for Proper Records’ Specific imprint in June 2004.
Making its public debut in a now-legendary 6-hour session at the London Jazz Festival 2003, the band, including Jonathan Gee on piano, Winston Clifford on drums and Ben Hazelton on bass, as well as other guests, played the entire written repertoire of Thelonious Monk (70 tunes in all!), to a crowd who lapped up every note. Some two months later the band were ensconced in Specific’s in-house studio at The Powerhouse in South London, recording the marathon set over a period of 2 weeks. Having deliberated long and hard over which tunes to include from this session, the recording and mixing were eventually completed. All Is Know marks not only the debut recording as leader by this great british saxophone player but also the first release on Proper’s contemporary jazz imprint, Specific.
Tony Kofi’s playing career began when he chanced upon a series of jazz workshops, run in Leicester by Nick Haslam. Although actually a Nottingham native, Tony was bitten by the jazz bug and made a point of making the journey to go along to each session. This laid the seeds for what was to come, and a stint at the legendary Berklee College Of Music in California, on a full scholarship, followed. While in the US Tony studied with the likes of Donald Byrd (who later recruited him for his band), Ernie Watts and Ralph Moore, gaining invaluable experience that he then put to best use when back in the UK.
From 1991, Tony was part of the UK’s premier jazz group of the time – The Jazz Warriors. This band was (and indeed is, in its current form Tomorrow’s Warriors) a hotbed of young talent from the UK jazz scene. Tony was a vital part of the experience, his solos and ensemble work contributing massively to the success of this band. As well as playing live, the Warriors were involved heavily with education – spreading the jazz message through learning as well as gigging. Tony is still committed to this ethos, regularly running his own workshops and giving individual lessons.
Tony was busy throughout the ‘90s, playing with numerous high profile bands, including (in alphabetical order) Billy Higgins (1994), Branford Marsalis (1998). Claude Deppa’s A.J.E. & Horns Unlimited (1998). Clifford Jarvis (1997 - 1999), Courtney Pine (1994), Digable Planets (1992), Donald Byrd (1994), Dr. Lonnie Smith (1994), Eddie Henderson (1994), Julian Arguelles, Jazz Jamaica & Big Band (1996, 2000), Queen Latifah (1994), Ralph Moore (1994), Salt’n’Pepper (1994), The David Murray Big Band (1996). Following this, Tony spent time with the Township Express Orchestra and Tim Richards’ Great Spirit, and is still a member of both bands.
Ideas for solo projects
of course followed this apprenticeship, and Tony’s found his attention
turning to the work of Thelonious Monk. A long-time admirer of Monk’s
compositional & improvisational style, Tony set himself the task of
studying the man’s music in fine detail. This process lasted 5 years,
resulting in the creation of an umbrella organisation, the Monk Liberation
Front, which includes his current quartet. The band’s ethos is to
bring the genius of Monk’s music to new audiences, and along the
way to celebrate his unique creativity. Using the techniques of improvisation
that Monk helped to pioneer – in short order, the prominent use
of the whole tone scale, chromatic chord substitutions and distinctive
rhythmic devices – the Monk Liberation Front bring Monk’s
work to life for 21st Century listeners.
QUARTET – PLAYS MONK
Selected Press Quotes
the first own-name album for Tony Kofi but also the first release on Proper
Records’ contemporary imprint Specific Jazz – and it’s
an auspicious, hugely enjoyable and thoroughly convincing new beginning
on both fronts”
tributes are played with more passionate affection and sympathy…Monk
might even have loved it” (4 Stars)
music, practitioners need to have sharp reflexes to play it and bold ideas
for voicings to own it. Kofi and co have both, stretching themselves and
always entering into Monk’s esoteric world with discipline and attention
to detail” (3 Stars)
and – I believe – quite an important record. It’s made
Monk as a composer unavoidable again, and makes his songs sing inside
your head when you’re not listening to it, doing something else
– done that for me for some days now!” (CD of the month)
feel is so contemporary, even though the songs originated fifty plus years
ago. This really is a great record and it’s British. A very strong
debut for another important UK jazz label” (4 Stars)
is irresistible. Very moving”
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